Learning Guide to Social Innovation, incl. Free Tutorials • Discoverology
26 items | 318m read

Ultimate Learning Guide To Social Innovation

6m read | Introduction
Ultimate Learning Guide To Social Innovation

Millennials dominate business and e-commerce. The tech-savvy generation and changed the way offices operate and hold responsibility for our “always-on” culture. Millennials also have high expectations when it comes to the places they work and the products they purchase. One of the biggest influencers on Millennials is whether the company takes social responsibility.

You know what social responsibility means, but what about social innovation? The complex topic induces conflicting opinions in the business world. However, some business and many entrepreneurs are using social innovation to improve their corporate image and increase profitability.

What Exactly Is Social Innovation?

To understand social innovation properly, you need to know how it differs from social entrepreneurship and social enterprise.

Social enterprise revolves around a business itself. For example, a company called 4Ocean removes one pound of litter from the sea, for every bracelet they sell. Whether it’s for-profit or non-profit, social enterprises are based upon a business model.

Social entrepreneurship requires individuals to come up with impactive ideas, that will make improve society. These creative individuals either set up their own business, operate a sub-business, or can be intrapreneurs within a company.

If social enterprise is about the business model, and social entrepreneurship is about mindset, then what is social innovation? In its most basic form, social innovation is about the idea.

While social entrepreneurs take problems and come up with an idea, social innovators come up with a new product or service that envokes change. To qualify as a successful idea, it must be more effective than other solutions and adds value to society.

Examples of Social Innovation

There are some fantastic examples of social innovation projects, from companies and individuals. Here are some of the most successful ideas that changed society for the better.

Amanda Brinkman’s T-Shirts

Amanda Brinkman turns the insults of others into powerful statements. After Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton, a nasty woman, she put the phrase onto a T-shirt. Surprisingly, the next morning, she woke up to 10,000 orders! Society can be cruel, and we often hear insults relating to an individuals sexuality, race, or gender. Brinkman’s idea allows people to wear those insults, and show that words can’t hurt them.

Plume Labs

Founded in 2014, Plume Labs works tirelessly to create useful tools so that everyone can enjoy clean air. The project involves a combination of the latest AI technology and big data to ensure people can monitor their environment and find fresh air wherever they are.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Innovation

There are many things to consider when starting your social innovation project. While they have an abundance of advantages, there are also some negative aspects. Ignoring the pitfalls of social innovation could lead you to make some big mistakes.

We know that social innovation can change society for good, and gives ordinary, everyday people the chance to make a difference. Once a social innovation idea is underway, it can spread to other organizations and generate policy and even government changes. Sounds great. However, social innovation has its drawbacks.

Social innovations can be similar to a new relationship. It’s all exciting in the beginning, and you make plans for the future, but then everything falls apart. Social innovations can seem like a great idea, but fall apart quickly. You have to prepare for failure and be resilient.

Most social innovation projects are local endeavors, with little scope for growth. It’s common for them to fail within a few years. Of course, there are exceptions, but that depends on the connections you have, and how many are willing to invest in the project.

One factor in the failure of social innovations are cuts to the public service. However, the biggest issue is that social innovation requires enthusiastic, charismatic initiators to drive the project forward. Without this, the project is unlikely to attract investors and will fade into the background.

The Six Steps of Social Innovation

There are six stages of social innovation, but not all are sequential. You can think of these steps as guidelines on how to become a social innovator or implement the ideas within your organization.

Ideas and Proposals

The most vital part of social innovation is an idea. The process involves designing the concept and project through both formal and creative means. In some cases, a group of individuals get together and work on an idea.


Having a great idea is essential, but is it sustainable? Whether the social innovation project is for-profit or non-profit, it still needs to be able to generate an income. Charities will rely on the proceeds of every idea, which is why innovators need to think about the long-term. A strong team needs to be in place to define budgets and find vital resources such as investors.   


Growing your social innovation idea is essential for long-term success. Strategizing will enable you to make use of all the resources available to you.

This includes franchising, licensing, and diffusion. There are many steps to this process, including:

— Metrics to highlight strategies that work
— Defining and Diffusing demand
— Commissioning
— Procurement


It’s crucial that you explore what inspired your social innovation idea. What problems is society facing? Do you know the root cause? These are the questions you must ask yourself. Promoting your plan depends on the facilitation of others, so make sure they believe in your idea.

Systematic Change

Systematic change embodies what social innovation is all about. Laws, regulations, business models, social movements, data, and creative problem-solving are elements of systematic change.

A common problem for social innovations is that older organizations oppose them. The main reason for this is when a social innovation project is successful, other companies suffer. However, change is meant to make society a better place.


Whether you have a business idea or want to operate under a non-profit organization, social innovation can work! The most important part of the planning and implementation of your idea is to keep in scalable and be realistic. You’ll come up against opposition, but social innovation is paving the way for businesses to contribute towards sociological causes.

About This Guide

This social innovation guide offers the most insightful articles, educational videos, expert insights, specialist tips and best free tutorials about social innovation from around the internet. The learning guide is split into four levels: introduction, basics, advanced and expert. You can learn at your own pace. Each item shows an estimated reading or watching time, allowing you to easily plan when you want to read or watch each item. Below you’ll find a table of contents that enables you to easily find a specific topic you might be interested in.

11 items | 66m read
1m read | Basics

What is Social Innovation

Social innovation is not the prerogative or privilege of any organizational form or legal structure. Solutions often require the active collaboration of constituents across government, business, and the nonprofit world.

4m read | Basics

The Different Definitions of Social Innovation

On this occasion we illustrate 8 popular social innovation definitions. Curious on learning the motives behind it? Apparently, social innovation has gained and retained a lot of interest throughout the years. Policymakers, academics and researchers, foundations and organisations and generally individuals share mutual interest on expanding their knowledge to address social issues.

10m read | Basics

Social Innovation Creates Prosperous Societies

We are in desperate need of a fundamental transformation of social, economic, and cultural arrangements. The old paradigm of government aid is simply inadequate to the challenge. What we need instead are creative and innovative solutions for fostering sustainable growth, securing jobs, and increasing competitive abilities.

All over the world during the past decade, there has been a phenomenal surge of interest in social innovation as a way to achieve sustainable economic growth.

6m read | Basics

Seven Elements of Social Innovation

We detail the seven elements of the Amani Social Innovation Framework (ASIF) below, using for clarity an example from my work with Ashoka when I set up a youth social entrepreneurship project called Avancemos in extremely marginalized and violent communities in El Salvador. Although we at Amani have used the ASIF intuitively, even subconsciously, throughout our careers, across multiple fields and contexts, this example presents a clear case of the framework in action.

6m read | Basics

The Future Of Social Entrepreneurship

The 10th Annual Skoll World Forum, which brought together several hundred of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs to Oxford, has just wrapped for another year. The Forum serves as a useful barometer for how the climate of social enterprise is changing.

When it launched in 2004, it was all about celebrating the unknown social entrepreneurs, helping give them global recognition and credibility, and a platform to engage with policy leaders and large corporations.

8m read | Basics

New trends in Social Innovation

Social innovation is not a recent development: the concept of social innovation first emerged in the early nineteenth century. However, it is only recently that social innovation has benefited from such an exceptionally favorable environment for development. The huge number of successful initiatives are proof that social innovation is not an experiment that is limited in scope, but a wellspring from which a veritable ecosystem can grow.

6m read | Basics

Creating a Vibrant Social Innovation Ecosystem

The career paths that young people embark on are often dependent on the opportunities afforded to them in their communities. As a result, higher learning institutions act as important centers of societal influences and bear a lot of responsibility for how future generations tackle major social and economic challenges. Universities in Singapore have proved that they are aware of their moral responsibilities and global development.

4m read | Basics

How To Start A Social Innovation Project

Are your passion and vision enough to start a successful social innovation or business? We met with seven accomplished social entrepreneurs from different fields, sectors and countries and asked them to share their story. Let’s find out how they got their initiatives off the ground and what advice and tips they have for those interested in moving forward with their ideas and transforming them into reality.

6m read | Basics

Ways to Develop an Innovative Mindset

Innovation is a question of mindset, and creating that mindset precedes everything else. In my opinion, it’s the innovation mindset that overrides the aspects of human nature that are often holding back innovation in large organizations.

So, how do we create an innovation mindset?

10m read | Basics

How to Set Up a Process of Social Innovation

A social innovation process consists of a sequence of activities that seek to find solutions to a specific challenge. The process itself brings a new approach that has social impact in its means (process) and ends (solution). By developing a social innovation process, apart from the better solution created, other outcomes that have social impact are achieved such as common and shared better understanding of the local issue by a wider group of local stakeholders, communities’ capacity building, citizen resilience, new alliances, teambuilding or wider engagement locally.

5m read | Basics

Levers for Achieving Social Change

Your organization probably has the core competencies to accomplish meaningful change; the hardest part is identifying the appropriate strategy and resources to get the job done. Here at Taproot, we’ve found it easier to break down the process of larger social change into five basic “levers,” or strategies, that any business or nonprofit can use. By parsing goals into smaller, manageable, and realistic parts, and by focusing on near-term accomplishments rather than long-term solutions, achieving enduring and effective social change is possible.

6 items | 44m read
6m read | Advanced

Why Social Entrepreneurship is the New Business Model

Social enterprise has taken off as a new formula for success, combining capitalism with a do-gooder mentality. These self-funding, for-profit businesses also have a mission to tackle global issues such as alleviating hunger, improving education, and combatting climate change. To achieve their high-minded goals, the companies might fund specific programs, partner with governments or existing philanthropic entities, or follow a one-for-one donation model, and work on either the local or international level.

4m read | Advanced

The Most Innovative Companies Dedicated To Social Good

From setting a sustainable example to providing affordable sanitation in African slums, these are the World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies dedicated to Social Good.

6m read | Advanced

Keys to Corporate Social Innovation

Trying to embrace social innovation, which requires breakthroughs that address societal needs and change conventional ways of doing business, seems a near-impossible feat. The road is paved with dozens of well-meaning corporate social-innovation pilots that never reached their impact potential. And yet, some companies have managed to overcome conventional thinking and traditional business models. They’ve managed to bring social innovation into their businesses and profited as a result.

10m read | Advanced

Examples of Corporate Social Innovation

Our world is continually faced with new and existing issues, the complexity of which has an immediate effect on the way societies, communities, citizens, businesses and corporations interact with one another and their natural environment. Enter Corporate Social Innovation (CSI) as the apparent next thing in social innovation, driven by the need to forge new types of relationships. Creating shared value is certainly nothing new, yet the growing interest in the field is focused on the new approaches that corporations can take in a bid to move towards a resolution to our long-lasting wicked problems. Here, we shine a light on eight notable examples of CSI worth considering in your business.

9m read | Advanced

What Holds Back Corporate Social Innovators

Corporate social innovators must balance social and financial objectives. Solutions have to be impactful yet profitable. But forces inside corporations naturally push for higher profit and lower uncertainty—two things that social impact ventures generally can’t guarantee. For example, at times corporate social innovators at Pearson would aim to create products specifically for low-income learners, but internal pressure compelled them toward designing offerings for an easier-to-serve population.

9m read | Advanced

Innovation to Impact: Obama’s Social Innovation

Nearly five years after President Obama announced the creation of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) in a ceremony at the White House, the program has achieved amazing progress. Its portfolio includes more than a half billion dollars of cross-sector investments in effective community solutions. Many already show promising early results. Nonprofits are establishing new connections and building capacity that will benefit the entire social sector and the country.

8 items | 202m read
5m read | Expert

Raising the Bar on Nonprofit Impact Measurement

The closer nonprofits are to their beneficiaries, the better able they are to represent them. Good impact measurement will ensure that they remain close, and understand the detail and nuance of their lives. In the end, that’s an approach to raising the bar on impact that helps make us accountable to beneficiaries—the people we’re here to help

35m read | Expert

A Methodological Framework for Measuring Social Innovation

This paper introduces a methodological framework to develop dimensions for measuring social innovation capacities of spatial units. The framework is designed to ensure the compatibility of these dimensions with theoretical concepts as well as innovative practices. Therefore, theoretical top-down strategies have been combined with an empirical bottom-up strategy. From the top-down perspective, we assess opportunities and limits of existing metrics of technological economic innovation in the light of theoretical requirements of social innovation. As an interim result, we present measurement dimensions for social innovation at the national level.

4m read | Expert

Examples of Social Innovation

Here is a list of organizations that are innovating for social and environmental good. We’ve also included some organizations that will help you get your project started, or help your company get started with social innovation.

9m read | Expert

How Do You Scale Social Innovation Startups?

You’re a social entrepreneur wanting to change the world, but are having a hard time scaling your promising idea and achieving lasting impact. In my job as UNICEF Innovation co-lead, I come across hundreds of promising and not so promising technology and social innovation startups every year. While this is an emerging space, many social innovation startups face similar challenges. In this piece, I want to provide some practical advice for how social innovation startups can increase their chances of success.

120m read | Expert

How to Implement Social Innovation: a Step-by-Step Guide

If you are planning a new project related to social innovation, this toolkit will help you to clarify goals and manage your work in the best way possible. It examines all the stages of the idea’s adoption and offers practical tools to solve problems and follow certain goals. The activities offered by the paper focus on visualizing every step, from producing an idea to project implementation.

9m read | Expert

The Danone Case: How Social Innovation Can Help a Multinational Company Reinvent Itself

Can environmental and social innovations become the levers of a transformation of big companies, not only improving their performance but also contributing to the invention of a new, more sustainable and more inclusive economy? The example of Danone provides a concrete framework to study the initiatives taken by multinational companies from first-world countries to address the low-income populations from emerging countries.

10m read | Expert

Further Reading: Best Social Innovation Books

Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation: International Case Studies and Practice. This book presents the journeys of pioneering—and often accidental—social innovators who used their courage, tenacity, and creative thinking to find a solution to their problem. The case studies do not gloss over the setbacks and dead ends these people faced; instead, they offer a realistic insight into the challenges and mindset needed to overcome them.

Do Good Well: Your Guide to Leadership, Action, and Social Innovation. Practical, wise, and witty, Do Good Well is a groundbreaking book that offers a comprehensive and readily adaptable guide to social innovation that not only captures the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of our time, but also harnesses the insights, wisdom, and down-to-earth experience of today’s most accomplished young leaders.

Innovation and Scaling for Impact: How Effective Social Enterprises Do It. This book forces us to reassess how social sector organizations create value. Drawing on a decade of research, Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair transcend widely held misconceptions, getting to the core of what a sound impact strategy entails in the nonprofit world. They reveal an overlooked nexus between investments that might not pan out (innovation) and expansion based on existing strengths (scaling).

Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good. Ann Mei Chang brings a unique perspective from across sectors, from her years as a Silicon Valley executive to her most recent experience as Chief Innovation Officer at USAID. She brings the book to life with inspiring stories from interviews spanning more than 200 organizations across the U.S. and around the world.

10m read | Expert

Further Learning: Best Social Innovation Courses

Becoming a changemaker: Introduction to Social Innovation. This free 6-week course is for anyone who wants to make a difference. Whether you are already familiar with the field of social innovation or social entrepreneurship, working for an organization that wants to increase its social impact, or just starting out, this course will take you on a journey of exploring the complex problems that surround us and how to start thinking about solutions.

Social Business Model and Planning for Social Innovation. In this course, we will take the social business opportunity that you have identified in the first course to a higher level. Specifically, you will develop a business model using the Business Model Canvas. Gradually you will also start writing your business plan.

Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector. Learn more about how design thinking, a human-centered approach to problem solving, can help you truly understand an issue, generate ideas worth testing and iterate to find solutions that make a real difference. Through global stories from areas as diverse as government, health care, and education, we’ll show you the tools, techniques and mindset needed to use design thinking to uncover new and creative solutions in the social sector.

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