The customary definition of social innovation is an
innovation beneficial to society as a whole, especially to downtrodden and
victimized individuals such as the poor, disabled, women, children, pets, and
various ethnic and minority groups. Most citizen organizations and NGOs (Non
Governmental Organizations) that do the social work of the world (over 100,000
such organizations worldwide) are "social innovators" (See for example, Hazel
Henderson, "Social Innovation and Citizen Movements, FUTURES, pp. 327-388, vol.
25, #3, UK April, 1993)
Social Innovation is as
Different from Commercial Innovation as Green
A social innovator attempts to
create an innovation that produces "public goods" for the collective
use or benefit of many people (See, for example, "Global Public
Goods, Ed. Inge Kaul, Oxford University Press, 1999). In contrast,
commercial innovators seek ideas
for producing goods or services that customers want for use by the
individual person, family, or corporation. Commercial innovations
are usually based on technological innovations. New technology has
been the biggest driving force for
commercial innovation, but new technology has rarely been
developed to drive social
innovation. Three of the "Solutions (#3, #4, and #9)
do require the development of new technology. In the others,
technology plays little or no role. Social
and commercial innovations differ
in another important way. Public goods are usually paid by peoples'
taxes, e.g. roads, public health facilities, etc., or donated or
sponsored. The user does not pay for use. In the
commercial world, the user pays.
Social Innovation must be Socially Responsible – sometimes called
Doing Well by Doing Good
Addendum 6/15/06, Alan F. Kay
Metaphors, viewpoints, and hard facts that enlighten the essence of social
My father in the mid-twentieth century
sometimes said, "Climbing the ladder of success? Be careful not to kick
anybody on the way up. You may need him on the way down."
Fish have no word for "water". They know no
other media. Some species occasionally rise above the surface for a few
seconds of air. They might wish to stay up longer and learn to fly -- and
indeed might just do that over the course of millions of years. Empathizing
with the fish, those of us struggling to make a better world hope that our
smarter species can succeed in a few years. We may have 10 or 20 years. We
don't have millions of years.
There are two reasons I now only invest in
companies that meet first-rate clean, green, sustainable standards. First,
compared to the tens of thousands of listed companies, limiting my attention
to the mere few hundred that also meet high standards, greatly eases my
evaluating process. Second, well, "When closely involved with clean, green
companies, you'll meet a better class of people."
To compete with other investments Wall Street
demands that the value of a company measured by revenue or profit must grow
pretty close to 15% annually. Material growth cannot continue at an
exponential rate forever. By the end of this century aside from at most a
few astronauts surviving some months on the moon, the rest of us will have
to live on finite earth pushing against the resource limits of usable air,
water, topsoil, oil, and the like.
Let's take a look at how well the 15% Wall Street demands have been met
over the past century. The most successful company, Exxon, in 2005,
according to "Fortune" had 338 billion dollars annual sales with profits of
36 billion. Not so many years ago, as a young man I recall the very first
"billion dollar" company, minuscule compared to Exxon today. For every
company that achieves the 15% growth rate Wall Street loves, a hundred
others fall by the wayside. In 2003, the financial industry made a whopping
one third of all US profits. That's taking a lot of money out of the pockets
of the vast majority of us working in non-financial companies and
Exxon is the direct descendent of Standard Oil. The story, uniquely
inspiring to Wall Street, made its founder John D Rockefeller, the richest
man in the world, largely based on a feature of purchase and sale agreements
suggested by Standard Oil's corporate lawyer, Henry Flagler, that bought up
competitors at unprecedented and not-to-be-refused prices. Standard Oil
issued enough stock to maintain its percentage ownership after acquisitions.
The practice then legal, soon after Rockefeller dominated the oil business,
became illegal and is now known as "watering stock"!
Transition to a society that is now mainly
competitive and slightly cooperative to one that is the other way round,
something like 10% competitive and 90% cooperative. The fact is that humans
enjoy cooperation, despite macro-economists incorrectly characterizing the
motivation of people as dedicated to the pursuit of self-interest through
Think of two or more heads of state (and/or
their deputies) seeking agreement on working together. Or imagine two or
more corporate CEOs similarly seeking such an agreement. In either case, or
in a mixed case (heads of state agreeing with corporate CEOs) none of the
parties agree to anything until each party is sure that it is in their own
interest. This is standard practice. Anything else would be crazy, right?
Well maybe not. Look at it this way.
Suppose they all went much further and only made agreements that would be
beneficial to all countries -- or all companies -- or, better still, most of
the people in the world. Would the world be a better place for everybody
including the deal- makers? You bet it would. Imagine how you would feel if
you knew that every deal-maker in the world was selflessly agreeing only to
arrangements that produced a better world for all! So how do we get there
It is possible to go from where we are to a better place, but it is
extremely difficult to do so. Most people would say impossible.
In over twenty years of divergent efforts I and my partner, Hazel Henderson, slowly
worked out some important ways to do just that. Sixteen of them are in this
website (Click on "Solutions" button above). Others are at
Our activities often provided synergistic experiences: ranging from organizing
civic, public service groups and start-up companies, to writing books and
articles, to drafting legislation and regulations, to educating government
officials, to guiding official government valuations, and to assessing
technology for the Congress. With all this we have remained optimistic.