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Boston College School of Social Work
Center for Social Innovation
Mahoney at Social Innovation Panel

A presentation and panel discussion on social innovation in social work — the focus of the Boston College School of Social Work program in Social Innovation and Leadership. 

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Translating the Social Innovation Language

Social Innovation Tree


Social innovation is an umbrella term that encompasses the multiple pathways and processes of innovative solutions. It can refer to both an outcome and a process.  It is defined as the solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, and sustainable than previous solutions. At the heart of social innovative practices is achieving social change by doing something different. 

Social entrepreneurship is a particular pathway to social innovation.  It uses the principles of entrepreneurship, (which include risk-taking, innovative approaches, change-orientation, and sustainable business models) to develop an initiative or organization to respond to social issues.  In practice, social entrepreneurship typically refers to the development of NEW organizations to respond to social issues.  It speaks most directly to an individual or small group starting a new entity that provides an innovative solution to a social problem.

Social intrapreneurship represents an alternative path to innovation, using entrepreneurial principles within an existing organization, or institution to solve social problems.  The distinction between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship is the pathway within the latter takes place within an existing organization rather than through the development of a new organization. 

Social enterprise serves as great model for how to accomplish social innovation.  It makes use of business models or practices to solve social problems.  It may refer to a socially-driven organization or venture that uses market-oriented approaches in which the income generated through the enterprise is utilized to sustain and enhance the agency's mission and programs. Many Social Enterprises often employ the people they serve. A Social Enterprise can be developed as a new organization or as part of an existing organization.

Corporate Social Responsibility is a company taking responsibility for its impact on the world, either environmentally or socially. The term refers to a corporation going above and beyond what is required of them legally to be a positive influence that benefits society. 

Community-Level Innovation enlists community members and leaders in the process of developing solutions that work for them. This method uses community gatherings and participatory research as a primary means of harnessing the internal strengths of communities.