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What does “social innovation” really mean?

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What does “social innovation” really mean?

This article was originally published by Stand Together Foundation.

At Stand Together Foundation, social innovation is the heart of what we do. We believe that our country's biggest problems can be solved if we fundamentally change the way we address them. 

In our flagship Catalyst Program, we empower nonprofit leaders to transform their communities' lives through innovation. In our new Catalyst Impact Grant Program, we provide significant capital and coaching to scale the most innovative organizations. And as part of our broader philanthropic community, we organize like minded donors to back innovative social entrepreneurs nationwide. 

But using the right words isn't enough to affect change. In fact, most folks who have spent time working in the social sector probably agree that buzzwords can distract us from the important work at hand. 

So when we say "innovation," what do we really mean by it? 

First, the phrase social innovation assumes that there is a status quo that is inherently broken. At Stand Together Foundation, we believe that our country's social sector is predominantly structured around alleviating or managing problems like poverty, rather than solving the root causes. 

Extending this assumption further, social innovation also implies that there is a new paradigm we must move towards, rather than accepting the status quo. The paradigm we believe has the potential to transform the most lives is one of empowerment: believing in people without exception, looking for solutions from people who are closest to the problem, and embracing collaboration rather than division. 

Finally, social innovation intentionally borrows its language from the business world. In business, the most successful organizations are those that take healthy risks, embrace failure, and listen closely to their customers to find what's working and what isn't. The Stand Together Foundation community is made up of entrepreneurs who take the same approach to the social sector. They recognize that "more of the same" won't cut it. Instead, they're asking bold questions and taking radical steps to transform their communities. 

As a nonprofit leader, we encourage you to embrace social innovation as your own drumbeat. Define the status quo you're trying to solve; set a new vision for what is possible; and then get ruthlessly creative as you test and iterate on new pathways to get there. Our country depends on it.

Learn more about Stand Together's efforts to build strong and safe communities, and explore ways you can partner with us.

© 2024 Stand Together. All rights reserved. Stand Together and the Stand Together logo are trademarks and service marks of Stand Together. Terms like “we,” “our,” and “us,” as well as “Stand Together,” and “the Stand Together community,” are used here for the sake of convenience. While the individuals and organizations to which those terms may refer share and work toward a common vision—including, but not limited to, Stand Together Foundation, Stand Together, Charles Koch Foundation, Stand Together Trust, Stand Together Fellowships, and Americans for Prosperity—each engages only in those activities that are consistent with its nonprofit status.
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