Category: Social Ventures

Social Ventures

Anyone an Innovator: A More Inclusive Approach to Social…

By Darius Graham, Director, Social Innovation Lab

Darius Graham - Social Innovation LabWhether in business or in the social impact sector, it is common to think of innovation as a breakthrough, disruptive idea rooted in new technology. Perhaps it brings to mind the Model T, the iPhone or a polio vaccine.

This view of innovation as the height of creativity, a stroke of genius or a state of brilliance to be sought and possessed by the best and brightest among us, provides only a limited view of what innovation is and who can claim it.

Recently in the social impact sector, conversations have moved from discussions of social innovation (creating solutions to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions) to inclusive innovation. This concept of inclusive innovation recognizes that innovation, especially in our sector, can come from anywhere and from anyone — not just those traditionally with access to funding or education, which is typically viewed as the pathway to innovation.

This inclusive approach to social innovation recognizes that an individual studying a particular issue may devise a creative solution to a problem, but also that a person suffering from that problem who may have no formal training on the issue but notably the lived experience, may also offer a creative solution.

Inclusive innovation recognizes as innovators both the individual who creates a smartphone app connecting people to rides in neighborhoods lacking reliable public transportation, as well as the individual who organizes a neighborhood carpool system to do the same.

When we use the language of innovation in a way that denotes only an ingenious breakthrough or eureka moment that happens in a lab or boardroom by people with certain credentials, we leave out many others who we may not see or who may not see themselves as innovators.

Thus the problem is twofold. First, the general language around social innovation has certain connotations of pedigree, education, and expertise. Second, those who are directly affected by an issue or are closer to the issue may not see themselves as having the credentials to offer a creative solution.

In a world where so many challenges exist and so many people are in need, we as a sector should be deliberate and thoughtful in the way we identify and celebrate social innovation and social innovators.

When we recognize something as a social innovation or someone as a social innovator, we are, deliberately or not, including some to the exclusion of others. I’ve witnessed how the language of social innovation can lead some to question whether they are in or out. When recruiting applicants for the Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins University, one of the most common questions I get is some version of, “Is my idea innovative enough?”

Ashoka’s slogan, “Everyone a changemaker” offers a model for how we can think about inclusive social innovation. Reflecting on this mission in a piece for the Innovations journal, Ashoka founder Bill Drayton wrote:

The millennia when only a tiny elite could cause change is coming to an end. A generation hence, probably 20 to 30 percent of the world’s people, and later 50 to 70 percent, not just today’s few percent, will be changemakers and entrepreneurs. That world will be fundamentally different and a far safer, happier, more equal, and more successful place.

“Anyone an innovator” should be the unifying mission of our sector. A mission that leads us to empower the innovation potential of individuals and invest in organizations like Hero Lab and Mission: Launch that actively engage and celebrate that potential. This mission can help us create a world where anyone feels empowered to use his or her experience and background — whether rooted in academic study, life experience, or some mix of both — to offer a new vision of how we address social challenges.

Want to learn more about the Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures? Click here!


Social Ventures

Social Innovation Lab Announces New Class of Changemakers

Social Innovation Lab Announces New Class of Changemakers

Since 2011, 52 nonprofits and mission-driven for-profits have participated in the Social Innovation Lab, securing a total of $13 million in funding and positively impacting more than 268,000 lives.

On Oct. 26, SIL director Darius Graham welcomed the 2016 cohort. This group of 10 teams aims to build upon the success of previous cohorts by continuing to create change and build opportunities in Baltimore and beyond.

“These ventures were selected through a highly-competitive process from a pool of 53 applicants,” Graham says. “In addition to being promising solutions to pressing social issues in the areas of health, education and community development, these ventures and their leaders represent the strength and diversity of Baltimore’s social innovation and entrepreneurship community.”

Meet the 2016 cohort:

Social Innovation Lab 2016-2017 Cohort

Touching Young Lives – Provides education and tools to help lower the occurrence of sudden infant death syndrome across Maryland. Operated by Shantell Roberts, community member.

ReLac – Developing a vending machine technology and related services to provide breast pumping supplies to working moms. Operated by Meg Stoltzfus, Johns Hopkins University staff.

Beacon – A mobile application for anonymous, text-based group therapy that utilizes advanced natural language processing techniques to increase treatment accessibility for patients and the efficiency of mental health care providers. Operated by three Whiting School of Engineering students: undergraduate Shrenik Jain and alums Ravi Shah and Satya Bommaraju.

Bent Carrot – Strengthens urban communities by reducing food insecurity and promoting healthful eating. Operated by Mark Corser, community member.

The Whole Teacher – Provides health and wellness services to teachers in order to help reduce burn-out and increase retention. Operated by Jenna Shaw, a Johns Hopkins University alum from the School of Education.

Squadz – Squadz is a social activity and venue booking platform that connects the community to play pickup sports, while generating revenue for community centers and recreation facilities. Operated by Nikhil Panu, a Johns Hopkins University graduate student in the Whiting School of Engineering.

B-360/BCCC STEM Scholars – Exposes residents to STEM and increases diversity in these fields by meeting students at their level and providing job readiness and a pipeline starting at the GED or community college levels. Operated by Brittany Young, community member.

Project Charmify – Brings small-scale investment to Baltimore communities in the form of vacant lot revitalization and community-driven programming. Operated by three Johns Hopkins University undergrads: Elyse Oliver (Krieger School of Arts & Sciences), Darius Irani (Whiting School of Engineering) and Jack Alpert (Krieger School of Arts & Sciences).

The Listening Lab – The Listening Lab is a music listening education program that teaches fourth- and fifth-grade students awareness, concentration and intentional listening skills through a series of classroom sessions and live orchestra concerts. Operated by Rebecca Smithorn and AnnMarie Stockmeyer, community members.

Intelehealth – Improving access to comprehensive primary health care for the last mile through telemedicine. Operated by Johns Hopkins students Neha Goel (graduate student in the School of Medicine), Amal Afroz Alam (graduate student in the Whiting School of Engineering) and Emily Eggert (alum from the Whiting School of Engineering).

Take a look by the numbers:

Social Innovation Lab 2016 Cohort Stats

Social Innovation Lab 2016 Cohort Stats

Click here to learn more about the Social Innovation Lab!

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