Chapter OneInnovation Is the Path, Impact Is the Destination

“Innovation” may be the most overused buzzword in the world today. As the pace of change continues to accelerate and our challenges grow ever more complex, we know we need to do something different just to keep up, let alone get ahead. Finding better ways to tackle the most pressing problems facing people and the planet is no exception. Over the past few years, the notion of innovation for social good has caught on like wildfire, with the term popping up in mission statements, messaging, job descriptions, and initiatives. This quest for social innovation has led to a proliferation of contests, hackathons, and pilots that may make a big splash, but has yielded limited tangible results.

So we should start by asking, What is innovation?

One unfortunate consequence of the hype has been that, in common parlance, innovation has often become conflated with invention. While invention is the spark of a new idea, innovation is the process of deploying that initial breakthrough to a constructive use. Thomas Edison’s famous quote, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration,” puts this in perspective. In other words, innovation is the long, hard slog that is required to take a promising invention (the 1%) and transform it into, in our case, meaningful social impact. Social innovation involves iterative testing and improvement, refining business models, influencing partners and policy, fine‐tuning logistics, and many other practicalities. ...

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