29 November 2016

BUSINESS - Technology and Social Innovation

Social innovation is where Millennials are putting their energy and their money, and the sharing economy is growing.

These two concurrent areas of growth intersect and influence each other, especially since they both rely so heavily on social media and connected devices.

What this means is commerce is becoming more ‘social,’ in every meaning of the word.

More conscious of social responsibility, more enmeshed with socially networked daily lives, and engaged in more and more instances of “sharing” or “gig” economies.

Although this is disruptive to existing business frameworks, it’s also the way forward.

Both social innovation and the sharing economy have been heralded as the solution to a struggling global capitalism.

People are working together for social good, connecting over social media to discuss this and to find brands and services, and using apps and the Internet of Things to connect with on-demand services.

Integration and connection are key focuses. Integration extends beyond using digital tools to facilitate engagement.

Social innovators are blending social responsibility with economic viability in a way that previous generations didn’t.

The binary between non-profit organizations focused on social change, and for-profit organizations focused on the bottom line is getting fuzzy, as more and more entrepreneurs bring their commitment to social responsibility into their business endeavours.

Technology enables this blending.

One recent study by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) found that “the success of [social innovation] initiatives relies on the catalytic effect of technology.”

Social media and the web allow “participation of the public sector at different levels” and the ability to create partnerships across platforms has changed how services are provided.

The sharing economy, which intersects with social innovation in ways that are sometimes symbiotic and sometimes antagonistic, is an example of how technology is changing service industries.

The sharing, or gig, economy means that individuals, like Uber drivers, have access to your information and your personal space.

Trust is a major issue, and not only for workers in the sharing economy, who might drive consumers around, do their shopping, walk their dogs, or clean their homes.

Trust is also an issue for any tech company, according to Ryan Ozonian, the CEO of Dust, a non-permanent messaging system that allows instant communication without a permanently stored record. And, as the JRC study highlights, social innovation companies are, overwhelmingly, tech companies.

“Citizen science” is another example of technology intersecting with social innovation.

In 2011, crowdsourcing allowed the gaming community to solve the issue of accurately modeling a particular molecule to further HIV research, which had stumped HIV scientists for 10 years.

Social entrepreneurs are experts at taking existing technology and putting it to a new use – such as HIV researchers utilizing the existing base of gamers already playing on FoldIt, or organizations like Kiva using existing mobile technology.

Other examples are e-readers being used to increase global literacy, or solar technology being scaled down to make it more affordable and accessible.

Young innovators, a generation of Millennials who are focused on social responsibility paired with economic sustainability, are making waves.

They’re already experts at adopting and adapting technology to their needs, and as they create businesses focused on social innovation, the technology will continue to be an integral part of their work.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

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