Suggested readings on social innovation

There is a lot published in the field of social innovation and social entrepreneurship, most of it is quite recent – few texts are older than 10 years. A google search for “social entrepreneurship” is rewarded with 2 580 000 hits, while “social innovation” gets 2 400 000. So it’s quite easy to get lost. That’s my reason to link to some, in my opinion relevant, texts that could be described as either policy text – where social innovation is promoted – or instructive text – “how-to-do-it”.

Some policy texts:

J. Gregory Dees: The Meaning of .Social Entrepreneurship (1998)

“The idea of social entrepreneurship. has struck a responsive chord. It is a phrase well suited to our times. It combines the passion of a social mission with an image of business-like discipline, innovation, and determination commonly associated with, for instance, the high-tech pioneers of Silicon Valley.”

Dees is Professor of the Practice of Social Entrepreneurship and co-founder of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

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Charles Leadbeater: The rise of the social entrepreneur (1997)

“Social entrepreneurs identify under-utilised resources – people, buildings, equipment – and find ways of putting them to use to satisfy unmet social needs. They innovate new welfare services and new ways of delivering existing services. Social entrepreneurs who deploy entrepreneurial skills for social ends are at work in parts of the traditional public sector, some large private sector corporations and at the most innovative edge of the voluntary sector.”

Charles Leadbeater is an author and former advisor to UK PM Tony Blair. He first came to widespread notice in the 1980s as a regular contributor to the magazine Marxism Today. 

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Geoff Mulgan et al: Social innovation. What it is, why it matters and how it can be accelerated (2007)

“This report is about how we can improve societies’ capacities to solve their problems. It is about old and new methods for mobilising the ubiquitous intelligence that exists within any society. We see the development of social innovation as an urgent task – one of the most urgent there is. There is a wide, and probably growing, gap between the scale of the problems we face and the scale of the solutions on offer.”

Geoff Mulgan is Chief Executive of  (NESTA) and Visiting Professor at University College London, the London School of Economics and the University of Melbourne. Previously he was:

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Louise Pulford (ed): This is European Social innovation (2010)

“From over one hundred inspiring social innovation stories, spanning twenty-three countries, our jury chose 10 projects which illustrate some of the most promising innovations happening at the moment in diff erent fields and countries across Europe… The 10 selected projects were identifi ed because of their potential for impact, and relevance to the issues facing Europe”

Louise Pulford is the director of Social Innovation Exchange (SIX).

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BEPA (Bureau of European Policy Advisors): Empowering people, driving change. Social Innovation in the European Union (2011)

“The present report has been written in response to a request from the President to produce an analysis of suggestions received from participants in a workshop on social innovation… A wide-ranging, state-of-the-art study on social innovation in Europe and the input of a group of dedicated Commission officials from different policy fields as well as experts and practitioners engaged in EU projects have all contributed to the analysis contained in this report and also to identifying key issues for the EU to act upon.”

This report has been steered by Agnès Hubert, of the Bureau of European Policy Advisers, under the supervision of Jean-Claude Thébault and Margaritis Schinas and with the assistance of Matteo Bonifacio and Joep Konings. A number of Commission officials from various policy departments also contributed to this report.

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I have labelled the text above “policy text”, because to me it is clear that they have been published in order to influence policy on social innovation, rather than providing guidance to social entrepreneurs. Below are some links to texts that focus on the “change makers”, either by examples or by instructions. 


Chiara Camponeschi: The Enabling City ( 2010)

“At its simplest, Enabling City is a new way of thinking about communities and change. Guided by principles such as collaboration, innovation and participation, the pioneering initiatives featured in Enabling City attest to the power of community in stimulating the kind of innovative thinking needed to tackle complex issues ranging from participatory citizenship to urban livability.”

The Enabling City 2.0 (2013)

“A lot of progress has undoubtedly been made in a remarkably small period of time, and a lot more remains to be done. With practices like tactical urbanism, civic crowdfunding, and smart city planning entering mainstream discourse, now is the time to use the momentum inspired by these approaches to dig deeper, coming to terms with the often overlooked, ‘thornier’ issues that continue to be at the root of the challenges, the barriers, and the shortcomings that exist within participatory practices today.”

Chiara Camponeschi works at the intersection of interdisciplinary research, social innovation and urban sustainability. Originally from Rome, Italy, Chiara has been involved with creative communities in Europe and Canada for almost a decade. She holds a Master in Environmental Studies and a BA in Political Science & Communications Studies from York University. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Geography (at the University of Guelph, Canada) with a focus on participatory approaches to urban resilience to climate change.

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Anna Meroni (ed): Creative communities. People inventing sustainable ways of living (2007)

“This book does not set out to give yet another theoretical definition of creativity. Instead it seeks to define creativity through a series of innovative responses to the various problems that emerge in everyday life, or rather, through the results of these on the field. So the creativity we are talking about is on-the-field creativity (and therefore innovation) triggered by the real context of needs, resources, principles and capabilities.”

Anna Meroni, architect and designer, has a PhD in Industrial Design. She works as researcher in the research unit DIS, Design and Innovation for Sustainability of the Department INDACO (Industrial Design) of Politecnico di Milano.

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SIG Knowledge Hub

“This is the SiG Knowledge Hub; a website designed to provide learning resources about creating conditions for social innovation and to highlight examples in Canada and around the world.”

Social Innovation Generation (SiG) seeks to address Canada’s social and ecological challenges by creating a culture of continuous social innovation. Our focus will be on social innovation that has the potential for impact, durability and scale….SiG is a collaborative partnership between The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the University of Waterloo, the MaRS Discovery District, and the PLAN Institute. Our ultimate goal is to support whole system change through changing the broader economic, cultural and policy context in Canada to allow social innovations to flourish.

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