Something curious yet strangely familiar took place in Osaka, Japan, towards the early spring of 2012: A small group of like-minded university students, post-docs, architects, designers, film-makers and social entrepreneurs decided to launch a community for young people interested in social innovation. Surprised by the popularity of their first two free-form meetings, the founders followed up with regular monthly workshops on everything from social business idea brainstorming and creativity training to motivational speeches by Osaka-based social entrepreneurs (such as Imai Noriaki of DxP) and lectures by world-class designers. It was through co-founding this group (rather than in my capacity as a researcher) that I first fully engaged with the notion of the ‘social innovation community’. With the other six or seven co-founders, I experienced first hand the excitement that follows from sending out an invitation to the widest range of participants to join something novel–something still only vaguely defined–that just might transform society in a major way.
In our case, the core common mission was to make ‘youth-led social innovation’ a common phenomenon in western Japan (a wonderful but highly seniority-based place that has largely discouraged youth entrepreneurship in recent decades). Calling our group Kansai RISE, we drew anywhere between 30 to 80 workshop participants each time and brought together young aspirants with peers and mentors. This propelled some to launch new entrepreneurial activities of their own (such as the Acumen chapter of the Kansai region and collaborative projects between established digital entrepreneurs and students with expertise in programming).
In an academic article called “What Is the Social Innovation Community? Conceptualizing an Emergent Collaborative Organization” (find citation information and URL below) published this week in The Journal of Social Entrepreneurship I make an attempt to capture the basic building blocks of communities such as Kansai RISE as well as those of (far more) established entities such as the Impact Hubs and MakeSense. In this piece I go beyond the physical walls of co-working facilities that embody many–though not all–‘SICs’ to explicitly highlight the networked nature of such entities.
I emphasise that, SICs, as loose collaborative communities, are held together by shared ‘cultures of changemaking’ that amount to a subculture of sorts where participants are encouraged to think beyond normal limits and consider the positive social impacts their ideas might generate.
Three further points may be particularly useful to other analysts interested in SICs:
(1) SICs can be divided into various sub-types, including ‘mobile’ vs. place-based types;
(2) SICs face several shared dilemmas, including that of appropriate boundary-setting, as apparent in virtually all practitioner-accounts; and
(3) SICs may succeed in ‘rewiring’ the wider innovation circuits of particular cities and regions (a point that applies even more centrally to innovation ‘labs’ that are more tightly formed around predefined ‘grand challenges’).
The article provides defines the Social Innovation Community as follows: “The Social Innovation Community is an emergent collaborative organization characterized by entrepreneurial projects, loosely shared changemaking cultures as well as online/offline spaces; it continuously facilitates informal but productive interactions between relatively diverse actors, most of whom share an interest in social innovation (in a broad sense) and in open collaboration beyond the bounds of any single organization or narrowly defined issue.” (p. 15)
I look forward to your reactions on this inductive–or rather, serendipitously generated–account on one of the new drivers of social innovation in our cities!
CITATION: Toivonen, Tuukka. “What Is the Social Innovation Community? Conceptualizing an Emergent Collaborative Organization.” Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, February 13, 2015 (online advance version), 1–25. doi:10.1080/19420676.2014.997779.
*Note that in newer work that I’m presently developing with Nicolas Friederici and other ‘ESCies’ we are using the broader concepts ‘hub organisation’ and ‘innovation hub’ to refer to collaborative entities that possess characteristics similar to those of SICs but that may or may not be specifically oriented towards social innovation.