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«OECD Innovation Strategy ORGANISATION FOR ECONOMIC CO-OPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT The OECD is a unique forum where the governments of 30 democracies ...»

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There is no need to say we call for groundbreaking innovations to address

these social challenges. Many are hard at work and try to bring answers:

• Engineers develop new technologies with the potential to dramatically improve healthcare, connect and educate the most disadvantaged groups, give an equal voice to all.

• Businesses distribute these inventions, invest to create new products and services to satisfy global markets and create employment.

• Politicians create new frameworks and policies to (hopefully) serve their constituents, fix failing market and societal mechanisms.

• Researchers look at systems to identify the underlying scientific, sociological, economic, historical and political causes of current issues. They model mechanisms of what an ideal world could look like.

1. Ashoka : Innovators for the Public. More information at www.ashoka.org.


Even when these innovations are highly sophisticated and designed with the best intentions, they most often fail to transform into large-scale social impact. Ideas and actions need to be coordinated, synchronized and widely distributed to systematically uproot social issues. Too often, stakeholders work separately and/or against each other, hence limiting or annihilating their respective impact.

That is why Social Entrepreneurs are key to transform innovations into groundbreaking solutions. Social Entrepreneurs are men and women who tackle social challenges in entrepreneurial, systemic ways. Building upon a vision of “the world as it should be”, they identify opportunities for interventions and change, apply their creativity and lift all the obstacles that may arise. Starting from the ground up, they mobilize citizens; find uses for technology to respond to concrete needs; collaborate with public institutions and shift political systems to create the right conditions for change; engage businesses and private investors in distributing their innovations; and work with researchers to prove and document their findings. All through their career, they catalyze innovation and accelerate transformation.

“There is nothing as powerful as a new idea in the hands of a Social Entrepreneur” (Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka) Since the late 1800s, competitive mechanisms have allowed for dramatic products and services innovations, increasing consumption and growing flows of capital into the business sector. Market incentives have encouraged and rewarded those who have been able to best understand and respond to the public’s needs and tastes, and every year increasing numbers of products are brought to markets.

Such incentives do not traditionally exist in the social sector, where innovation has been much slower and scarcer. While the market economy has expanded hand in hand with democracy and increased investments in education and healthcare, the income gaps and power inequalities between the richest and the poorest, majorities and minorities, genders, countries keep growing. Markets and political mechanisms have generally failed to fill those gaps and even contributed to dig new ones, while charity and assistance have lifted the burden of the disempowered but not brought lasting solutions to their needs.

Yet some individuals have brought by groundbreaking innovations where markets and governments had failed and where charity was clearly not a sustainable solution. Some of these innovations have later been adopted and massively spread by lawmakers and market leaders. There have been Social Entrepreneurs throughout history: one thinks of Florence


Nightingale, a British Social Entrepreneur from the late 1800s who established the first schools of nursing and spread better hospital conditions that became international standards. In the middle of the 20th century, Vinoba Bhave, in India, founded and developed the Land Gift Movement that led to the redistribution of 7 million acres of land to Untouchables and Landless Indians.

More recently, the most famous Social Entrepreneur is probably Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus 2, who with the Grameen Bank created microcredit. During the great Bangladeshi famine of the 1970s, he realized that the chronic poverty of rural populations was directly linked to their impossible access to capital, leading to a vicious cycle of low income, low savings and low investment. He developed the microcredit model to inject capital and allow for a higher income, savings, investment and an even higher income. Starting with a very small experiment in the village of Jobra making microloans to women producers of bamboo furniture, he demonstrated the possibility to generate a profit. He went on to secure funding with a bank and build a fully fledged “village bank” in 1983. As of July 2007, the Grameen Bank has issued USD 6.38 billion to USD 7.4 million borrowers, using a system of “Solidarity Groups” of co-guarantors to ensure repayment.

This model spread around the world. Muhammad Yunus then went on to launching numerous ventures with a positive social impact: fisheries, irrigation, clothing, etc. His Grameen Telecom has brought cell-phone ownership to 300 000 rural poor in 50 000 in Bangladesh. He is now also developing the Grameen University and branching out on joint ventures with large companies such as Danone.

Muhammad Yunus is the archetype of the Social Entrepreneur.

• Social Entrepreneurs are first defined by their vision of how society should look like and unique insights and ideas on how to make this vision possible. They find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps. They are by definition innovators, as they pragmatically experiment with a clear set of problems and situations.

They sometimes invent a new profession or a new field, like Florence Nightingale or Muhammad Yunus; other times they combine existing innovations and / or apply them to new populations and target groups.

If their vision remains the same, their ideas may evolve as the needs

2. More information at www.muhammadyunus.org.


evolve and as their experiment demonstrate what changes and adjustments are necessary.

• Social Entrepreneurs are creative entrepreneurs: possessed by their vision, they apply their determination to build institutions and fields of work. They engage people across society, mobilize resources and will not rest before they have reached their goal. When faced with an obstacle or an unexpected situation, they come up with creative solutions and find new ways to succeed.

• Social Entrepreneurs are driven by a vision of social impact: unlike business entrepreneur, their motivation is not personal recognition or financial success. They are driven by a vision of a world where all have the same rights and opportunities and all are empowered to take charge of their own destiny. In other words, “They will not give a man a fish; they will not even teach them how to teach. But they will revolutionize the entire fishing industry.” (Bill Drayton) The objective of a Social Entrepreneur is that their solution has no more need to exist when the system has fully shifted and the problem no longer exists.

In 1980, William Drayton had a new idea: in order to address social challenges, money and philanthropy, political action, lobbying and citizens’ engagement in charity were not enough. What the world really needs is a critical mass of Social Entrepreneurs, coming up with groundbreaking ideas and bringing systemic innovations to scale, adapting their models to the constraints of a changing and contrasting reality. He founded Ashoka on the conviction that the social sector needed what venture capital had been to the business sector: flows of capital invested into emerging ideas that had the potential to revolutionize society, but only if they were carried by the right Social Entrepreneur.

Over the past three decades, the pace of social innovation has dramatically accelerated thanks to a growing consensus that governments and markets alone could not properly address social challenges. In Bangladesh, Danone collaborates with Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank to distribute locally produced enriched yoghurts to rural children. In the United Kingdom, the government has established rules to delegate public service to Social Entrepreneurs with the most effective model. In the United States of America, the Obama administration has created a Social Innovation Fund to invest in the most promising innovations of Social Entrepreneurs that have the potential to be scaled nationally.

–  –  –

Redefining the boundaries: interconnected social issues and shared responsibilities Because they are driven by their vision and not by their selfish interest, Social Entrepreneurs have the ability to look at social problems from all angles and to apply systemic solutions. They push back the boundaries of the problem they want to address to ensure its effective eradication, and engage all the key stakeholders in their efforts.

Let us take the example of Jean-Michel Ricard and Jean-Daniel Muller, two French Social Entrepreneurs who founded SIEL Bleu in 1997. Young sports teachers at the time, they realized that sport had a great potential to reduce health risk for the elderly. When doing a regular, adapted physical activity, older people would be able to keep stronger physical and cognitive abilities, avoid falling, and maintain social interactions: in a few words, they would have a much higher quality of life. They developed a vision of a world in which everybody over a certain age would be able to access adapted sports activities in retirement communities and at home, at an affordable price. In order to do so, they progressively built a network of 300 sports teachers who could provide these services, and today serve over 50 000 old people every week.

In order to do so, they looked at all the systemic reasons why old people do not do more sports and engaged all the necessary constituents to lift those barriers.

First, there was no medical and scientific evidence of the benefits of sports. SIEL Bleu works with INSERM (French National Institute for Science and Medical Research) who has been documenting their impact and publishing outstanding results. With a regular physical activity after 60, the respiratory capacity increases by 30%. And if the risk of falling only decreases by 6%, the chances of hospitalization in case of a fall drop by 80%.

Another problem was the lack of awareness: older people were not aware of the benefits of sports and medical professionals tend to fear that sports may hurt rather than help. Thanks to solid scientific proof and a proactive communication, SIEL Bleu was able to engage doctors and medical professions in recommending and prescribing sports to their patients.

3. More information at www.sielbleu.org.

4. Results published by INSERM accessible at http://sielbleu.org/Espace_presse/Etudes/pdf/Synthèse%20rapport%20Inserm%20APA.pdf


In addition, sports classes are expensive, especially taken individually at home. Ricard and Muller wanted to make the service accessible to all and realized that the financial beneficiaries of their work were truly the social security system and insurance companies. They hence calculated the cost savings incurred by adapted physical activity: 50 000 people in France break their neck of femur every year in France, for a total bill of EUR 6 billion.

SIEL Bleu has hence convinced most insurance companies to partner with them and reimburse part of or the entire price of a physical activity class, giving access to the service to everyone.

In order to meet the demand and to ensure the quality of their service, SIEL Bleu has a strong need for trained physical activity teachers. Ricard and Muller worked with the University of Strasbourg to create a new degree for adapted sports teachers, guaranteeing the recognition of a new profession.

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