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How to Grow Social Innovation in South Africa

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Abstract

With the growth of the sector in South Africa this also holds true for social innovation. As the number of social innovations rise, an ecosystem has grown up around them, placing universities as key role players in their support.
HOW TO GROW SOCIAL
INNOVATION IN SOUTH AFRICA
“Necessity is the mother of invention, and in Africa it has been the mother
of innovation. [1] With the growth of the sector in South Africa this also
holds true for social innovation. As the number of social innovations rise,
an ecosystem has grown up around them, placing universities as key role
players in their support.
Bev Meldrum / François Bonnici
Sitting at the bottom of the African continent, South Africa
has the third largest economy, and is its most developed
country. Seen as the favoured destination for investment,
and repeatedly receiving the largest amount of start-up
funding on the continent, it has been a focus for social
innovation in sub-Saharan Africa.
However, it also faces the ‘triple challenge’ of poverty,
inequality and unemployment. With one of the highest
rates of unemployment (25 %) and as one of the most
unequal countries with the wealthiest four percent of
households receiving 32 % of total income, while over half
of South Africans is living below national
poverty line, and
more than 10 % live in extreme poverty. [2]
This tension between a favourable innovation climate and
extreme social challenges creates an environment where
many of the opportunities for innovation have an implicit
social impact.
GROWTH OF SOCIAL INNOVATION IN
SOUTH AFRICA
With an increasing recognition of the emergence of social
innovation in South Africa in recent years, an ecosystem and
support structures have grown. Universities, civil society
and private sector foundations have led the way in delivering
support to social innovators, with government showing
considerable interest in different regions of the country.
Incubators and social innovation competitions have been
launched which have achieved considerable success. What
has yet to happen for a consolidated strategy to be developed
is to support the growth of social innovation in the country.
Similar to most countries, social innovation has been
happening for decades before a label or directed support
was provided. From grassroot movements to technology
start-ups, citizens have been empowering themselves and
exploring new methods, tools, models and ways of organizing
to accelerate social progress. Much of this work happened
without much recognition or understanding of the terms
social innovation or social entrepreneurship.
Ashoka pioneered the early recognition and understanding
of social entrepreneurship in South Africa. Early networks,
such as the African Social Entrepreneurs Network also started
to organize events and advocate for social entrepreneurs.
Funders such as UnLtd (now LifeCo UnLtd South Africa)
launched in South Africa and invested in what are now som
e
of our most successful social enterprises.
Two university centres were pivotal in bringing legitimacy
and recognition to the people and the innovations in this
emerging eld: the Network of Social Entrepreneurs at the
University of Pretoria Gordon Institute of Business Science,
and the establishment of the Bertha Centre for Social
Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape
Town Graduate School of Business.
The majority of support for social innovation that has grown
up is focused on South Africa’s two major cities – Cape Town
and Johannesburg. Some activity has begun to expand to
other towns across the country. However, expanding the
support for social innovators across the country remains a
real challenge as the size of South Africa is 1.22 million km
2
.
This tension between a favourable
innovation climate and extreme
social challenges creates an
environment where many of the
opportunities for innovation have
an implicit social impact.
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FOCAL AREAS FOR SOCIAL INNOVATION
There has been a growing interest from impact investors in
social innovations. As more investors have entered the space,
there has been some frustration as the limited number of
social innovations that have reached a mature level and are
ready for investment has yet to match the growing number
of investors. But impact investing is not the only nancial
tool being developed for social innovation. Work is being
done by the Bertha Centre on developing blended nance
options, looking at peer to peer lending and supporting the
growth of the crowd-funding sector in the country. In July
2017, South Africa’s rst social impact bonds were launched
with the provincial departments of health and social
development. The bonds focus on Early Childhood
Development interventions and include funding for
home and community based services for young children.
With government health services being underresourced
and oversubscribed, the area of social innovation in health
remains a real opportunity for development. With the
support of government, innovations in the health sector are
beginning to take ground. The last couple of years have seen
the introduction of MomConnect, a USSD text service for
pregnant women through every stage of their pregnancy, and
partnerships with Kheth’Impilo, which introduces innovations
around HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis into governmental health
services across the country. In 2015, one of the largest
government hospitals in South Africa, Groote Schuur,
introduced social innovation competitions for its staff in
order to raise the prole and increase the impact of
innovations that are happening on the ground. Finally, the
Bertha Centre led a consortium of partners with the World
Health Organization to research social innovation in health,
not just in South Africa but also in other emerging
economies. [3]
Innovation in the tech sector is well established in South
Africa. It has the fourth most developed growing mobile
communication market in the world, internet penetration
is at 52 % and 37 % of the population have access to
smartphones. It is no surprise then that social innovation
Map of South Africa‘s entrepreneurial
ecosystem (Image courtesy of Aspen Network
of Development Entrepreneurs (2017))
SOUTH AFRICA‘S ENTREPRENEURIAL
ECOSYSTEM MAP
SOCIAL INNOVATION IN WORLD REGIONS
in the technology sector is growing. Technology-driven
social innovations make up the majority of applicants for
incubators and competitions. More to that, some programmes,
such as Barclay’s accelerator Think Rise, RLabs and Tech
Lab Africa, are focusing solely on supporting technology
solutions.
Education is a key area of concern in South Africa. Low
performing schools, a lack of resources and a high drop-out
rate before the end of high school are some of the issues
the country is facing. From organizations that provide school
principals with corporate mentors, to those which provide
learning opportunities outside of school hours, these
interventions remain on the periphery of the schools’ strategy
and signicant change in the education system has yet to
happen.
FUTURE OF SOCIAL INNOVATION IN SOUTH
AFRICA
Addressing the social challenges that South Africa faces
depends on the success of social innovation so that it
becomes vital that the energy and resources invested in it
continue to grow. Mills Soko, the Director of the Graduate
School of Business, described it as such:
“When it comes to the development challenges facing this
continent, we don’t need bright glares or dazzling
innovations – we need slow burning and sustainable res
that bring about systemic change.” [4]
A strategic approach to developing support for social
innovation that involves government at national, provincial
and local level, as well as companies, NGOs and universities
could well be the next step that is needed. Ultimately, social
innovation in South Africa needs to be about empowering
people to develop their own solutions, whether they are
citizens, public servants or professionals in civil society or
the private sector. Institutions can support this journey, but
need to put the citizens and their needs at the centre.
[1] Moosajee, Naadiya (2016): Is Africa leading the innovation revolution? World
Economic Forum. Internet: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/
is-africa-leading-the-innovation-revolution/ [Last accessed 25.05.2017].
[2] Cole, Megan (2015): Is South Africa operating in a safe and just space? Oxfam
Research Report Summary. Oxfam Oxford.
[3] Social Innovation in Health Initiative (2017): World Health Organization Special
Programme for Tropical Diseases. Internet: http://socialinnovationinhealth.org
[Last accessed 20.06.2017].
[4] Soko, Mills (2017): Lighting the res to fuel Africa’s development. In: GSB
Business Review, 7, GSB: Cape Town.
[5]
Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (2017): South Africa’s Entrepreneurial
Ecosystem. Internet: https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.andeglobal.org/resource/
resmgr/sa_images/ANDE_SA_EcosystemMap_March20.pdf
[Last accessed
10.10.2017].
REFERENCES
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... Solutions to issues such as employment creating opportunities and problems experienced in health, education, security and food can be gradually solved through the application of technology and the 4IR tools (Bonnici 2020). Klugman (2018), concurs with Bonnici (2017), as new systems are introduced to the market on regular basis that offers new solutions, that can be utilised within the health and transport sectors. In terms of healthcare that impact that technology can have, is in a positive manner. ...
... South Africa face a 'triple challenge' of poverty, inequality and unemployment, with half of the population living in poverty (Meldrum and Bonnici 2017). According Meldrum and Bonnici (2017) "this tension between a favourable innovation climate and extreme social challenges creates and environment where many of the opportunities for innovation have an implicit social impact". ...
... South Africa face a 'triple challenge' of poverty, inequality and unemployment, with half of the population living in poverty (Meldrum and Bonnici 2017). According Meldrum and Bonnici (2017) "this tension between a favourable innovation climate and extreme social challenges creates and environment where many of the opportunities for innovation have an implicit social impact". ...
Is Africa leading the innovation revolution? World Economic Forum
  • Naadiya Moosajee
Moosajee, Naadiya (2016): Is Africa leading the innovation revolution? World Economic Forum. Internet: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/ is-africa-leading-the-innovation-revolution/ [Last accessed 25.05.2017].
Lighting the fires to fuel Africa's development
  • Mills Soko
Soko, Mills (2017): Lighting the fires to fuel Africa's development. In: GSB Business Review, 7, GSB: Cape Town.
Is South Africa operating in a safe and just space?
  • Megan Cole
Cole, Megan (2015): Is South Africa operating in a safe and just space? Oxfam Research Report Summary. Oxfam Oxford.