When thinking about innovation, technological advancements may come first to many’s minds. Adding the adjective “social” in front of “innovation,” however, inspire us to look at innovation from more diverse perspectives. Social innovation invites and challenges us to produce and implement creative, efficient solutions. It is a set of ideas that can drive organizational changes and improve the welfare of individuals and society as a whole. It leads us to better understand our community member’s voices and prioritize our community’s most urgent needs. Yet, it also reminds us to address those issues in a way that better our community while preserving the history and culture of the community.
From online volunteering, charter schools, to fair trade, social innovation varies in scale and form. It may take only one individual to spark changes, but it requires the community's collaborative effort to make the changes substantial and long-lasting. Social innovation involves all stakeholders in the community including individuals, non-profits, and governments. These parties may have different ideologies or approaches when addressing issues, but the key to successful collaborations is empathy. Social innovators empathize with the community rather than coming as the “saviors.” Instead of erasing and rebuilding the community from scratch, social innovators utilize existing resources and bring in the needed support. It is a process of adding — a process that preserves yet strengthens the community.
I think that organizations like ProsperUs are exemplars of social innovators. ProsperUs provides resources such as microlending, business services, and entrepreneur training to small business owners. Particularly, its microlending is offered relationship-based rather than hard-money based. This allows many residents who are not qualified for bank loans to have a chance to start their own entrepreneur adventures. ProsperUs better equips residents to pursue their dreams, and, in return, the successful graduates also strive to create opportunities for other members of the community. This positive feedback loop empowers the community to become self-sustaining and accumulate generational wealth. Social innovators like ProsperUs have promoted true organizational changes in the community and inspired me and more to join their missions.