The Next Generation of Social Innovators Are Here — Let’s Start a New Conversation.

From my simple observations it’s clear that there is a global momentum building and more and more younger Social Mavens ( a term I came up with in 2017 for those key people in communities who are the “accumulators of knowledge” or lived experience) are coming to the fore fed up with a world that is becoming more unfair, unjust, radicalised and to be honest just not a nice place to live!

I come from an older crop of social innovators who had to keep explaining what social innovation was and try and prevent it just becoming another buzz word — unfortunately in some cases the term was exploited and used as a new way of securing funding for very non-innovative programmes. However, with Gen Z starting to make their impact on the world it is clear that they possess the passion, commitment and purpose required to create new positive narratives leading to new ideas and solutions to social and environmental issues. We all live in a very complex and unequal world and many young people see the system as broken and rather than fix it, many of them are proposing that we change it. Getting to there will require unprecedented levels of innovation. While a number of governments are waking up to these “wicked problems” most have not been able to usher in the fairer, safer and more prosperous society that so many want and need. So, maybe we (older social innovators) need to become a new catalyst for change and create a new eco-system to support these new younger change makers — more than what is currently on offer?

A key ingredient to any entrepreneurial and social innovation success is a supportive community eco-system. By community eco-system I don’t just mean the usual support structures that are available to social entrepreneurs and innovators, but the overarching support that is available through the community where those people live and have chosen to set up their businesses or new organisations driving positive purpose and change.

Someone eminently more important than me once said that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” It’s essential that we (1) start the conversation but then (2) listen deeply as I deeply believe that people from all walks of life are able to tell their story and put forward their ideas for change.

By starting on these “conversations” our new talented social innovators will be able to focus on:

  1. Connecting a diverse movement of people who are passionate about creating a fairer place to live — also, identify those “outliers” essential to bringing new insights and creative tension.
  2. Amplify the evolving narratives of a place/community and start to join the dots.
  3. Supporting people and communities who have ideas for positive social action — helping people find those “idea sparks” that can lead to game-changers.

So that’s my motivation going forward to support this new generation of social innovators and develop and refine their innovation and co-creation skills.

On the subject of co-creation, it has been defined as “an initiative, or form of strategy, that brings different parties together to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome.” However, in community-led innovation the definition needs to be re-framed “as a community-led initiative or form of co-design and co-production bringing people together to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome for that community.”

In a true business context co-creation is not easy, as highlighted by McKinsey: “involving outsiders in the creative process of developing products and services is harder than it sounds…While attempts to create products or services jointly may produce desirable side effects — in the form of reduced market research costs or increased customer loyalty — the ultimate goal of bringing outstanding products to the market remains elusive.”

However, within community-led innovation in places where significant dialogue (conversations) and research has been undertaken this culminates in storytelling sessions connecting lived experience and expertise in the community and enabling it to be heard. This acts as a catalyst for people to be inspired, leading to effective partnerships and collaboration within the community. Critical to this process is expert facilitation and mentoring.

Co-creation should naturally flow from this series of steps and is crucial to developing ideas. It could be stated that co-creation is the linchpin that connects all the components of a community-led innovation pathway.

Simply put I have a 5 C’s formula for co-creation: Converations + Curiosity + Concepts (idea sparks) + Cause (purpose) = Co-Creation

So, hopefully this short rambling can be an offer of support for Gen Z social innovators and I am committed to supporting and starting a conversation with this new generation of change makers — just get in touch through LinkedIn:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead.