Social Innovations: New Ways to Solve Old Problems

Feb 16, 2017

Photo credit: UNDP Innovation

The most futile effort is to try to apply the same solution to a problem even if it fails and keep on hoping for the result to be different. This is the reason why the IX International Conference of Ukrainian Philanthropists Forum focused on social innovations: how to get inspired from new approaches, from fresh ideas and untried perspectives; how to tap into the ingenuity of those who have done things in the past, and have been successful or those who generated experience from their failures. UNDP co-organized the conference, together with a side event on measuring social change in order to exchange knowledge and practices on social innovations among civic activists, and to build the capacity of CSOs on social impact management.

The conference tried to provide the answer to a wide range of questions, starting from definitions of the social innovation to how to think out of the box, what kind of people are needed to lead innovations, where to mobilise resources for them, which efficient practices are worthwhile replicating, how to communicate innovatively, and many others. The 300 participants represented CSOs from Ukraine as well as other countries, service providers specialized in social innovations, Ukrainian government institutions and the international donor community.

The United Nations Development Programme has been a great supporter of social innovation both in the Europe and CIS region as a whole and in Ukraine in particular for over 5 years now. Among the most interesting experiences from the region to be presented were the application of the “positive deviance” and other innovative approaches to solve the problem of youth in Macedonia, alternative finance models from the experience of Croatia, crowdfunding for start-ups from conflict-affected areas in Ukraine,  establishment of the full-fledged innovations labs in Moldova (MiLab) and Georgia (ServiceLab), efforts of some Ukrainian municipalities to foster social innovations in their cities and many others.

The “positive deviance” approach focuses on finding those who have already come up with solutions to identified problems within the same community. After identifying an approach that works in the specific community, through this person (the “positive champion”, who has deviated from the norm to face his or her challenges) it gets transferred to the local population. Dejan Dokuzovski from UNDP Country Office in Macedonia has helped to strengthen community resilience at local level through the use of Positive Deviance, and told about testing out different innovative approaches to find better solutions for the existing problems that young people are dealing with.

Mobilising resources for innovative projects and initiatives is just as important as finding solutions to the problems you are addressing. UNDP contributions also focused on alternative financing models, in particular, crownfunding. Robert Pasicko from UNDP Croatia told how after successful crowdfunding experiences, he participated in setting up Crowdfunding Academy and UNDP Alternative Financining Lab which supports new financial models in 20+ countries globally. He also shared his views on why innovation in financing and energy use are the best chance we have to avoid climate disasters and lead us to sustainable development.

The whole discussion panel was devoted to the successful experiences of the “innovation labs”. UNDP works in nearly 170 countries and territories, helping to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality and exclusion. In these countries, we see more and more people, particularly young women and men, push the boundaries of citizen engagement and work towards a future they want. We see the emergence of new infrastructures of social innovators, entrepreneurs and civil society and dramatic shifts in the development landscape, accelerated by new technologies and new finance models.

Innovation for development is about identifying more effective solutions that add value for the people affected by development challenges – people and their governments, our users and clients.  Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires deliberate, calculated investments in testing new ways of triggering change. In the UNDP-led session we discussed experiences with Dmitri Belan from MiLab in Moldova, Giorgi Bobgiashvili from ServiceLab in Georgia, representatives of some Ukrainian municipalities to foster social innovations in their cities and many others.

Once the social innovation project is implemented, it is critically important to be able to provide evidence-based information on what social change it brought about. So, UNDP also engaged Damian Hatton from inFocus (Great Britain) to talk to the CSOs on why it is important to measure social change, what are the key ingredients for measuring social change, who should be involved in the process, and where to focus in order to effectively plan the measuring process.

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UNDP has been a great supporter of social innovation both in the Europe and CIS region as a whole and particularly in Ukraine for over 5 years now. Social innovation camps and hackathons have sprung up across the region to stimulate rapid prototyping of solutions to such issues as access to public information, improvement of transportation services, healthcare needs, and human rights. Working on citizen-driven policy-making, UNDP has been supporting so-called community “itch workshops” where problems would be enunciated and common, community-driven policy solutions would be sought and agreed with local policy-makers. New ways of addressing pressing issues through digital participation and online consultations have been tested, as well as reporting on problems such as cases of corruption. Means to capitalize on the power of the many to gather funding for crucial projects through crowd-funding techniques and tap into the potential of open data for socio-economic development have been widely explored across the region.

In Ukraine, UNDP has supported social innovation events where solutions were sought for municipalities and projects to foster access to information, create better transportation experiences and seek solutions for aftermath of conflict. UNDP stands also behind people-driven approaches for opening municipal budgeting data and introducing foundational software that today powers 36 cities and 9 oblast and rayon councils across Ukraine. It has been working with government and non-governmental partners to make sure that open data becomes part of Ukraine’s legislation, and assisted the country in assessing its open data readiness. Almost 11 000 datasets from 1 100 holders are nowadays available to the public. Finally, UNDP has just recently launched the Crowdfunding Academy for Entrepreneurs affected by the conflict that runs in collaboration with its partners from Spilnokosht, and the platform is currently working with 30 entrepreneurs to hone their alternative finance skills and abilities.

The event is organized by UNDP in the framework of the project "Democratization, Human Rights and Civil Society Development", implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.

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