Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How does one define social innovation?

After the last piece that I had written on this blog platform on the issue of corruption, I got very insightful comments from friends and well wishers. One of my friends questioned the lense of social innovation that I was applying to see the range of activities that have been initiated around us in the recent past regarding the anti corruption movement in India. These questions brought me to the cross roads of thoughts dealing with how does one define a social innovation. In the last blog articles, I did not deal with the definitional aspects of social innovation.
Some continuous thinking on these definitional aspects brought out the following dimensions which I thought to share with readers. The first set of question that emerged is – a) What is an innovation?. Some possible answers to these questions will be - it is a set of techniques, activities, thought processes that generate something new and also has certain element of uncertainty associated with it. Essentially, what these set of techniques, activities will help is getting aware of the abilities and capabilities that are ingrained or which have stayed latent and have the scope to generate a new stream of possibilities. These possibilities happen or not is not sure and hence lies the uncertainty with the outcome. These outcomes will very much depend on the process of innovation. It will also link to the way the existing, latent capabilities are harnessed and converted to fruitful outcomes.
In a society, existence of corruption at various levels can create a hindrance towards this fruitful conversion and can create barriers in harnessing of capabilities and abilities. Abilities are the potential that one is capable of and has been proved through past. Whereas capabilities are the future potential which can regenerate towards fruitful outcomes only through better processes. Rampant corruption in the institutional systems, governance structures can hinder these abilities, capabilities of individuals and can create laggards in functioning of the society. It is over here an anti corruption campaign can trigger off debates, create systems, processes, movements which can thereby help in larger fruitful transformation of abilities and capabilities of individuals in a social system. Because of this reason an anti corruption campaign might be seen as a type of innovation process and since it deals with better effective translation of abilities, capabilities of individuals in a society, it can be thought to be an instrument of social innovation. Though the question still exists that how far these movements can be seen as a social innovation process.
In this aspect of the interconnections between social innovation, capability and corruption, I will like to share an incident which will lead to further objectivities in the science of linking social innovation, capability and corruption. The incident happened while crossing a traffic signal of South Delhi in an auto. The auto in which I was travelling was stuck in a signal. Suddenly then, a person with a snake arrived and asked me to give money. Being irritated, bored with the indifference that I showed to him, he moved away after a while.
But what struck me with this incident was why these people have to do these jobs of getting money easily from people by playing around with the fears of people. Is this way of getting money easily by using snakes in traffic signals is also a kind of corruption? I was not sure with the questions neither with the answers. But if there is an alternative to engage these people in some other activities where their capabilities can be harnessed to generate livelihoods for them, should not that be tried: Or else if institutions, policies and systems are brought in place which harness the skills of these people and nurture their capabilities and shift them away from this money earning procedure should not that be tried. One can also ask if those mechanisms of chanelling the capabilities of these people are implemented then isn’t it a social innovation! This is because it will help them to move away from this way of money earning which to many can be a form of corrupt practice of gathering and collecting money. If that happens then can we call it a social innovation after cross referring to the concept of social innovation that we highlighted at the beginning of the write up.
One thing is clear, that it is not only essential to create the systems, mechanisms of harnessing the capabilities of these people for tackling the corrupt behavior of earning money. But, what needs to be done first is to motivate and incentivize this people so that they stop this practice. This will depend a lot on each of the individual and their psychologies with which they get engaged in this type of money gathering process. If I assume, that the guy who came with the snake and tried to collect money from me is a lover of wild life species like snake, then can he be engaged in snake preservation activities. If we can create a system that can ensure that conversion to take place then we will harness capabilities, freedom, skill and will bring in social innovation as a result of which corruption might also reduce. But let me pose another instance; say this guy who came with the snake has no passion about snake or wildlife and is just engaged in this because it is an easy earning option for him in the absence of alternative employment and livelihoods. Then a social innovation which will counter the corruption will happen only when this guy is directed to an alternative stream of income earning where he feels happy and thinks that he is nurturing his abilities and capabilities through that alternative stream. Here the role of policies, institutions, incentives will be a key. All these have to be bonded together to find out what is the option for this guy in a prioritized gradual mode. Immediately after that, actions have to be designed and taken so that transfer of this guy carrying the snake happens towards a new set of activity from the existing one. In the process he has to be constantly motivated to do this shift. Here the role of public policy will become very crucial. Without active public policy making and its effective implementation this social innovation harnessing the capabilities of the individuals with an objective of stopping corruption will not happen. And the day when it happens, may be we will see the same guy who was holding the snake in some other corner of the city to be engaged in a shop or in an activity where his real interest and capabilities lies upon.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. But my feeling is that our policy makers in other words the politicians will never take any such move as you suggested which can lead to poverty eradication. However, go on writing such article atleast for eradication of our ignorance.