The Evolution of Social Innovation
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The Evolution of Social Innovation

Building Resilience Through Transitions

Edited by Frances Westley, Katherine McGowan and Ola Tjörnbo

In a time where governments and civil society organizations are putting ever-greater stock in social innovation as a route to transformation, understanding what characterizes social innovation with transformative potential is important. Exciting and promising ideas seem to die out as often as they take flight, and market mechanisms, which go a long way towards contributing to successful technical innovations, play an insignificant role in social innovations. The cases in this book explore the evolution of successful social innovation through time, from the ideas which catalysed social and system entrepreneurs to create new processes, platforms, projects and programs to fundamental social shifts in culture, economics, laws and policies which occurred as a result. In doing so, the authors shed light on how to recognize transformative potential in the early stage innovations we see today.
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Chapter 4: Synthesis: agency and opportunity

Per Olsson


By applying a lens that combines insights from the literature on multiplicity of entrepreneurship forms, cross-scale interactions, and opportunity contexts to the social innovation histories of this book, this chapter provides some key insights on transformative agency and identifies possible areas for future research. It highlights the accumulated, collected quality of individual, often intergenerational, agency interacting over long time periods and shows how the combined strategies of change agents form a system entrepreneurship that is crucial for achieving large-scale, transformative change. The chapter also shows how different opportunity contexts require different strategies and reveals that the ability to change strategies when the opportunity context changes is crucial. This ability is an important part of the capacity to navigate transformations. These insights on the role of agency and opportunity can help increase the pace of social change and contribute to achieving important transformations needed to deal with the current global challenges.

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