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The social sector is changing, from private to not-for-profit to governmental and non-governmental. The public and the market are demanding new social models that are cost-effective, financially self-sustainable and adaptive to feedback and metrics. Leaders from all sectors are increasingly drawn to social models that have a lasting impact on communities, create systems change, are financially autonomous, and have the potential to be taken to scale. To this end, the lines that once divided the sectors are now beginning to blur. 

Amidst today’s increasingly competitive funding landscape and complex regulatory environment, the effectiveness and sustainability of traditional charities and nonprofits is often challenged. At the same time, social innovators and entrepreneurs working in community-based nonprofit settings find that their new ideas are stymied by organizational culture or funding limitations. A recent survey of nonprofit leaders conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that more than two-thirds of organizations developed at least one innovation in the past two years that they were unable to adopt due to funding or other considerations.1 The Social Innovations model recognizes the challenges, but uses them as an opportunity to adapt and become both socially conscious and sustainable if not outright profitable.

Why a Regional Focus?

Philadelphia, the birthplace of Democracy in America, has a strong tradition of supporting innovation and independence. Beginning with the printing of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which encouraged colonists to explore the inner workings of a society, and continuing today in the efforts of countless local leaders who uphold Paine’s legacy of questioning the status quo and insisting on near-constant evolution and improvement. Yet, the value that these individuals and their organizations bring to local communities and regions across the nation is often, to our collective societal detriment, overlooked. 

We believe that the potential for good ideas to inspire more good ideas cannot be underestimated, and the Social Innovations Journal seeks to serve as a platform to highlight regional innovations and enterprises across the country to catalyze the process of inspiration, leading to improved social services and products. 

What Is Social Innovation?

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) defines social innovation as a mechanism that “can concern conceptual, process or product change, organizational change and changes in financing, and can deal with new relationships with stakeholders and territories.” The OECD’s Forum on Social Innovation identifies the core components of social innovation as: 

  • “identifying and delivering new services that improve the quality of life of individuals and communities; and 
  • “identifying and implementing new labour market integration processes, new competencies, new jobs, and new forms of participation, as diverse elements that each contribute to improving the position of individuals in the workforce.” 

In the words of the OECD, “Social innovation is distinct from economic innovation because it is not about introducing new types of production or exploiting new markets in itself but is about satisfying new needs not provided by the market (even if markets intervene later) or creating new, more satisfactory ways of insertion in terms of giving people a place and a role in production.

“The key distinction is that social innovation deals with improving the welfare of individuals and community through employment, consumption or participation, its expressed purpose being therefore to provide solutions for individual and community problems.”

What Are Social Innovations Journal’s Objectives?

  • To incubate new ideas.
  • To promote and develop regional social leadership and entrepreneurship across the country.
  • To provide a unique vehicle for professionals who work in a region’s social sector to share their best practices as well as the successes and failures of innovative ideas.
  • To enable opportunities for new and existing social innovators and entrepreneurs to receive greater visibility and be considered for leadership advancement, helping to keep a greater concentration of social sector talent in a region.
  • To benchmark social innovators against other innovators with similar ideas, locally and beyond.
  • To create a focal point for national foundations, corporations, government, socially responsible businesses and policymakers around a region’s social sector leadership and as a resource for social sector service and product development.
1 Johns Hopkins University, Office of Communications (2010). Survey reveals widespread innovation at nation’s nonprofits. 
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Publication Highlights

Launching Social Innovations through Business and Social Enterprise Incubators, Labs & Foundation Competitions: Regional and National Models That Work was launched/published on December 1, 2015. The Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal (PSIJ) teamed up with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, the Social Innovations Lab (SIL), Knight Foundation, Philadelphia University, the Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Inglis, and the Public Health Fund to present an edition and event entitled, “Launching Social Innovations through Business and Social Enterprise Incubators, Labs & Foundation Competitions: Regional and National Models That Work.” This edition and launch event examined the concept of creating private, social enterprise businesses and solving complex health and human services challenges regionally and nationally using business and social enterprise incubators, labs, and business and foundation competitions. 

Innovation through Collaboration and Partnerships: A Look at How Working Together through Collaboration and Partnerships Can Drive Innovation and Sustainability in the Nonprofit and Social Sector was published in September 2015 and reflected 20 articles on successful partnerships in the Philadelphia region. Additionally, the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal (PSIJ), in partnership with the Urban Affairs Coalition's Coalition U Initiative, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, and Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), hosted an important conversation about the evolution of partnerships in the nonprofit sector, highlighting new strategies for growth and sustainability in the post-recession economy. At this launch event, which drew over 250 participants, regional and national experts on collaborations, collective impact strategies and mergers, along with experienced local nonprofit leaders, shared their best practices on successful partnerships and also discussed how, unlike the private sector, few nonprofits enter into such partnerships and far fewer affiliate or merge with other nonprofits. In addition to relevant articles, participants received a complimentary copy of Partnerships for Health and Human Services, published by Springer Publishing Company, which is a comprehensive guide and toolkit for creating successful nonprofit partnerships, including regional and national case-studies and legal support documents. 

Social Innovations Anti-Poverty Solutions was published in April 2015 both in print as a book and online and reflected 19 articles about innovative and successful programs that have been started through the AmeriCorps Vista program over the past 50 years. The Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal (PSIJ), in partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service, Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, and Knight Foundation presented this special edition recognizing 50 years of AmeriCorps VISTA anti-poverty work as well as celebrating the Anti-Poverty Solutions Spotlight Summit to launch 50 more years of solutions. The edition was launched with a special program featuring past AmeriCorps Vista members, including the Secretary of Commerce and a greeting from President Obama about the importance of the program. Approximately 300 people attended the event at the Constitution Center, where 35 teams presented new innovations to combat poverty. The audience voted on the best ideas, and 16 teams were selected to go through the Social Innovations Lab in the fall of 2015. 

A Look at the Innovations Needed to End Philadelphia's Literacy Crisis & Assure a Successful READ! by 4th Campaign was launched in March of 2015 in partnership with the Philadelphia Public School Notebook (The Notebook), highlighting 23 articles on literacy innovations and the ambitious READ! by 4th Campaign (Ready, Engaged, Able and Determined by 4th Grade). Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal (PSIJ) joined forces with Campaign leaders, including the Free Library of Philadelphia, Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), The Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC), The School District of Philadelphia (SDP), The Mayor's Commission on Literacy, and The Public Health Fund, as well as United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. This special edition and program highlighted the challenges and opportunities facing Philadelphia education stakeholders to ensure all Philadelphia children can read by fourth grade. The event took place at the Free Library and Ralph Smith from the Annie E. Casey Foundation was the keynote speaker sharing the national perspective. 

The Philadelphia Region’s Nonprofits & Innovations in Economic Development was launched in November of 2014 in partnership with Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) and Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC). In this edition, which featured 13 articles, experts in the field highlighted innovative projects where Philadelphia’s nonprofits are leading the way through creative financing structures, partnerships with for-profit entities and initiatives that have impact beyond their immediate mission. The edition was celebrated with a launch event on December 9th at PHMC that attracted 275 attendees to learn about regional innovations in addressing community needs.

The Future of Behavioral Health in Light of the Disruptive Innovation of Healthcare Reform was launched in September 2014 in partnership with Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), the Thomas Scattergood Foundation, City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Beck Institute of Cognitive Therapy and Open Minds. In this edition, encompassing 16 articles from mental health experts, PSIJ took a closer look at how both the behavioral and physical health systems under broad health care reform will need to adjust to become integrated. National and regional behavioral health experts, innovators, leaders and policymakers wrote about the challenges and opportunities for innovation that will come along with this broader health paradigm shift. An audience of 250 gathered at PHMC for the launch event.

Innovations in Philadelphia’s Out of School (OST) Time was launched in June 2014 and featured 27 articles on regional innovations in after-school programming. The edition and launch event took place at Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) and explored the many innovations within Philadelphia's OST network and regional OST programs. These OST models have demonstrated significant social impact on children and youth, including educational outcomes. The Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Youth Development Network (PSAYDN), the Afterschool Alliance and Every Hour Counts presented information on national and regional trends, promising practices, and policy issues to 245 people.

Innovations in Social Entrepreneurship was launched in April 2014 and, deviating from the typical format, delivered a series of five-minute videos by aspiring social entrepreneurs highlighting 17 new ideas in a business plan pitch format. This publication was done in partnership with the Philadelphia Social Innovations Lab.

New School Designs and Innovative Educational Models was launched in February 2014 in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, Bravo Group and Public Health Fund. This edition featured 22 articles that took a closer look at new school designs in education along with programmatic, philosophical and policy challenges and opportunities that come along with innovations in education. The launch event took place at WHYY, Philadelphia’s leading public radio provider, where national and regional education and social sector innovators, leaders and policymakers talked about the regional and national landscape of, and appetite for, new school design and innovative educational models to improve academic outcomes for Pennsylvania children and beyond. Close to 300 people attended the launch event.