Global fellows talk about a Social Innovation Toolkit



In early November 2013, the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship hosted a group of dynamic fellows from the Rockefeller Foundation’s first-ever Global Fellowship Programme on Social Innovation.

Having the 25 accomplished fellows here was very valuable, says Bertha Centre director François Bonnici, because “they recognised that we are one of the key centres working on social innovation with a systems approach.”

Each member of the group was chosen based on their work at the forefront of NGOs and local sectors around the world. The five-day programme included a workshop entitled ‘Project Innovation: Developing an Innovation Mindset’, which challenged traditional ways of working in social sector organisations.

“The point was to make people working on the frontline see how their work connects to the broader issues,” says Bonnici. “Everyone is working on their day-to-day problems, but people at the forefront can be best placed to challenge or push policy and effect changes that are more systemic.”

The Tools in The Kit

Conventions were challenged using the Social Innovation Toolkit – a resource developed by Project Innovation, a team of industry experts including Dr Jacqueline Simmons from Teachers College, Columbia University. Simmons was also the presenter of the lecture. “I think it resonated with our South African audience because it was tangible,” says Bonnici. And that is the intention of the toolkit, which combines:

  •     The innovation mindset
  •     Real-life stories
  •     Hands-on methods
  •     How-to skills.

Yes, it’s tangible and practical, but it all starts with the mindset. According to the toolkit, the innovation mindset rests on three principles, one of which is frequencies, or daily thoughts and actions such as “the language used to talk about problems and solutions, work spaces, and temporal rhythms of work.”


What’s Your Frequency?

Here’s a taster of how the toolkit looks at frequencies for greater impact and social sector change…

1. Bureaucratic: Traditional ways of thinking that create a disciplinary culture to keep people locked into standard expectations and actions with little thinking about why certain practises exist.

2. Creative: Interrupts traditional ways of thinking and decision-making in order to change basic routines. Creative approaches open channels of communication and typically leave staff and clients more energised.

3. Innovative: Encourages deep thinking and critique about the taken-for-granted assumptions underlying traditional and creative thoughts and actions. People are encouraged to ask questions about why certain expectations and actions exist, whether they are inevitable or good, and how to change them in order to open up spaces for more participants to define purpose, problems, and solutions.

“Each frequency can be useful and necessary for achieving goals; yet, individuals and organisations tend to rely mostly on bureaucratic approaches. Ultimately, a frequency analysis can more effectively guide the development of creative and innovative mindsets.”

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