Social Innovation- Making Ubuntu Fashionable

By Anele Gcwabe

In a world where there is a new buzz word every day, it is easy to get caught up in the hype of using trendy words. We often find ourselves going to extremes, overusing this “up-to-date’’ jargon in an attempt to remain current, we end up neglecting the essence behind these “new” words. In every space where prominent business owners and young people meet, you are guaranteed to hear the terms ‘Social entrepreneurship’, ‘Innovation’, ‘Social innovation’ and ‘Social change’. I cannot help but wonder how social innovation will ever work as a tool for social change when the jargon around this ideology repels the layman.

South Africa is fortunate because she has ACTIVATE! Change Drivers to make certain that we do not replace the heart with “meaningless” jargon. Let’s talk about Social Innovation.

Social Innovation can be described as a fresh way to solve a social problem. This solution is considered to be more effective, efficient; sustainable and generally useful to all members of the society. The core of social innovation is that it seeks to add value to society as a whole rather than just grow the profits of private individuals.  So, social innovation is ‘Ubuntu’ on steroids. Yes, steroids. Let me explain. In exactly the same way gym junkies use steroids to enhance muscle build up, social entrepreneurs combine the African model of ‘Ubuntu’ with the capitalist business model to fix social ills and earn an income while doing that. A combination of Ubuntu and entrepreneurship breeds social innovation. Using business as a force for good. Taking the village to market. Moving from ‘I’ to ‘We’. Taking small steps to global change. I could write a book.

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is bringing ‘Ubuntu’ back (in exactly the same way Justin Timberlake brought sexy back) by hosting South Africa’s first ever Social Innovations Summit (SIS). After attending the South African Innovations Summit (SAIS) in 2017, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is partnering with SAIS to host the Social Innovations Summit within the Innovations Summit in September 2018.

Imagine a colourful assemblage of young and old in stimulating conversations about capitalism, global inequality and the role of business in society. Imagine a space where the leaders of tomorrow are sending a clear message to the business and political leaders of today.  Imagine a space where the business and political leaders of today are listening to the leaders of tomorrow. It sounds like magic, but it’s really just going back to the basics- unifying the community through the sharing of innovative (in simpler terms, ground-breaking) ideas.

You might be reading this and thinking that SAIS and ACTIVATE! Change Drivers are duplicating efforts by having a Social Innovation Summit within an Innovations Summit. I mean, it’s the same thing right? Wrong. Allow me to simplify it for you. The SAIS focuses on commercial innovation while ACTIVATE’s SIS will focus on social innovation. Although certain goals of these two innovation models overlap, commercial and social innovation often have very different goals. Innovation, on its own, may be very successful in a profit-making context but lacks the ability to address extreme social challenges. Using commercial innovation to address social issues would not only be a waste of resources, it would also break the trust between the enterprises and its consumers. Social innovation is fuelled by trust and social capital. These are two materials that are not easy to buy.

You can view commercial innovation and social innovation as twin sisters. One sister is very good with numbers and seeks to push profit-driven success at a large scale. The other sister is more concerned with how and where she can create the most impact in decreasing inequality and helping those who are in need of support. I’ll be a social innovator for a moment and give you an example that will highlight the difference between these two sisters.

Think of Gog’ uFlo’s orphanage down the road. Gogo saw that there were a lot of orphaned children in her community. Because of the absence of adult supervision and poverty, these orphans grow up to be criminals and drug addicts. Gog’ uFlo decides to open up her home to these young kids so that they can have a sense of belonging and adult supervision so that they don’t feel obligated to turn to crime and drugs for survival. Gogo gets funding from the local municipality to help feed these orphans, she’s a social innovator. Sis’ Thembi, the commercial innovator would have failed at solving this problem because she would have simply seen a market where she could make a profit and expected the orphans to pay rent. Both these women were innovative because they came up with solutions to a problem, the difference is that one is profit driven and the other is impact driven…

For the strength of our community, ACTIVATE! Brings South Africa the Social Innovations Summit!

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