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podcast: social innovation in your small nonprofit with Geraldine Cahill

Social innovation can be a bit of a buzzword. We hear it all the time, but what does it really mean? Is there a way to be socially innovative without starting from the ground up?

This week Geraldine Cahill, co-author of Social Innovation Generation and past manager of programs and partnerships at Social Innovation Generation National (SiG), shares how you can think about social innovation in a way that impacts your organization’s day-to-day work AND how you think about changing the world.

what is social innovation?

Social innovation applys new learning and strategies to solve complex, deeply rooted, systemic problems. For social innovations to be successful and have durability, the innovation should have a measurable impact on the broader social, political and economic context that created the problem in the first place. Social innovation is an ongoing process, or, as Geraldine describes, a cycle.

it starts with reflection

It can be really challenging to take a moment to reflect when you feel like you don’t even have time for something as simple as brushing your teeth.

How are you going to create a new system while you’re still focused on dismantling our existing one? Geraldine says that as nonprofits and charities working to better the world, we need to set aside some dedicated time to reflect on the impact we’re trying to achieve and question whether we’re setting ourselves up to really work towards that impact. That reflection is a part of our active learning and it should be regarded as the essential as all of the other services that you’re trying to provide.

the reorganization phase

Before you get started, there's a period of time where you’re tossing around all sorts of ideas. Whether you have new people joining your organization with ideas or you’ve been doing some brainstorming yourself, you go through a whole checklist before implementing it. The reorganization phase is when you go through the process of addressing the different reasons for the ideas and what has the most chance of succeeding. Then you create a plan, reflect and evaluate what ideas have the most impact. This becomes a cycle of thinking, reflecting and evaluating any project you do. Regardless of whether it may apply to the whole organization or just a particular program, it’s an effective way to build social innovation into your organization’s culture.

partner up!

There is another thing to check-in with — yourself. Is this idea burning you out? Does it require more hands-on-deck? By partnering thoughtfully with other organizations that may be trying to get to that same point, you won’t be expanding your resources but instead expanding the impact you can have. It can be exhausting to try and do everything by yourself, so you might find it more helpful to find someone with the same goals as you do. It’s also a growing trend to collaborate and share some back-end resources. By sharing space, bookkeepers and other staff that you don’t always need full-time in-house, you can create an ecosystem of support.

Although we’re talking about massive systems changing, it makes a huge difference to rethink and reflect on problems in new ways or even defining problems differently.

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Resources from this Episode

Community Knowledge Exchange (CKX) website Social Innovation Generation (SiG) website

The Small Nonprofit podcast is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano