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Manifesto for Transformative Social Innovation

Equipo TRANSIT Social Innovation Project

Manifesto for Transformative Social Innovation

29/12/2017

As top-down policies, technologies and large-scale solutions are unable to bring about social change at the level of everyday life, we need the efforts of local communities to engage and experiment with social innovations. However, local engagement and experimentation are also not enough. Societal challenges are interlinked and systemic. Piecemeal and superficial solutions, no matter how innovative, can easily have unintended side effects, reinforcing persistent societal challenges, or even creating new problems. Activism towards a better world is toothless if it fails to address existing power structures in the global economy and engage with people outside their own like-minded communities. This means that social innovation alone is not enough: we need transformative change to make a difference: to challenge, alter and replace the dominant institutions that are ingrained in society (e.g. individualism, hierarchy, competition). Such processes of challenging, altering and replacing our dominant ways of doing, thinking and organising, is what we call transformative social innovation.

An age of contradiction is upon us. People and nature are more globally interconnected than ever before, while also increasingly separated by old and new divisions. Scientific knowledge, technological innovation and legal structures have brought progress and previously unimaginable forms of comfort and entertainment. At the same time, there is severe poverty and inequality, ecological disasters, climate change, biodiversity loss and economic downfalls. The past years have been full of political turmoil over increasing divides in society, manifested in intercultural tensions, ‘post-truth’ media wars, and unprecedented protests and demonstrations. A series of raging wild fires and hottest days on earth in human history, followed by massive floods and storms, together with multiple political blasts and collisions, symbolise the conflagrations of our times. We recognize the struggles of humanity in addressing its challenges. Instead of being defeatist, however, this must bring a new wave of inspiration and vigour to encourage us to innovate how we see, interpret, and tackle the challenges that we face.

Let us begin by lauding how more and more people globally are taking their future and the planet’s into their own hands and developing ways to shape radically more sustainable, just and resilient societies. We are writing this manifesto as people who participate, study and support such movements. While they may seem invisible or marginal to many, these communities implement social change everywhere across the globe in neighbourhoods, cities, and rural areas. From community energy initiatives, basic income experiments, cooperative banks and participatory budgeting, to ecovillages, co-working spaces, digital fabrication workshops, sharing platforms, agriculture cooperatives, urban labs and many more (find more examples here). These social innovations are changing social relations, leading to new ways of doing, thinking and organizing, and aiming towards a world based on ecological and human values, nurturing the commons and treasuring basic human rights and democracy.  

Transformative Social Innovation

As top-down policies, technologies and large-scale solutions are unable to bring about social change at the level of everyday life, we need the efforts of local communities to engage and experiment with social innovations. However, local engagement and experimentation are also not enough. Societal challenges are interlinked and systemic. Piecemeal and superficial solutions, no matter how innovative, can easily have unintended side effects, reinforcing persistent societal challenges, or even creating new problems. Activism towards a better world is toothless if it fails to address existing power structures in the global economy and engage with people outside their own like-minded communities. This means that social innovation alone is not enough: we need transformative change to make a difference: to challenge, alter and replace the dominant institutions that are ingrained in society (e.g. individualism, hierarchy, competition). Such processes of challenging, altering and replacing our dominant ways of doing, thinking and organising, is what we call transformative social innovation.

We are in need of new stories to face the contradictions of our times and to imagine alternative futures. This Manifesto proposes transformative social innovation as a story of change towards a common future that is more sustainable, just and resilient. This story is inherently and deeply political. Politics is not just about voting or parliamentary debate: it also manifests as we build green houses, produce our own food and energy, envision alternative futures, reshape places or participate in decision-making.

Such acts in themselves can be acts of defiance in trying to change systems of power, institutionalized interests and deeply engrained practices and beliefs. For social innovation to be transformative, it has no choice but to engage in politics and to do so honestly and firmly. This requires a strong set of basic principles and values, to take a stance against hijacking of social innovations by incumbent political systems. To this end we commit ourselves to discover what transformative social innovation means in our own city, neighbourhood, village, initiative, sector, organisation and personal life, and to share and spread these experiences in a way that makes them accessible and applicable for more people. While each context comes with its own stories and principles, we also share a set of shared principles, claims and commitments that enable us to collaborate.

IESCTPluralesMovimiento Agua y JuventudIcecoopCrees + Icopea
IDRC Agencia Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnologia e Innovación productiva Procodas UNQUI
Red de Tecnologías para la Inclusión Social. Argentina
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