Social innovation has developed largely as a secular field despite its deep historic roots in people and communities of faith that have quietly and creatively responded to human and societal needs over centuries. It is essential that the faith sector take a place at the table because of the many assets it brings to the goal of solving our world's most pressing problems. Here are a few:
Social innovation requires us to 1) believe there is a constructive way to change seemingly intractable problems, 2) rethink problems and opportunities, sometimes flipping accepted wisdom on its head, and 3) apply concepts or frameworks from different disciplines to spot potential new solutions. Which is why we love this article from Forbes about what Deborah Frieze is doing in impact investing in Boston.
During a recent layover, I was wandering the airport bookstore and spotted Yuval Noah Harari’s bestseller Sapiens. “Everyone’s reading this,” I thought. “Maybe I should, too.” But then I saw his follow-up book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, which I had never heard of but the title of which sold me immediately. … Harari makes some frustratingly sweeping and aggressive statements about religion that seem unnecessary to make his point. But behind them is a truth that institutions of faith need to confront: We’re becoming irrelevant because we’re not in the game. Our traditions may serve a purpose for a while - as sources of comfort in a chaotic world that we don’t really understand, where people like Harari are talking about the imminence of unfathomable things like superhumans and cyborgs. But if that’s the only purpose we’re serving, then we’ve already lost the long game.
The Trump era in the US has triggered a lot of angst over the state of our democracy. There is a lot of blame going around. Everyone expresses concern about our civil discourse. New efforts to understand, restore, and strengthen democratic institutions and the social capital that undergirds them emerge daily. At the same time, there is a lot of talk about the economic inequality that may or may not, depending on who you listen to, have led to our current political reality. … Could one solution lie in the centuries old concept of cooperatives—shared ownership/management organizations for workers, producers, or consumers—renewed for the modern era?
At innoFaith, one of our goals is to bridge faith communities to the social innovation ecosystem - the universe of non-profits, start-ups, education institutions, companies, government bodies, and others who are developing, studying, implementing new responses to persistent social problems. And vice versa. But for many in institutions and communities of faith, social innovation is a new term, even if not a new concept. … Both charity and advocacy approaches are essential to social change work, but what if there were a narrative that could free us from the limits of charity, on the one hand, and ideology, on the other? That is the potential of social innovation.
On January 29th, in the midst of a DC snowstorm, an interfaith, intergenerational group of friends and strangers gathered at Church of the Holy City to talk about the power of young people to lead change. Along with co-hosts Peace First, FaithJustice Foundation, and the Swedenborg Center, we were thrilled to welcome Eric Dawson, Founder and CEO of Peace First and author of Putting Peace First: 7 Commitments to Change the World, and Yasmine Arrington, Peace First Fellow and Founder and Executive Director of ScholarCHIPS, to share their wisdom.
LinkedIn recently published 50 Big Ideas for 2019: What to watch in the year ahead. The list is full of interesting predictions regarding the economy, workforce, tech, leadership, and a couple on social movements. Underlying many of the predictions are issues of values, ethics, and inclusion. As society seeks better solutions to the challenges that confront us - climate change, the potential effects of artificial intelligence, inequality, political polarization, shifting workforce trends, and more - what role will faith communities and institutions play? And what would these predictions look like if offered by faith leaders rather than business leaders? We’re going to find out in the coming weeks by seeking the input of our network. We’ll report back on what we hear, but in the meantime, here are a few recent faith trends that we expect will continue to grow in 2019.
It’s hard to walk around Washington, DC, these days without finding a church that has been or is in the process of being converted into luxury condos. In a city struggling to provide enough affordable housing and other services to keep its lower income residents, the idea of community institutions being turned into housing for the wealthy can be discouraging, to say the least. And DC is not alone. … Fortunately, various groups are emerging to re-imagine the problem and find solutions.
Impact investing, the practice of leveraging private capital for social and environmental gains by making investments that produce social and environmental returns in addition to financial returns, has gained significant steam in the last several years. It has also begun to make inroads into the investment and mission strategies of faith-based institutions and investors.
For millennia, faith traditions have been innovating, adapting worship, theology, and social engagement to bring God to the people of different eras in a changing world and to meet the social needs of the times. Yet how rarely we talk about innovation as faith communities. We tend to consider it a value and expertise of the business or technology sectors, sectors we also tend to view with some skepticism. But the world is changing more rapidly than ever before, and the challenges driving social needs today are becoming more complex. We can’t afford not to talk about this. And, well, innovate accordingly.
We are living through a tectonic shift in power dynamics. With the evolution of digital technology and globalization, people all over the world have access to information and opportunity at an unprecedented scale. The promise and potential of a world where power can no longer be monopolized by an elite few is thrilling for the possibilities it creates for greater equality. But what might be lost in the process? In the era of networks, do institutions still have a role to play? Greg Jones at Duke Divinity School has been exploring the potential of Christian social innovation and the questions it surfaces.