Innovation is everywhere.
Beyond traditional references such as entrepreneurship and science, we see and practice innovation everywhere. Every day, we combine our existing knowledge and new observations to identify the need for innovation. Even if the status quo may make sense, we continue to strive for better and more efficient creation beyond our imagination. Coming to Detroit, we DukeEngage students have learned this characteristic through a noteworthy example of Henry Ford and his legacy through the Ford Motor Company.
However, because it exists everywhere within the complex, ever-changing society that we are living in now, innovation can possess many faces—some even unintended by the innovator. For instance, Ford’s assembly line indeed led to economic growth of Detroit and, even further, the U.S. But it should also be noted that the innovation raised the issue of alienation of labor. As such, innovation happens often without consideration of a greater impact beyond its ostensible sphere of influence.
Social innovation is a continuous re-direction.
Social innovation, on the other hand, is a process, a continuous re-direction, based on the core purpose: a positive social impact. There may be no single, tangible product. There may be no sign of impact for several weeks, months, or even years. Nonetheless, social innovation persists. Its direction may have changed appropriately based on the observed circumstances. But it maintains its target in achieving social good.
I was able to understand this atypical feature of social innovation listening to the histories of community partners that practice it such as Co.act Detroit. With its main vision of promoting a collaborative culture in the nonprofit sector in Southeast Michigan, Co.act has presented the community with innovative programs based on their updated understanding of the ecosystem from continuous research, surveys, interviews, etc. Although it is hard to say that the organization’s vision has been achieved through the programs, it is certain that the organization will keep trying to find innovative ways to support the community. It has been practicing and will continue to practice social innovation.
As I reflect on my definition of social innovation along with the experience in Detroit so far, I have been able to reaffirm my belief in and passion for it. In a world of complex problems stemming from historical legacies and globalization, traditional problem-solvers such as political actors cannot be the answers. A simple innovation cannot solve global, multilateral problems as well. What is needed more than ever is the social innovation that promises unchanging support in a fitting, changing process. With this faith in social innovation, I am thrilled to be part of that process this summer!