Social Innovation: Not just from the bottom up

Staying true to his ideology of change, the Chronicle of Philanthropy recently published that Barack Obama has plans for a new White House Office of Social Innovation. This initiative would include federal monetary assistance to innovative non-profit groups that are addressing some of the country’s most urgent needs.

Talk about a change we can believe in!

The aim is to assist “companies that seek to benefit society as well as make a profit.”

Sound familiar?

SiG@MaRS has been enriching the Canadian discourse on social entrepreneurship and innovation in Canada through its interactions with social purpose businesses and not for profit organizations.

Recently, I read that Canada was given a ranking of a D for its innovative capacity and performance, in comparison to the A the US was given. But how would the U.S. and Canada compare if we were ranking social innovation rather than technological innovation?

Yet here we have the U.S. contributing to the discussion of social innovation in an interesting manner: by offering a top-down perspective as opposed to the bottom-up initiatives we often hear of.

For me, this begs the question: how critical is government’s role in building a country’s social innovation capacity? Is it government’s role to encourage the culture which drives change and encourages interactions between government and organizations, such as setting up an office of social innovation? Or is it simply to provide money?