Designing a Social Innovation Wonderwall

Wonder octopus

Paying attention to the social, technological, economic and environmental stresses and challenges we face isn’t always conducive to positive thinking and sometimes its useful to look at where problems are being addressed rather than created. Where to go for such inspiration is question is where this post begins. 

And all the roads that lead you there are winding
And all the lights that light the way are blinding
There are many things that I
Would like to say to you but I don’t know how

I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all, you’re my wonderwall

– lyrics from “Wonderwall” by Oasis (1995)

Inspiring words and the desire for inspiring action

Marketer and blogger Mitch Joel recently wrote on the growing trend towards appending inspirational quotes to images and posting them on Facebook. I’ve seen it, too. Sites like, apps like Little Buddha and tweet feeds like @Zen_Moments do a great job of providing a daily dose of inspiring words. These daily doses of inspiring words can motivate further action or pacify us, but it is only when something happens that our world is changed. There is wishing for change, imagining change, intending change and then there is action. Our social world only experiences the latter and thus, for social innovation to take place we need to understand actions not just words.

With that, it occurred to me that there are far fewer places online that provide the same sort of wonderwall of resources highlighting actions as there is words. As I mindfully comb through the Web in my daily journeys I find myself amazed at what social innovations are out there facilitated by technology with the World Wide Web. These range from simple one-horse projects to complex initiatives, all working towards making the world a better place.

Why don’t we have a social innovation wonderwall?

With the many challenges facing us in adapting to a rapidly changing social world it would be useful to have some places and examples that show actions (and particularly the lessons learned from those actions). Listed here are three examples of resources I’ve found and highlight creative examples of social action from fundraising to creation to sharing.

Three socially innovative contributions to a wonderwall

1. Kickstarter. I’m a big fan of Kickstarter and have supported many projects on that site. Kickstarter has projects that are not all social ventures, but many aim to do good. Films, books, performances and other projects that don’t have mechanisms for raising funds from grants or attracting funding from traditional venture capitalists or lenders. Browse through and you will find a host of creative ways to use technology, share ideas and maybe find something you want to back.

2. OneWorld Futbol . I am a big fan of Sting‘s music and enjoy his fabulous (and free!) iPad app and noticed a link on the latest update that led to the latest charitable initiative he’s supporting called the OneWorld Futbol project. The idea brings technological innovation together with social need to create an indestructible soccer ball that can be distributed globally to children in war-torn and impoverished countries. Through a buy-one-get-one program, you can get your own ball to perhaps inspire youth here to connect to their peers in less advantaged parts of the world. Soccer will not save the world and, like similar-spirited programs such as Right to Play, there is no mistaking sport for replacing the need for food, clean water and shelter, but it adds a quality of life to youth that is also important while providing opportunities for leadership and joy-making.

3. Fast Company. The social design and technology magazine has long been a leader in reporting on innovations, but recently it launched three spin-off sites (FastCoDesign, FastCoCreate and FastCoExist) that highlight ideas and products that are making a difference in the world in creative ways. For-profit, for-benefit and governmental innovations are all profiled here. Nearly every day there are updates on initiatives taking place across the globe (although mostly in the United States) providing a veritable feast of inspiring actions taken to potentially spur social innovation.

These are but three examples to show how actions are being done in different ways: raising funds, creating products, and showcasing work of products already created. Know of more? Add them to the comments and perhaps we can start creating a wonderwall to inspire others.

* Photo of the Wonder Octopus from the Wikimedia Commons used under license.

5 thoughts on “Designing a Social Innovation Wonderwall”

  1. I like the sound of a wonderwall. I find there are a number of places where successful social innovations can be found, and you have identified some of them. Two things occur to me about trying to make a wonderwall and then, if we did, what we could do with that.

    1. social innovations are as much process as they are product or service. This is because we address persistent social challenges with social innovations, we don’t “solve” them. It might make it hard to illustrate a process on a wonderwall rather than a finished product/service.

    2. if we did develop a wonderwall then it would serve as raw material for research to identify common trends and lessons learned. There are tons of social innovations and social enterprises but I see less analysis (esp trans jurisdictional analysis) of commonalities so that we can start to synthesize best practices. And the reason this hasn’t been done so far is that social innovations are context dependent. The lived experience of poverty in York Region is different than in Jane Finch than in Atlanta so what works as a best practice in one jurisdiction may not translate across others.

    That being said we need to try to synthesize across jurisdictions. We also need the inspiration of a wonderwall.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I agree that the ‘show and tell’ might look different in social innovation, but I don’t think we should stop showing. One of the reasons so much of what is done is never shared is that we feel it needs to be “done” and most of what is done in social environments is never done, it’s ‘perpetual beta’, and we ought to be OK with that. It’s said that great artists, steal and the more content we can put up for our fellow health and social artists to steal from or get inspired by, the better with the fullest understanding that the ‘theft’ will need to be placed into context and taken from context.

    1. Terrific contribution! A lot of people seem reluctant to want to post (but are contacting me directly) with some ideas. It was occurring to me that much of my writing lately has been on problems and ways to understand them, but not on some of the victories. As I looked around I began to notice that there’s much out there, but unlike bad news which congregates easily, we don’t have as many good news aggregators. The Unreasonable Insitute’s got a terrific name to it, too. Perfect for those of us who are unreasonable enough to believe we can create a healthier world. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I love this discussion. I just wanted to bring up the concept of value. You are saying that there is a scarcity of success stories out there, and I would agree with that. But once the success is shared, and perhaps copied, it may lose it’s value. The people who usually find the most success in a new venture are the very first ones to try it…..depending on the reach of their target population.

    So I think a wonderwall would be great, however it would have to be constantly kept fresh so that the ideas that are shared are always of high value.

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