We contend that social innovation is the best construct for understanding—and producing—lasting social change. In order to gain more precision and insight, we redefine social innovation to mean: A novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.
Unlike the terms social entrepreneurship and social enterprise, social innovation transcends sectors, levels of analysis, and methods to discover the processes—the strategies, tactics, and theories of change—that produce lasting impact. Social innovation may indeed involve finding and training more social entrepreneurs. And it may entail supporting the organizations and enterprises they create. But it will certainly require understanding and fostering the conditions that produce solutions to social problems.
Increasingly, innovation blossoms where the sectors converge. At these intersections, the exchanges of ideas and values, shifts in roles and relationships, and the integration of private capital with public and philanthropic support generate new and better approaches to creating social value. To support cross-sector collaborations we have to examine policies and practices that impede the flow of ideas, values, capital, and talent across sector boundaries and constrain the roles and relationships among the sectors.