Social innovation and social justice in an age of pandemics
The global public health crisis associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought to the surface a range of economic, political, and environmental crises, said Dean Peter Tufano, introducing this first broadcast in the third season of Leadership in Extraordinary Times. In conversation with Peter Drobac, Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Cheryl Dorsey, President of social impact organisation Echoing Green, talked about how social innovators are drawn to address the root causes of these crises and ‘treat the system rather than the symptoms.’
‘The animating feature of social innovation is the recognition – this clear-eyed recognition – that current systems are not working, or not working for enough of us. But there is a real animating feature to try to fix, repair, rebuild, reimagine those systems to make them more inclusive and provide more opportunity for all,’ said Dorsey.
The discussion covered the importance of working with communities, the transformational abilities of ‘proximate’ leaders, who arise from the communities they serve, and the need to interrogate and dismantle unfair power structures. Three key themes emerged:
Embrace the qualities of proximate leaders
Successful social innovators have a deep level of authenticity and connection to community. They have what Dorsey described as ‘stickiness’, an ability to mobilise both financial and human capital, and a strong sense of purpose and belief in the rightness of what they are doing.
Avoid an obsession with scale and quick fixes
Big, bold solutions delivered by single organisations are attractive, but risk stripping out the local connections and knowledge that make the solutions work. Dorsey emphasised that social innovation is complicated and relational: interventions that might work in one community do not necessarily work in another.
Work with existing organisations
Starting a new social enterprise is not always the answer. Creating a more inclusive and equitable world also needs people to work at all levels in government and in business – creating more sustainable supply chains, for example. Dorsey said that ‘there are so many places on the chessboard of society to take your unique talent, gifts, or skills, and to go drive change as a social innovator’.