Looking back at the TIS Talks webinar on Social Innovation

On August 16th, Christian Stenta, Communications and Engagement Leader of the The Australian Center for Social Innovation (TACSI) presented webinar 6 of the TIS Talks series organized by Telecentre.org Foundation & Intel to tackle the topic of Social Innovation.

The webinar defined the term Social Innovationand delivered an understanding of the core principles and types of environments that need to exist for Social Innovation to prosper - and how to apply these concepts in the context of telecenters.

Exploring Social Innovation

Recently, Social Innovation has become a popular "buzz word" used at a global level by governments, ngo's and philanthropic investors to define what are called new solutions for social needs.

However, the concept of finding new ways of social problem-solving (=innovating socially to improve the citizens' lives) has already been around for many years. Examples are the National Health Service (1948), the Open University (1969), Microcredit (1976), the Fair Trade Movement (1988), Open Source Software (1998) and Wikipedia (2001).

What's new though is the emerging of methods & institutions on how to understand, grow, finance and scale social innovations, so we can apply them in other parts of the world.

Because unfortunately, social innovations are still necessary at the 21st century, as we're still facing the social challenges of global poverty, lack of education, short life expectancy, lack of access to adequate sanitation facilities, social exclusion, lack of quality in everyday life, climate change, ageing population, inadequate health care,... as shown in the video "Fixing the Future" by Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian.

good complete definition of Social Innovation is given by The Young Foundation - Centre for Social Innovation: "...new solutions that simultaneously meet social needs & create new social relationships or collaborations".

According to Christian Stenta, this definition features that addressing social needs is not merely enough, as the critical principle behind Social Innovation is the intentional desire & capacity for us to be able to shape interactions between people and build communities & cohesive social environments.

Fostering Social Innovation

How do you bring Social Innovation into practice?

One of the most known thinkers on this subject, Charles Leadbeater states: "We don't have to go out of our way to find innovation, because it's already around us".

But this doesn't mean that great ideas automatically turn into a solution. Social Innovation is around, but we need the right vision to see it, it needs to be recognized and to be fostered.

It needs to be given resources so that it can thrive: we need to tap into it and create the right environment, so it can multiply. But this also demands patience, as success is rarely immediate.

On the global network for social innovation you can find inspiration, tools, methods, resources & approaches that can help prosper ideas & grow them.

Example: Family by Family


A good methodology of bringing Social Innovation into practice is shown by TACSI's Family by Family project. The project responds to the problem that too many family are stressed & in crisis, while too few families have the support of friends & families to thrive. Without support, a crisis can really overwhelm a family which often results in children being removed from their family by the social services.

The innovative solution the Family by Familyproject offers lies into a network of families taking care of other families. Professionals are not directly delivering the service of child care themselves, but instead coach families who went through tough times themselves to take up child care. The focus is on supporting families to thrive - not just to survive - so families can become a genuine resource to the system: the more families are enabled to thrive, the more resources become available for helping other families.

TACSI's methodology consist of 4 steps:

  1. Find partnerships: bring together local government policy makers/funders with the NGO experts of child care service delivery
  2. Focus the problem: once you know which area you want to work in, you have to identify a particular problem. For example: an ageing society is not a particular problem: how we care for those people is the problem.
  3. Create a multidisciplinary team
  4. Look for the right approach


TACSI developed what they call "a radical redesign" approach that blends together 2 well known approaches:

  • The traditional "policy making" approach, which often fails to reach a personal level and fails to tap into people's lived experiences & motivations.
  • The "bottom up" approach (such as the "design thinking" approach of the Open Ideo social innovation project), which often fails to reach practice & policy, as it is so focused on the end users that it doesn't create systemic change that changes policies that have an impact on government services & funding and ultimately have long term impact on people

As for the "radical redesign" approach, TACSI blends together above 2 by "working backwards":

(1) starting with the problem, (2) identifying outcomes from a user's perspective (outcomes that people care about and are meaningful in their lives) (3) which identify practices that are going to shift behaviors and enables people to award these outcomes and (4) enables the creation of systemic change & policies that support individuals & social communities that (4) will have a long term social impact.

Important to mention is that to create systemic change, the project must create outcomes that the system cares about - in this example: fewer families to come into contact with crisis services. The Family by Familyproject has succeeded in creating these outcomes, with a yearly cost (for coaching & supporting the families) that equals the big economic costs for "traditional" childcare of 2 children a year.

Social Innovation & Telecentres

In the words of Christian Stent, Telecentres have a bright future as Social Innovation centres in front of them, as they are unique organizations that can have a broker role and become catalysts to facilitate the needed partnerships between government, business & people.

The Social Innovation examples that were explained during the seminar were all picked because they all have underpins that can be undertaken by Telecentres that start to practice Social Innovation as a business model:

  • Just like the Microcredit of the Grameen bank, a Telecentre's power is its ability to tap into a large network in a very simply way, and its ability to build a sense of 'agency': that ICT can provide opportunities
  • Just like Open Ideo, Telecentre.org offers an online platform that uses technology to bring different kinds of people together to build a rich & diverse solution
  • Just like Wikipedia, the leverage does not only comes from the knowledge but the ability to create content and engage with that
  • Just like Family by Family started to see families as a resource, Telecentres are also creating a social movement rather than a program

» Download the presentation slides of the webinar

» Watch the related video "Fixing the Future" by Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian.

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