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Promote social innovation to support social well-being and sustainable livelihoods

  • Mission-oriented innovation: It seeks to direct networked research programmes and incentive structures at national or international levels, with the purpose of directing innovation towards the achievement of specific technological, environmental or social goals.
  • Pro-poor and inclusive innovation: It seeks to extend the beneficiaries of innovation - building on ideas of innovation for the bottom of the pyramid. This approach focuses on pro-poor innovation (primarily in the private sector) which, through new concepts, low-cost labour and materials and huge scales of production, can serve markets previously ignored by traditional innovation. It also includes innovations by marginalized groups, introduced under conditions of resource constraints. 
  • Grassroots innovation: By broadening the range of actors in the innovation process to include grassroots innovation movements this approach aims at practicing innovation, in both technology and service provision, in socially inclusive ways.
  • Social innovation: It focuses on organizational innovations and new social practices designed to improve human well- being (e.g. in business models, production practices, finance, or public service delivery).
  • (Digitally enabled) open, collaborative innovation: fostering open, digital collaboration - these innovation approaches draw on and recombine multiple sources and forms of knowledge, especially through open digital collaboration.

These approaches are highly valuable innovation spaces, in which attempts are being made to reconcile and advance the ambitions of delivering both inclusive and greener forms of social and economic development. These new innovation models can help to better address the needs, interests and perspectives of poorer, marginalized communities, and better serve non-market and environmental goals than traditional, linear models of innovation or conventional innovation systems approaches. This is particularly important given the resource constraints faced by many developing countries, the current levels of innovation capabilities and the transformative changes necessary to realize the SDGs. Moreover, this ambitious and progressive agenda offers an opportunity to foster new forms of innovations for sustainable development. It also provides considerable scope for the emergence of hybrid path to sustainability due to the recombination of new and mainstream innovation approaches. These opportunities are further enhanced by increasing digitalization trends.

For instance, developments in ICTs, such as crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, and social impact bonds are new ways to access capital, creating alternative sources of finance and contributing to community and business initiatives that might not get funds through traditional credit markets. Blockchain, a distributed ledger technology, where the information is recorded and shared by a peer-to-peer network using state-of-the-art cryptography, is behind Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. This technology makes transactions possible without a middle man. It is important to note that while these services have the potential to reduce the financial dimensions of the digital divide, they may also reinforce or create new ones. Furthermore, Blockchain services are still in early stages and a number of technological and regulatory issues can hinder their wide proliferation. ICTs developments have also broadened the ways to collaborate in innovation. The following Box briefly discussed some examples of this type of innovation.

Digitally enabled open and collaborative innovation: case studies
Open science allows scientists to collaborate in different stages of the research process with scientists from other disciplines and other parts of the world. In some cases, open science also calls for the collaboration of the public in citizen science projects such as e-Bird, Galaxy Zoo and others. Open science practices seek to share data, outcomes, tools, problems and the efforts of producing relevant knowledge. 
Hackatons are co-design marathons that originated in hacker culture to speed up the creation of solutions to certain problems. They typically last from one to five days and are organized around specified challenges. CAMTech Uganda Medtech Hackatons, for example, are 48-hour events that bring together clinicians, engineers, entrepreneurs, industry experts and end-users to co-create and crowd-source innovations for pressing clinical needs and barriers to care in Uganda. 
Civic innovation labs are spaces supported by local and national governments focused on generating innovations to improve governance, public service management and citizen participation. They are usually based on participatory design techniques, are often open to the public, and can be characterized by collaboration between citizens and public officials, sharing public knowledge and experimentation or prototyping new solutions to urban and regional problems. 
Open source ecology is an initiative to create 50 tools with open-source blueprints and instructions that any farm will need to be sustainable and autonomous. 
Citizen driven data is a practice that uses available data or produces new data to make visible hidden problems and processes and to create reliable information in relation to issues such as climate change, environmental pollution and inclusive development. In one project, for example, technology-enabled girl ambassadors (TEGA) are trained and offered the opportunity to collect data on their everyday experiences. The project is operational in Northern Nigeria and plans to launch in Rwanda, Ethiopia, India and Indonesia, with potential contributions to SDG5 through the analysis of gender-specific data, and the provision of digital skills that can enhance girls’ employment and other opportunities.
An example of recent collaborative efforts to achieve innovation goals is the grand challenge established by USAID as a response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014, which after receiving over 1,500 ideas, it identified 14 for their potential to stop the disease and some of these ideas are already making their ways to users on the field. Additional examples of this type of innovation identified by the CSTD include those promoting innovation areas relevant for the achievement of the SDGS such as resource-efficient, and socially and environmentally friendly production in Switzerland; energy, water and urban issues (Iran); and environmental protection, and energy production and efficiency (Bulgaria).

Recent examples of pro-poor and inclusive innovation include the Mitticool low-cost fridge created in India and that can be easily and cheaply built at around USD30-50 dollars, and collaborative initiatives aimed at strengthening women’s empowerment and capacity building in poor communities such as the Unilevel Shaki initiative. Several countries as well as international organisations are also implemented social innovations in areas such as organic farming by smallholder farmers (Thailand), elderly care (UK), and women’s ICT enabled entrepreneurship (UNWOMEN).

A notable example of grassroots innovation is the One Million Cistern Project, which has enabled the construction of family-scale cisterns built by users in a large, semi-arid region of Northeast Brazil. The project was originally devised by the Semi-Arid Association, a network of more than 700 institutions, social movements, NGOs and farmers’ groups. It was later adopted by the Ministry of Social Development in 2003. Since then, over 1 million water cisterns have been built by local inhabitants with the support of the STN and the Ministry of Social Development.

To conclude, each of the ‘new approaches’ described above can make important contributions to the SDGs. However, many of the most marked impacts will come from ‘hybrids’ between them, and with more conventional approaches. In addition, for novel approaches to contribute to meeting the SDGs, diverse new organisational forms and policy mixes are required. These have to consider the different historical environmental and cultural contexts seen in developing and least developed countries and they also need to take into account the varying levels of capabilities of these countries. Moreover, to take advantage of the development potential of these new innovation approaches, countries need to take into account several considerations and challenges. These include facilitate infrastructure and network for innovation; consider different ways of financing and understand incentives for innovation; help innovation through regulations; strengthen innovation capabilities; include multiple stakeholders in setting priorities; and promote digitalization as an enabler for innovation.