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6 Disruptive Social Innovations to look out for in 2019

Social Innovations

Innovation is a buzzword that is nowadays almost unavoidable – universities, governments, private and third sector leaders seem to finally agree that we need to embrace new ways of thinking and acting if we wish to change this world for the better. However, the most ubiquitous of this bandwagon is on the technological market innovations, and you only have to visit Trend Hunter to witness the sheer scale and speed of this production machinery - or as Morpheus would say, “to see how deep the rabbit hole goes”.

But what gets me motivated in these techno-scientific and environment-degrading times of hyper-consumerism, is the emerging disruptive Social Innovation movement, especially those targeting the marginalized groups often in the periphery of both the local welfare state and market innovations. Those I like to think of as fighting the big fights, hugely impactful with the potential of seismic social transformation but seldom reaching the main-stream.

With the goal of fundamental system transformation, these innovations do not usually have the “bells and whistles “of product innovations , and on the contrary can be seen as solutions for and as a result of the failure of conventional market capitalism, resource scarcity, climate change, globalization and general public sector structure. Very often they call to question the very invisible fabric that decorates our sensual experience of the world and provoke the institutionalization of new paradigms, practices, behaviors, and norms.

Here’s the pick so far for 2019 in Africa & Asia:

Universal Basic Income

Challenging the notion that people need a job in order to lead happy and productive lives, is a fantastic notion. That without a remunerated-existence, people are inherently lethargic, uninspired, unhappy and prone to engage in criminal activities. On the contrary, being tied to a job and income drives social order, motivation, innovation and performance. What does some new social innovation research have to say about this?

Institutional Accountability

As a graduate in Political Science in the early 2000s, I recall a question my professor always put to us about Democracy, by asking “ Who watches the watchers?”. On the theme of citizen engagement and novel approaches to monitoring the power structures tasked with the mandate of delivering social services and protecting civil liberties. See how community score cards are put to powerful use to empower communities to demand better service provisions and access to basic care.

Open, Transparent, Citizen-led Governance

Knowledge is power and information the key, therefore social innovators at, advocating for transparent governance, have developed a model to access, document and disseminate parliamentary activities and resources to citizens to peruse, comment on, and to oppose. This leads to engaged and active citizens that can influence the direction and position local and national governments to take on issues. Similarly, participatory decision making in local development planning formats such as Citizen Assemblies and Municipal Development Councils exemplify how citizens can take the lead in setting the socio-economic agendas for municipal and local development, which are in turn used to measure the effectiveness of service delivery and improve accountability.

Social Activism and Advocacy

In modern functioning democracies the Police Services, Parliaments and Judicial systems are the main custodians to enforce law and order as well as to protect civil liberties. But what if these institutions are unable or willing to? Or are in-turn the very culprits? Are there alternative levers for social change that leverages on the effective mobilization of people to ACT that goes beyond and above these institutions? See Crowdring, a mobile and web application that makes use of SMS services to engage, organize and advocate for social change.

Digital Extension Services

See how a game-changing mobile application called ChildGrowthMonitor, uses smartphones with infrared cameras and machine learning technology to measure millions of malnourished children in Asia. Not only is the application a social innovation by its applied use of Artificial Intelligence in the child health measurement and nutrition sector, but specifically this application (which will be used by community health or senior practitioners) will lead to better social service provisions for children and mothers especially in the rural areas. Because the application simplifies the capturing of better and more accurate data on children’s nutritional status, dramatically reduces the cost of measurement, and due to mobility, allows for rapid deployment to the remotest of locations, provides the necessary hard evidence which enables better planning and resource provisions to those most in need.

Want to be part of the movement?

Join Civil Society Academy, Welthungerhilfe, and Impact Hub and hundreds of other innovators by submitting your disruptive social innovation ideas to the Inaugural Social Innovation Challenge 2019 in Africa and Asia.

Let 2019 be the change you want to see. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once reminded us, “how soon not now, becomes never”.

Hurry! Applications close on 4th February 2019.


About the Author:

Ayanda Ntombela is an Innovation champion with big dreams of a world without Hunger, where personal dignity is valued and all can live their best lives. He strongly believes that only through fundamental disruptive innovation can radical system change in our life come to fruition. Working alongside other dedicated social pioneers at the interception between private, public, and third sector, he advocates and prototypes social innovations with exponential impact. He currently works for German NGO powerhouse Welthungerhilfe and is mostly seen in and around Berlin.

Want to know more about the Social Innovation Challenge? Get in touch:

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