While the UK has long been recognised as a global leader in social enterprises and social investment, the rest of the world has very rapidly caught up. Increasingly, we see a strong emphasis on social innovation – just to name a few: the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Israel, started with a speech delivered by Sir Ronald Cohen, who talked about blending profits with purpose; a UN agency for the first time convened a multi-stakeholder forum on impact investments in Armenia; the Vodafone Institute launched a new accelerator specifically focused on social ventures that utilise technology to empower women.
When comparing and contrasting international approaches to social innovation to that of the UK, two particularly interesting findings emerged:
1) Role of diaspora communities: In smaller countries like Armenia and Israel with a long history of migration, drawing on the diaspora communities – both in terms of talent and donations – was crucial. In the UNDP Impact Investment for Development conference in Armenia, donations or investments from diaspora communities were noted as a potential source of impact investment.
2) Role of businesses: the growth of social investment in the UK was propelled by the government, and this was unique compared to other countries where businesses and civil society take a more active role in catalysing social innovation. The UK Cabinet Office’s founding and initial funding of Big Society Capital is a prime example of this, where the state intervened to generate a new innovation, which then spread more broadly across the sector.
It was clear that successful social innovation needs to be context-specific, but international exchanges are also helpful to identify our particular strengths and to fill each other’s gaps. As such this year, we launched three franchises in Hong Kong, Milan and Dubai – with the aim of sharing the UK’s best practices with other countries that are earlier in the social innovation journey, but also for us to get new ideas to improve our work here.
By Bonnie Chiu, Managing Director of TSIC