Saturday, September 21, 2013

Innovating with rather than for

In Athens for the weekend for SciCo and the British Council exploring social enterprise and innovation. Here the interest has been spiked by the post 2008 crisis and the need to develop sustainable responses to social problems.

A common theme is how reluctant we are as social organisations to genuinely consult our clients/beneficiaries and allow them to shape what we do. We talk the talk of participation but often fail to walk the walk.

I was reminded of launching Basic Needs in South India (www.basicneeds.org.uk) in 2000. We asked three highly competent disability charities whether they had people with mental illness (defined as a disability under the Indian Disability Act)  in the villages in which they worked. Two said no, one said they did not know! When challenged on this, they all gracefully agreed to look again and lo they all found significant numbers of mentally ill people. It was a vivid illustration of how our assumptions about the closeness of NGOs to 'the people' they serve are flawed. To their credit, and with our help, all three organisations took up the challenge of mental illness and helped us to design with mentally ill people themselves, and their carers, an innovative model of community based care that has gone global.

So too here a diverse group of enterprising people, with exemplary enthusiasm and conscience , aim to help others but the 'others' the one's to be helped are still 'other' out there. The task today has been to help people realise that the others are part of the solution to be embraced within innovation processes that can co- design and create practicable solutions. It does take people beyond the zone of their comfort but thankfully you can see the notion slowly taking root and people planing new ways of designing their social ventures with, rather than around, their client base.

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