The first day of Social Innovation Exchange (SIX) Summer Camp 2013 kicked off with a global city tour reaching from the host-city Seoul to Setagaya in Japan to Bilbao and Hong Kong. Leading urban figures and social innovators together with more then 80 participants scattered across the world have gathered together to explore the links between thriving cities and social innovation.
Seoul’s Mayor Park Won Soon charmed the entire audience when he proclaimed the dress code of the day as ‘smart casual’ (just as his famous clothes-policy to decrease energy-consumption) and took of his shoes. Needless to say, the following presenters gladly committed themselves to the same barefoot tradition. Mayor Park has since he entered office in 2011 actively implemented a citizen-centred innovation and spread enthusiasm to other policy-makers beyond Seoul’s borders on the potential of social innovation. His first move in office was to establish Seoul Innovation Bureau and as he shared his insights to all SIX delegates he claimed that: innovation comes from the ground, visit the places you wish to change and find the solution on site. Mayor Park also said that his visit to the Alemdalen Week had inspired him, where he witnessed the intensive gathering with representatives from each layer of society, which became a place to exchange and listen to ideas.
The first day was filled with inspiration, insights and lessons learned from a vivid group of speakers including Ada Wong, founder of Make A Difference (MAD) conference and leading initiator of SIX Asia. She spoke of the potential of social innovation as a tool to attack the growing disparity gap in Hong Kong. Paul Carttar, Director of Social Innovation Fund said that social innovation is not about creating something new, but rather something better to improve the status quo. Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive at NESTA, meant that the financial system had failed since the value had been taken out of the society instead of being put in, and Carolyn Curtis flew from Australia to ask the question: how can social innovation endure in time?
All speakers agreed that the connection between social innovation and the urban landscape is critical since more than half of the global population resides in cities. The accelerating inflow of people searching for opportunities in cities makes for both a threat in terms of environmental hotspots and social exclusion – but also, from a positive take on it, is the embracement of the fact that the concentration of assets like human capital or decision-making provides an environment of innovation. In cities people meet, and as Paul Carttar said, the most disadvantaged people in society is not merely a stranger, but a neighbour who you and I take the bus with.
SIX Summer Camp also highlighted the importance of measurements and data for improved social innovation. Strong leadership, high ambitions, value-creation and more flexible funding were stated as engines behind social innovation in the urban environment and the most efficient way to feed new ideas is by simply working hard!
Finally, let me wrap up with words of wisdom from our neighbouring country Denmark’s social innovator Uffe Elbæk, founder of KaosPilots, as a reminder of where solutions find action: “We never started with money or power – we started with a problem”.