Social Innovation - What is it Anyway?

Welcome to your Social Innovation journey! You might feel overwhelmed seeing all the big words about innovation, social change, sustainability and SDGs, but don’t worry. This article will help you familiarise yourself with the basics of social innovation, its history and how it works nowadays. Let’s get started!

Even though it sounds like a new concept, social innovation has happened in different ways throughout history. Most of the ideas people have nowadays are not inherently new; they are usually a creative combination of learning from what has happened before and the knowledge we already have about the world and society. Humans are unique in their ways of combining knowledge and thinking, making new links, building networks and applying new tools to the actions they take. This is also a foundation for social innovation.


All social innovation starts with changemakers. Changemakers learn from their and their environment’s experiences and look for growth and change for the better. Using their passion, persuasion and persistence, they discover and then implement innovative ideas to change the welfare and well-being of people, society and the planet.

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

Charles Darwin

Within social innovation, the scope and extent of innovative ideas and solutions vary as they are implemented depending on the need of people, communities and the environment. Social innovation, therefore, may mean a change in habits, behaviours, systems and beliefs. It doesn’t have to be big and loud. In fact, its size does not matter - it just needs to fit the societal issues you are addressing. 

Social Innovations - Definitions

You now know that social innovation is a change that positively affects people, society and the environment, and is rooted in their needs. But what is it exactly? Here are a few examples of social innovation that might help you understand this concept.

Social innovation is about creating and developing solutions that improve the well-being of people, society, and the planet. It is innovation that works for the greater common good.

Young Social Innovators

Social innovation is a powerful and valuable tool to deliver impactful and positive change for people and the planet. It involves social groups and communities creating, developing and diffusing ideas and solutions to address pressing social needs.

Innovative Communities

New solutions (products, services, models, markets, processes, etc.) that simultaneously meet a social need (more effectively than existing solutions) and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources. In other words, social innovations are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act.

The Young Foundation

Social innovation refers to a new way of doing things, an innovative element in a given context. It represents a breaking away from the usual solutions offered and provides a creative response to social and economic problems that cannot be solved by the market or state. It thus improves individual and collective well-being.

The Social Solidarity Economy

Examples of Social Innovation

Social innovation is about coming up with solutions to the most pressing issues affecting people, communities and the environment, and taking action on them. The history knows many successful social innovators that changed the world for good, in many different ways and areas. Below are a few examples of social innovation that you might have heard about but did not connect to social innovation. 



Environmentalism which grew from 19th century US movements for protecting forests, scientifically inspired movements to protect biodiversity, political movements to counter pollution by large corporations and direct action taken by campaigning organisations such as Greenpeace has spawned many modern social innovations, including urban recycling and wind farms.


Feminism which has its roots in the Western world in 18th-century humanism, the Industrial Revolution, and the French Revolution (Society of Revolutionary Republican Women) evolved as a movement that was simultaneously cultural and intellectual with changemaker pioneers such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Simone de Beauvoir and Germaine Greer.

<p>Marriage Equality, Ireland 2015</p>
<p>Marriage Equality, Ireland 2015</p>

Marriage Equality, Ireland 2015

The 2015 introduction of marriage equality in Ireland brought about transformative social change. While it appeared as a single event, it was the culmination of dedicated individuals and groups who persistently worked to shift beliefs and norms over time. Their efforts broadened perspectives, reshaping political and cultural norms, ultimately improving the lives of many. It stands as a remarkable systemic social innovation.

Becoming a young social innovator

This is the part when we call you to take action on an issue that you might have noticed, or are about to explore, in your community. Become a young social innovator and use this platform to learn more about ways to make a change and take action. We have a bank of resources to help you with this journey (link to resources).

Read the quote below to see what you and those around you will gain from innovating for social good, and start innovating!

As a young social innovator, you’ll be challenged to look at the world around you and to identify and explore issues affecting you, your friends, your community and wider society. More than just coming up with a solution, you will be asked to put that idea into action and create change. You will see other perspectives, using your own expertise and creativity to design solutions based on real human experience and need. You will gain real experience working in a team and develop skills in leadership, communications and project planning and management.

Rachel Collier, Co-founder of Young Social Innovators.