Event: Transatlantic Perspectives on Social Innovation – New York City (6 October 2015)

Event: Transatlantic Perspectives on Social Innovation – New York City (6 October 2015)

26.10.2015 Blog

On 6 October 2015, experts from both sides of the Atlantic gathered at the German Center for Research and Innovation in New York City to discuss what success factors lead to lasting social change, how cross-sector dynamics can be enhanced in order to create sustainable social value, and to what extent different social, economic, cultural, and historical contexts enable or inhibit social innovation. We heard from a panel of experts which included Kriss Deiglmeier, CEO of Tides, Dr. Josef Hochgerner, Senior Strategy Advisor at the Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) Vienna, and Dr. Jürgen Howaldt, Director of the Central Scientific Institute at the Technische Universität Dortmund. Eleni Janis, Vice President and Director of the Social Capital Desk at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, moderated the discussion.

Dr. Hochgerner gave an overview of the emergence of social innovations and why it has become so widespread. Using examples of social innovations (e.g., the Social Housing Reconstruction project in Nagykanizsa), he illustrated the iterative process that is necessary to create social innovations, that is, moving from the idea phase, to intervention, to implementation, to impact. He also compared and contrasted the notion of social innovation in Europe and North America – the former, which focuses more on social systems and amending welfare, through complimentary approaches; the latter, which is more business focused, and implements compensatory approaches.

Ms. Deiglmeier continued the conversation with a focus on what she’s termed the “stagnation chasm” – the barrier that exists between the pilot and prototyping phase of a social innovation and diffusion and scaling. This chasm is where ideas fail to grow, and she shared three main recommendations on how to overcome this: 1) we must focus on cross sector collaboration, engage actors in all sectors – civil society, public sector, private sector, and build coalitions; 2) we must also identify and focus on the strategic lever that is necessary to scale a social innovation – is it a policy change, or involvement of a specific actor, or something else?; and 3) “never mistake a clear view for a short distance” – we must move away from a short-term mind set, as social innovations do not happen overnight.

Finally, Dr. Jürgen Howaldt discussed the increasing relevance of social innovation as a key element of a new innovation paradigm. He introduced the SI-Drive project and shared preliminary findings from the mapping phase – that most social innovations are small-scale, and that social innovation is much larger and encompasses much more than social entrepreneurship. He also highlighted three major challenges facing SI impact and the creation of sustainable solutions. Similar to Ms. Deiglmeier’s findings, he raised the importance of cross sector fertilisation, but also that social innovations require appropriate social innovation policies. And lastly, we need to build up infrastructure and foster further institutionalisation of social innovations.

The panel discussion was a good reminder of what we already know about social innovations, where the barriers are, and what still needs to be done to understand and implement long lasting and positive social change. And based on the active Q&A and the reception afterwards, it also further highlighted not only the importance of cross sector collaboration, but transatlantic dialogue and conversation.

The event was co-sponsored by the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) and the University Alliance Ruhr (UA Ruhr). A photo gallery and video of the event are available online.

By Amy Kwan


Photocredit: © Jerry Ferguson: ‘New York Sunset. HDR’ via Flickr. CCBY. Copyright agreement.