Are you a social innovator?

How would you define the term ‘social innovator’? The Centre for Social Innovation define it as ‘new ideas that resolve existing social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges for the benefit of people and planet. A true social innovation is systems-changing – it permanently alters the perceptions, behaviours and structures that previously gave rise to these challenges.’ This definition to me is what a sustainable designer does. It tackles the three pillars of sustainability for a balanced future and concentrates on behaviour change.

I used to call myself a sustainable designer but after giving a presentation on ‘creating social cohesion’ for the 15th Sustainable Design Network seminar I tend to say I am a ‘socially sustainable designer’. I see this as encompassing design thinking, service design and social innovation to help make our planet a better place to live. Some people would see this as purely social innovation but I feel it is important to keep the word design included – a designer uses their creativity to solve problems while a social innovator could be argued to make social change. It could be that understanding the design process or being able to realise the end result puts a designer at the forefront of innovation where as an ‘innovator’ is more business focused?

The website ‘Challenge Your World‘ makes the following observation that ‘the term social innovation is both vague enough to attract a diverse following and specific enough to afford its followers a sense of identity. But left poorly defined for too long, I worry that social innovation could lose its followers like chewing gum loses its flavour’.

Social innovation is very important for the current climate. The Big Society needs social innovators to help implement the governments goals.

Collaborative consumption, sustainable design, service design, design activism and co-participation/production are all successful contributers to helping The Big Society idea. There are plenty of people out there already contributing – but do they realise?

For example, my neighbour is setting up a new company to help companies recycle their unwanted goods but she thinks of herself fundamentally as a business woman whereas my cousin is helping reduce food waste yet fundamentally thinks of himself as a chef. I trained as an industrial designer yet now think of myself as a socially sustainable designer. I would call us all social innovators.

There are many people out there doing great things to help our environment which are socially orientated – let’s help them make their ideas happen and promote their work – this takes me back to the Challenge Your World comment about not letting social innovation lose its followers – the design activist in me is always on the look out for new adventures and projects which we, as a society can benefit from.

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