28 January 2015

Taking a step forward in scaling innovation

A workshop in progress
Taking a step forward in scaling innovation

The creation of a UK Social Innovation Fund (SIF) is perhaps the most exciting recommendation from ‘Social Solutions – enabling grass-roots charities to tackle poverty’, a report launched as part of the Centre for Social Justice‘s second Breakthrough Britain series. Drawing on the success of the Obama administration’s model in the U.S. and the success of the Irish Government in unlocking funds from insurance pots, a UK SIF would be a similar model to fund the spreading, scaling and replication of innovative solutions to entrenched social problems.

CGF UK Director, Andrew Barnett, reflected on the key strengths of civil society in the UK as he spoke at the report’s launch event last week alongside the Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, and Danny Kruger, CEO of OnlyConnect. He said that the UK has been a beneficiary of an incredibly vibrant, diverse and creative civil society for over 800 years. From service delivery to advocacy to campaigning on a range of issues including caring for vulnerable people, providing citizen’s advice, supporting artistic expression and animal welfare, civil society has consistently been the bedrock and one of the key pillars of a free and democratic society. Barnett commented that we are privileged to be stewards of this valuable resource and as such should take care to cherish and nurture it but we also need to recognise that sometimes we can and should be better regarding three key factors: impact, innovation and collaboration.

There are stories from all over the country about the huge benefit that civil society organisations deliver everyday but there is still much work to be done in improving how we measure, and account for, this benefit. This is crucial in order to ensure that innovative ideas, with potential to change people’s lives, can grow and spread beyond small initiatives and reach a greater number of people to effect transformational change in society.

It’s not just about measuring impact, however. We need to get better at providing the necessary resource and establishing the most effective partnerships in order to give these innovative initiatives much greater scope. This is where a national innovative fund, designed as a hub or ‘accelerator’ and drawing on cross-sectoral knowledge and expertise, could prove to be a significant step forward.

A SIF would help connect smaller organisations with innovative ideas to larger players in Government, business and the social sector who have the resilience, structure and networks to bring those ideas to scale. There is still much to be learnt about the collaborative dynamics of large and small organisations although there is already expertise to draw on. Take, for example, the piece by Clore Social Fellows Owen Jarvis and Ruth Marvel: ‘When Bees meet Trees – How large social sector organisations can help to scale social innovation’. The establishment of a UK SIF could be a key way of putting this into practice more systematically and, potentially, to great effect.