Social Innovation

What are Social Innovations?

According to Wikipedia social innovations are new strategies, concepts, ideas and organizations that meet the social needs of different elements which can be from working conditions and education to community development and health — they extend and strengthen civil society. Social innovation includes the social processes of innovation, such as open source methods and techniques and also the innovations which have a social purpose — like activism, online volunteering, microcredit, or distance learning.

In our blog, we have defined social innovation as inventing new social concepts.  Social concepts are arrangements to achieve a certain social function, for example, the training of the labour force, or guaranteeing public health. A school is a social concept, so is a library, health insurance, home care, a passport, a soup kitchen, a museum, and justice.

Recently we came across some interesting new social concepts:

Caffè Sospeso 

A caffè sospeso (for “suspended coffee”) is a cup of coffee paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity. The tradition began in the working-class cafés of Naples after WW II, where someone who had experienced good luck would order a sospeso, paying the price of two coffees but receiving and consuming only one. A poor person enquiring later whether there was a sospeso available would then be served a coffee for free.





Derivatives of this concept are the Pending Meal and the Suspended Meal where one paid for at a restaurant or other food joint, to be made available to any future visitor who asks for it.

Village Savings and Loan Association

When engineers Iñigo Ruiz Apilánez and Sandra Díaz were working on projects to improve access to water and sanitation in a rural village in Eastern Uganda, Bulambuli, they had learned about another challenge the local people faced – saving money. Members of the remote, rural community had no access to financial services of any kind, making it very difficult to manage their money and cover even basic costs such as food and education, never mind saving or investing for the future.

After some research, Iñigo and Sandra discovered the simple but effective Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) – an approach used by many international NGOs to provide training and support to set up locally run groups where people can save and borrow together.


A Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) is a group of people who save together and take small loans from those savings. The activities of the group run in cycles of one year, after which the accumulated savings and the loan profits are distributed back to members. The purpose of a VSLA is to provide simple savings and loan facilities in a community that does not have easy access to formal financial services.


Voluntourism or volunteer tourism is an emerging trend of travel linked to “doing good”. It is a form of tourism in which travellers participate for a short-term in voluntary work, typically for a charity.

Digital social innovation

Digital social innovation refers to “a type of social and collaborative innovation in which innovators, users and communities collaborate using digital technologies to co-create knowledge and solutions for a wide range of social needs and at a scale and speed that was unimaginable before the rise of the Internet”



What to think of an app that connects travellers with a local for a dinner, a visit to a theatre, a museum or a just a cup of coffee? Or a conversation in the local language?

What to think of an app that connects people with a skill to people who would like to learn that skill, for instance, guitar playing, tennis, Italian cooking? For free, for a small fee or a virtual currency: a type of unregulated, digital money, which is issued and usually controlled by its developers (Bitcoin is an exception), and used and accepted among the members of a specific virtual community.

What to think about a community savings app that will show the ability of the group and provide potential members with an entrance ticket to a Saving Community (VSLA), at the same time providing economic data to an NGO or Government, in return for money. Actually, the savers are providing for economic data.

More about Social Innovation



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: