“Holding on to old things might be radical”

Charles Leadbeater is, among many other things, an author, a pioneer within social innovation and a global advisor in innovation and creativity. In 1997 he wrote the book “The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur”. In november he is one of the keynote speakers at Social Innovation Summit in Malmö, Sweden.

What will you be talking about at the Summit?
– I will talk about that we today, more than ever, need innovation to create better solutions. People are losing trust and I think it is time to think big! Now is the time to innovate, create and help people to live better lives. Instead of standing back we need to shape visions and hope. Until now it has been more talk than impact and we need to change that. We need to imagine how we can reorganize for example work, education and care for elderly, so that we can shift away from inherited solutions.

30 years ago you wrote “The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur”. How do you look upon the book today?
– The book was based on the idea that people searched for social solutions beyond charities. When looking back we can see that many solutions are coming from the combination of many different sectors. But even if we are aware of our challenges we have problems in finding the scale of the solutions. The development world is doing better though, where the states are weaker than in the western world. What I do see as positive today is the scale of the interest in investing in social impact. So in short: there is a powerful movement in change but I do not see enough of these changes, except from in certain sectors such as: energy, climate, food, disability and elderly care in the UK.

Did the social entrepreneurs become the shapers of social innovation?
– Yes and no. Innovation is more of a process and one of the lessons learnt is that all innovation needs coalitions. I find innovators often quite individualistic. But to create real social change you need to prepare to build coalitions. I see this happening in some areas, such as city transports, energy systems, education, financing and banking. The big dilemma is, as I see it, to bridge the gap between the innovators and the big organisations. We need so shape bridge builders that have a foot in both camps. Another dilemma is that the small innovating firm often is more pure and in growing bigger you have to ask yourself what compromises your are willing to make.

What is your view of social innovation in Sweden and Scandinavia?
– I do not know enough to have an opinion on that, yet. I come to Malmö to learn more! Seen from the UK I think that the Scandinavian countries have interesting state models, that has an important legacy. But of course these models come with backsides that can be a handicap. Malmö is known for innovation and has a good reputation when it comes to locally based cycles, which I hope to learn more about.

What about the future for social innovation?
– I have a general feeling that we are in for a turbulent period where we will see the arching of new models. What is: work, welfare, home, care and education? All these questions need to be asked. The key is to respond to what make people fell safe. We need to be less defensive and less angry, but instead more open to creativity and change.

What paths do we need to take to make this happen?
– The future belongs to those who conserves old systems and combines them with new solutions instead of rushing into the future of new technology. I think it is about going back to smaller solutions that are technology based. I also think we need to be searching for humanity and combine humanity with new technology. It is a peculiar time we are living in, when holding on to old things might be radical.

Register here
Read more about the programme here


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