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Social Innovation Education - innovation and entrepreneurial learning for what matters

This article written by Rachel Collier, Co-founder & CEO, Young Social Innovators, features in the Autumn edition of Education and Training Board Ireland (ETBI) magazine.

Some insight  

In 2001, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy and I, seeking to put the engagement of young people in social issues firmly on twhe map of youth education and development in Ireland, established Young Social Innovators (YSI). At that time, there was no real system for teenagers, no nationwide impetus, momentum or importance given to this kind of engagement – depending on your school and teacher, you might be lucky. That just wasn’t enough. Since then, over 120,000 young people have participated in and benefited from YSI programmes. Each year some 10% of teenagers now get involved in YSI at senior level, and we are just beginning a junior action programme.   

Social Innovation education  

YSI was the first organisation to coin the term “social innovation education”. Its learning supports the development of young people as caring, connected, creative, empowered adults. Coupled with this, the community benefits from their actions. Working with very disconnected homeless young people in Dublin and establishing Focus Point in the 1980’s (now Focus Ireland) gave us two huge insights that informed our thinking and the design of YSI and its pedagogy. Firstly, young people, given an opportunity, can use their experience and creativity to change their situation. It is often through their experience and wisdom that they can overcome difficulty. Secondly, doing social innovation itself, such as developing Focus Point services for homeless people, provided us with incredible insight into how social change happens. Reflecting on both of these points helped us design a model of social innovation learning that now is widely used by young people and educators. Some 525 second-level schools are in YSI’s network of providers. YSI now offers innovation and entrepreneurial learning to 15,000+ teenagers each year. But it’s much more than that, because at the forefront is YSI’s purpose of empowering young people to create social good and contribute to the well-being of people and the environment. YSI involves young people in human-centred design thinking. Integrating ‘social’ benefit into innovation and entrepreneurial learning is important.

Our millennials are challenging us to make social responsibility an integral part of our modus operandi, in both our life and our work.

Why it’s important

It is not enough today to innovate for profit without truly considering social impact. Someone said to me recently that the millennial generation is more informed about global challenges than we were, suggesting that they are not satisfied working just to produce wealth for the few, but want to see that what they do and how they do it really matters. He believes this generation is quite prepared to challenge their employers in how they are achieving their goals. That’s interesting. Because I think there is a fear that social responsibility is seen as the soft stuff of doing good rather than the stuff of how we are getting things done; how our behaviour harms or does good to ourselves, to the communities we live in, and to the local and global environment. Doing good business now is doing business for good. Our millennials are challenging us to make social responsibility an integral part of our modus operandi, in both our life and our work. The impact of this is helping to make social responsibility more central to our living and business behaviour. Socially responsible practices are now imperative, rather than an optional extra. We, and particularly young people, see more clearly the global challenges, such as poverty, unemployment, mass migration and homelessness, radicalisation, and climate change, which are, unfortunately, affecting all of us in more direct ways than before. We ignore these at the cost of social cohesion. Education has an important role to play here. Our world needs innovators who care about humanity; who actually understand and contribute to the global goals set out in Paris. There are not many people, millennial or not, who disagree with the global goals which provide a roadmap to a more sustainable world. These goals provide a shared view of how we can survive and live into the future, or not. Challenging, but achievable. Social innovation education, we believe, can and does play a major and practical role in empowering young people to contribute, to find solutions, to understand that what they do counts, and to do things differently. This is why it is important. It connects the dots, the thinking, the learning about our world and how we can contribute, from a young age, to making a difference.

Educating critical and creative thinkers and innovators informed by shared human and global values is key to a better, fairer future. While YSI is engaging thousands in such learning I believe it can and should be available and offered to all students.

When a generation can hold a mirror up to employers and to all of us and challenge how we do things, we can be assured that socially responsible behaviour and practices will become the norm of ‘how we do things around here’. Educating critical and creative thinkers and innovators informed by shared human and global values is key to a better, fairer future. While YSI is engaging thousands in such learning I believe it can and should be available and offered to all students.