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Social Innovation and Democratic Leadership

Communities and Social Change from Below

Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

This book explores new forms of democracy in practice following the 2011 global uprisings; democracy that comes from below, by and for the ‘have-nots’. Combining theories of social innovation and collective leadership, it analyses how disadvantaged communities have addressed the effects of economic recession in two global cities: Barcelona and New York.
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Chapter 4: Democratic leadership: the work of leadership for social change

Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats


This chapter focuses on the agential dimension of social innovation. Realizing that governments would not solve the post-crisis aggravated community problems, social organizations – as has traditionally happened – responded with creative solutions to their constituents’ new landscape of scarcity. To better understand how things are getting done in these organizations, this chapter challenges leader-centred traditional understandings and proposes instead highlighting the collective nature of leadership. What type of leadership practices did participants in these organizations use to make their work more resourceful? How did they transform individual efforts into collective achievements that produced social transformation? How did the leadership work in these organizations help community members bring their voices into the public debate as they engaged in contestation, public deliberation and action, as agents of change and active protagonists of collective problem solving? Three types of leadership practices, which will be empirically analyzed in our case studies, are introduced and described: unleashing human energies, bridging difference and reframing discourse. Finally, the chapter reflects on the relationship between the work of collective leadership, the identified leadership practices and democracy.

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