Virtual Side Event for the 8th Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals

Organized by Diesis Network, the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS), the Canadian CED Network, and the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on the Social Solidarity Economy.

May 2, 2023, 10:10 to 11:30, New York time

Virtual only Weblink – Registration

Language – English only

Social Innovation is a contested concept which has gained international attention over the last two decades.

The main contestation is between the two opposing approaches regarding the social change involved in social innovation (SI). One school proposes a more utilitarian, or outcome-oriented, perspective focusing narrowly on social change as marginal improvements to quality or quantity of life, while ignoring the processes that lead to such change. Another school defends a more transformational perspective where SI is seen as a “(democratic) process entailing the empowerment of disadvantaged groups and the restructuring of (societal) power relations”. Both approaches are present in the numerous examples of SI coming from Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE).

Thus, we witness the incremental use of this concept in relation to the SSE during the 1990s. However, it must be noted that SSE entities themselves are not Social Innovations, but a social innovation matrix. This must be seen in relation to the above-mentioned feature of the SSE as a social transformation-seeking actor, as also signalled by the United Nation’s Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy’s (UNTFSSE) position paper. In this sense, the definition provided by the Quebec’s Network of Social Innovation (RISQ) declares that:

“A social innovation is a new idea, approach or intervention, a new service, a new product or a new law, a new type of organisation that responds more adequately and sustainably than existing solutions to a well-defined social need, a solution that has found acceptance within an institution, organisation or community and that produces a measurable benefit for the community and not just for some individuals. The scope of a social innovation is transformative and systemic. It constitutes, in its inherent creativity, a break with existing practices.”

This definition emerges after a long history that witnessed different waves of social innovation. Social innovations have always existed, but it is during the 1960s that a series of factors facilitated their identification. This is partly due to the “counter-culture movement”. Initially SIs took place mostly in the field of work, due to the crisis of the Fordist model, while in the 90’s focus shifted to address services of general interest and the role of citizens (aiming at universal and free access to services but in exchange of empowering such citizens).

The last three decades have witnessed a strong connection of SSE, other social movements and friendlier local, national and international ecosystems. This set the conditions for a series of strong and radical social innovations during these decades and the following ones: new services, new tools (especially in the area of social finance) and new actors.

Join our SSE Senior Expert Samuel Barco at the side event ‘Social Innovation from the Social and Solidarity Economy’. Programme and speakers available here.