Social Innovation – Five Ideas that Changed The World
What is social innovation?
Social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem. One that is more effective, efficient or sustainable than current solutions. Its main goal is to provide a benefit to society as opposed to private individuals. There are loads of amazing organisations involved in social innovation activities. Examples include NGOs, government organisations, SMEs, multinationals, charities and individuals. They all have one dream, to improve our world.
Social innovation may prevent falls
It is suggested in the UK we have 1 million fall-related accidents per year, costing nearly £2 billion to NHS. That’s a massive burden on society. Something like one in three people over the age of 65, and half of those over 80 years old.
But it turns out we can predict falls.
A small reduction in average walking speed increases the chance of falling by a power of 4. If walking speeds decrease by 5.1cm per second, there’s an 86 percent chance of a fall happening within three weeks. A 7.6cm drop in stride length increases the chance of a fall by half within a three week period.
Now the technology they’re using to track movement is pretty complex. At present scientists are using sensors built into a room to measure changes. But we’ve already got the technology to analyse speed and stride, like the FitBit for example. Imagine what we could prevent if more elderly people were using activity trackers. I think in the next few years, we’ll see this kind of thing a critical tool to aid our elders in later life.
Using the power of the sun
Ever thought about the impact of washing your clothes? I haven’t until just now. Although what I’m about to tell you justifies everyone’s floordrobe.
Firstly, synthetic garments break down. It’s suggested that before the end of life up to 1900 individual fibres can end up in our oceans. About 85% of manmade materials found on our coasts are nylon and acrylic. Then there’s the washing powder itself. Chemicals such as LAS (found in most washing powders) require oxygen to biodegrade. If there’s no oxygen present, they will continue to exist, polluting our water. Phosphates are another red flag ingredient and feature in many products on the shelf. What they do is promote the growth of algae which then clogs our rivers and seas. Then there’s the wash itself. Drying our clothes can help reduce the carbon footprint of a wash by 75%, but we still use waste water and energy.
So what’s the alternative?
Scientists have created a new fibre that cleans itself, with, wait for it, sunlight. Yep, sunlight. Manufacturers spray a catalyst onto a garment when in production. As sunlight hits the clothes, it releases high energy electrons. This then breaks down organic matter, such as a stain. No more washing. Amazing.
A guiding light to better education
One thing that we all take for granted in the UK is light. I often work in low light conditions at home because I’m exposed to light all day in the office. In Africa, over 600 million people have no access to electricity. They don’t have that choice. Their alternative is to use Kerosene lamps, these cause long-term health issues. Plus they are expensive to run. In the Democratic of Congo, families can spend up to 30% of their income on Kerosene.
One of the big issues around lighting is education. If young adults are unable to complete their studies, their family will suffer. Numeracy and literacy are enablers. They make it possible for people to improve their economic and health prospects.
Technology such as solar can make a huge difference to villages and towns. I read the pass rate of students in Sudan went from 50% to 100% with the introduction of solar powered generators. Now the technology doesn’t need to be that advanced. SolarAid for example, are a charity that fights light poverty. They provide short term loans to make solar affordable. That means simple solar lights in homes to replace kerosene lanterns.
Access to clean cookstoves
The dangers from kerosene are significant. Yet, when it comes to home cooking, kerosene is the lesser of evils. In Bangladesh, for example, almost 90% of the people in the country use solid fuels for cooking. And each year 78,000 die from household air pollution.
At first, organisations promoted the use of kerosene burners, but there was a problem: cost. You see, cooking in Bangladesh could take many hours, kerosene wasn’t affordable. Even middle-class families reverted back to what they knew best, solid fuel burners. They required a better option.
As part ongoing research, two organisations came together. They were WASHplus and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Their goal was to design a range of new products alongside existing manufacturers. By understanding what people wanted new features began to appear on traditional cookstoves. They became more robust and offered better ash collection. Simple things like suitability for use with Bangladeshi pots were also included.
Researchers also learned that economic status varied the reason to buy. And they created new messages to encourage purchases. Here are some of the key findings:
• Middle classes were more interested in aspiration
• Lower middle classes saw efficiency as more important
• Lower classes saw financing as a way to improve living standards.
• Lower middle and middle classes needed more convincing. It needed to be visible that the new cookers provided savings.
Water in schools
Welsh water are pretty great if you ask me. Their latest campaign ‘Think Water – Dewis Dŵr’ is brilliant. They recognised that we can increase mental performance if we drink more water. They are installing water machines with special water bottles in schools across the country.
But these aren’t just any old water bottle.
The water bottles they offer are leak proof. In fact, I was in awe when our friend Bobbi showed us them for the first time.
It turns out, that some schools don’t like kids having water bottles in the classroom. Yet, this system is hassle free. You can’t squirt water out of it, and filling it is a doddle too. The bottle connects direct to the water dispenser, with no leaks.
So this is a very small list indeed, there are plenty more amazing initiatives that are happening around the world. If you know of any other examples of social innovation I would love to hear. Leave a message below maybe?