The Obama administration has allocated $50 million in the upcoming budget in a Social Innovation Fund. A component of the new Serve America Act, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the creation of the fund on May 5, 2009 in New York. The aim is the non-profit sector, and the fund will support innovative social entrepreneurs to expand, “their successful approaches to tackling the most pressing national changes.”
So what is social innovation, and is it synonymous with innovation for sustainability? Essentially, social innovation is defined as positive efforts made to solve social needs, and strengthen civil society. Sustainable innovation projects are therefore by definition social innovation, because they are addressing one of society’s biggest challenges: the health of people and planet, and the impending threat of climate change.?
The work performed by social innovators may take place at a grassroots level, in charity organizations, and in government. A new trend, however, is for profit-seeking entrepreneurs to set their sights on social innovation. Companies like Method Home, Better Place, and Terracycle began with long term sustainability goals that in turn produce a positive social impact. Method creates non toxic cleaning products that are better for the health of humans, and the ecosystem that we live in. Terracycle tackles the man-made problem of waste by creating a business model for non-recyclable containers, repurposing juice boxes into handbags and other products. Better Place aims to design a car sharing system of the future, reducing the risk of climate change, which threatens our health and the vitality of the planet. ?
All of these entrepreneurial ideas come from leading social innovators, focused on delivering sustainability and profitability. While the White House fund plans to allocate capital to the best ideas in the non-profit sector, both for-profit and non-profit entrepreneurs alike will accelerate their focus on societal issues as the most fertile ground for all kinds of innovation.