Innovation – the development and implementation of new and better solutions - is as much a necessity in our sector as it is in the private and public sector and it must be nurtured and supported in appropriate ways. Expecting it to happen by accident is not a strategy that will deliver good results.
More open and social innovation processes are appropriate in our sector as the function of innovation must be primarily on making more of an impact on needs as opposed to only growing individual organisations.
Some ideas for action
-We need innovation specific funding and support programmes for the VCSE sector in Northern Ireland including a particular focus on the potential uses of new and digital technology for mission related activity.
-We need to see the development and resourcing of social innovation policy within government and the embracing of that on a cross departmental basis in the context of our outcomes focused Programme for Government.
Case study 1
Social Innovation NI
Social Innovation NI is a collaboration established by Building Change Trust in 2016 with the aim of making it easier for those with innovative solutions to social challenges to access the support they need to deliver their ideas with impact and at scale.
The collaboration emerged from a 6 month co-design process involving practitioners, funders and policy-makers to identify gaps in the support ecosystem for social innovation where new programmes were needed, as well as mapping out ways that existing support mechanisms could be better integrated. The concept also drew from international research into attempts elsewhere to build effective social innovation ecosystems, such as Social Innovation Generation in Canada.
The result was a public-private-third sector partnership that has been delivering a suite of programmes including Techies in Residence, Social Innovation Skills, Knowledge Exchange Programmes, Seed Fund, Social Innovation Workhop series, FusionFest and more. Designed with sustainability in mind the collaboration is intended to stay the course beyond the end of Building Change Trust and over the longer-term aims to make social innovation the ‘new normal’ way of designing and delivering solutions to social challenges in Northern Ireland.
Case study 2
NOW: Just a Minute (JAM): Please be patient – I have a learning disability/difficulty
With support through Social Innovation Camp and Techies in Residence, the NOW group developed their physical JAM card into a prototype digital app for beneficiaries to users to use and rate the services they receive and to facilitate the provision of training to businesses.
With further support from Nominet Trust and Big Lottery Fund - JAM is now a smart phone enabled application which is being rolled out across the entire public transport network in NI and taken up by others.
Case study 3
Cooperative Alternatives and Community Benefit Societies
A community benefit society is an innovative business structure in that it means a cooperative business established to serve the broader interests of a community as opposed to just its members.
A community benefit society has members who own shares and in common with other forms of cooperatives is run on a democratic one member one vote basis.
Northern Ireland Community Energy (NICE) is one such example. Financed through two public share offers, the cooperative raised £213,900 in total and installed 190kW Photo Voltaic arrays on 18 community buildings across NI. The society has 82 members, the community buildings have cheaper electricity running costs and NICE is building up funds to invest in future green projects to tackle fuel poverty
Over a 5 year period 2013 – 2018, Building Change Trust commissioned Cooperative Alternatives to develop and deliver a community shares ready programme for NI. Following a total contract sum of £319,885, 1902 members have joined community benefit societies and raised Over £700,000 to help finance them.