Verso l'eccellenza attraverso il dialogo

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Social Innovation?

April 30, 2013


The article by Matthias Schieppati appeared on Vita.it with the interview with Geoff Mulgan, one of the world’s leading theorists of social innovation. The text also talks about many subjects dealt with in the courses of Fortes.
He arrived in Milan, during the series of meetings Meet the Media Guru organized media library at the Santa Teresa, to talk about social innovation. And Geoff Mulgan on this issue – all of the border, but still very weak in its borders – it certainly is a guru. His name is associated with the birth and development of two major British private entities that lie halfway between charity, think tank and social investor: the Young Foundation (which he directed from 2004 to 2011) and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) where he is currently CEO. Two private entities that are becoming in England but not limited to, a point of reference for all those who wish to encourage “social innovation”. But it was also director of the “Strategy Unit” of the government at the time of Prime Minister Tony Blair, and therefore also knows “the other side” of the coin, namely the constraints and opportunities with which the state can promote corpaccione, or bury , any process of social innovation. This two-track acts as a thread to the conversation that has granted exclusive to Vita.

D. That of the “Social innovation” has become a very trendy topic in recent weeks. A term used to so many areas that may lose its specificity. Can you give us a definition of social innovation that is in a tweed than 140 characters?
R. It is the same question that I have done the Commissioners of the European Commission four years ago, when the Union has begun to think of social innovation. I’ll try it means that innovations are “social” in the means they employ, and the purposes they seek to achieve. I try to allungarmi a bit ‘: innovations that create social value and meet social needs, and give answers through the strong ability of the company to act.

D. What are the ingredients that produce the trigger right to develop social innovation?
R. More than just individual ingredients, you have to completely change the mentality of approach, and act simultaneously on multiple fields: you have to put in new plants legislative points, providing innovative forms of companies with high social impact, you have to create a new finance to support them , incubators and accelerators are used enterprise dedicated to this fragile market, we need a different approach by governments in terms of procurement, and also serves a radical change in the way of thinking and operating profit of large corporations, because rethink their supplii chain by providing and giving space to partnerships and collaborations with businesses and social organizations.

D. A revolution is not just. It is the right moment in history to put in place such a revolution, given the crisis that spring?
R. The crisis is a great opportunity, it is the most important incubator to allow this change. It is today, and it was so early in the ’30s, after the crash of ’29. All small or great crises of the last century have been an accelerator of change, and so it is now: the crisis weaken the established structures, physical and mental, and open up new spaces. Usually what happens is that in the early years of crisis turn all their efforts in an attempt to prop up the status quo, to reconstruct the pieces that gradually crumble. Only when it becomes clear – and it takes a few years – this put the pieces is not possible, then you begin to think differently. You begin to think about how to build something completely new. I believe that for now we are still in the first phase of this process.

D. Pending that everything is collapsing, in short, from where you can start again?
R. A good model is what we have started in the UK with my organization, Nesta, just a month ago. We have created a “joint team” together with the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister: a group of people – half of them are researchers Nesta, half of the Prime Minister’s office employees who are working together to understand how to support forms of social innovation in areas key to the country such as health, education, support to work … If the development of social innovation was totally in the hands of the government, comes up against the constraints of bureaucracy and laces, and you would anywhere. If it were totally private initiative, carried out only by our organization, would not have the necessary support, tools, and also economically, to be successful. Thank buy hybrid form, however, we can afford to “experiment” freely forms of social innovation, but also to be able to count on those synergies between different ministries that are critical to build a path that has a future.

D. It is argued better social innovation when working with the public, or when you start partnerships with companies in the profit world?
R. We are fortunate cases of excellent partnership undertaken by private companies. But one should always remember that – at least for now – the end of a business profit is not the common good, is not to imagine integration programs for the homeless, or of health protection for the poor, but it is increase its turnover. To work for the common good is instead the primary purpose of any government. So if I have to choose …

D. And the third sector? It is a good partner?
R. It is not a partner. As always, the third sector is the area that naturally produces social innovation. The non-profit plays a key role of innovation in both countries in the developing world, both in our “old economies”: just think about what is non-profit, and operates, what is the key area for all system -country health. In Britain there are about 36 thousand non-profit organizations active in the health sector. Without them, public health would collapse. And so I guess that also in Italy … But one thing must be said: the challenge that nonprofits must continually ask yourself, even forcing their mentality is to always feel challenged to be innovative. Very often the non-profit, since he makes, does so much, and does it well, thought to be more innovative than it actually is. Here, it should instead have the humility to question more frequently, constantly imagining new ways to do what he is doing, and experience these innovations, perhaps on a small scale and then grow them if they work.

D. You can imagine a standard for measuring the social impact of real social innovation initiative?
R. It is a very hot topic, on which I hear so many different opinions. Many people think that social innovation is such as finance, where everything is measurable, translated into numbers comparable, where you can calculate the ROI of each action. I am convinced of one thing: there is not and there can not be a single standard for “measure” the effect of social innovation. Assuming that there is a standard, it can not be wrong. How can we think to bring back a single standard for measuring an initiative to reduce emissions of CO2 in a city, and an initiative to combat early school leaving kids unger 16? If you bring everything to a single number, are more useful information that you get lost, of those that you can analyze and place value. For this, the one on which we work to decide, for example, what projects financially support, are clusters of measurement, making it possible to compare experiences active in the same fields: which also allows you to share from the different experiences.

D. It comes from his country the great “idea” of the Big Society. Idea, however, has lagged far on paper, and in these last days is definitely raising the white flag. What went wrong? And this will have a repercussion on the development of the process of social innovation?
R. (… Followed by a minute of puzzled look good …). Big Society was a beautiful label marketing that at some point the Conservative government spent on the say, “Hey, we are Conservatives, but we are no longer those of Margaret Thatcher: we are attentive to social needs, we are close to the world of non- profit “. Like all labels, however, sooner or later showed its fragility. In the UK for twenty years, any kind of government has always supported the growth of the social enterprise, has always been attentive to the non-profit, including the current government, is clear. Only the fact of putting that label, and to spend it in a way the media so strong, has created expectations that then were not supported by any real operational level, by any real strategy.

WHO IS
Geoff Mulgan is Chief Executive of NESTA – National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, and was from 2004 to 2011 as head of the Young Foundation. He has held numerous public and has been Director of Policy and director of the “Strategy Unit” of the government of Tony Blair, he founded and directed the study center Demos and was a reporter for the BBC, has served on the board of the Work Foundation, of ‘Health Innovation Council, the magazine The Policy Quarterly, the Design Council and was president of Inolve, establishment of the British government – almost unique in the world – which aims to involve citizens in medical research. Mulgan is President of the International Social Innovation Exchange, a network of over 5000 people working to promote training and exchange of best practices in innovation sociale.È visiting professor at the London School of Economics, University College London and Melbourne University as well as teaching regularly at the China Executive Leadership Academy, His latest book is The Locust and the Bee and is published by Princeton University Press.