Full disclosure: I have an American’s understanding of the United Kingdom. That is to say, I know what Kate Middleton looks like, am vaguely unnerved by the exchange rate and have to look up what “bangers and mash” is. When it comes to cutting edge trends in the British impact space, I have a lot of catching up to do.

The good news is, I get to dive into this education in person. Next month, I will be visiting the United Kingdom to continue researching social innovation around the world. The trip, supported by Stanford Global Studies, is part of my summer project(s) on impact investing, criminal justice reform and social enterprises. My goal is to learn more about social innovation of any kind while I’m there. If you have ideas, suggestions or comments, comment here or on Twitter, @hongkonghaiti! In the meantime, I’m reading books and hunting for initiatives online to help ensure that the trip lives up to its potential.

Photo: Martin Falbisoner
Photo: Martin Falbisoner

About Social Innovation in the UK

In the United Kingdom, social enterprise is a very big deal. The UK spends more on social enterprise – $37.5 billion – than on higher education. Since 2000, the government has spent more than $546 billion on social entrepreneurship, charity capacity building and social ventures and has introduced tax incentives and legal reforms to spur further innovation. Wired magazine recently reported that “The financial technology (FinTech) sector is responsible for a record hike in venture capital being poured into London’s startup scene.”

Not surprisingly, there is a wealth of social innovation initiatives flourishing in the United Kingdom. Social Finance was the first to create social impact bonds in the world. Here are 6 of my favorite examples of social innovation in the UK (so far):

  • The Young Foundation, which notes that the UK is the fourth most unequal society in the world, is a “leading centre for social innovation and social investment.”  The Young Foundation also incubated SIX, a social innovation exchange that connects practitioners and facilitates dialogues to “enable the global community to learn from each other.”
  • Social Innovation Camp “designs innovation programmes for private, public, and social-sector organisations, helping build technical solutions to social challenges.” Success stories from their events include ventures that are tackling everyday products for people with disabilities and a public feedback platform for the police.
  • Pop Up Business School uses a very different approach than MBA programs by partnering with low-income housing associations to provide accelerated business workshops to get entrepreneurs started. They emphasize a fun, engaged process that relies on strong community networks to sustain momentum after the workshops are completed.
  • Blue Sky employs ex-offenders on 6-month contracts to deliver commercial work in a range of industry sectors to break the cycle of incarceration and challenge perceptions about ex-offenders.
  • The Guardian reported here that, “In April, Mexican art collective TRES led more than 100 participants in a game in which pieces of rubbish were collected from the water and replaced by luminous balls fitted with a GPS chip. Points were awarded according to litter categories, and the balls tracked to map (anti-)social behaviour. More than 100 hypodermic needles were collected over the two days of competition.”
  • Additional leaders in social innovation include Nesta, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University and the Westminster Impact Hub.

Fill in the gaps

What have I missed? With so much happening in the UK, I know I have only scratched the surface of social innovation through my online research. This trip is an opportunity to dig deeper, have in-person conversations and witness exciting work firsthand on the ground. If you have ideas, please comment here or reach out on Twitter, @hongkonghaiti. Thank you!

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