Round-Up Talk on Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship

SDG Ziel 9: Industrie, Innovation und Infrastruktur
Male hand places a cube with a lightbulb symbol on top of a stack of five wooden cubes with heads and cogs

© Getty Images/jittawit.21

In this multi-part interview, five international experts report on how they deal with the topic of social innovation and entrepreneurship in very different ways. They also give tips for people who also want to convert their innovative ideas into concrete solutions and social and sustainable business concepts.

Our experts

Five experts, five questions:

Social innovations aim at creating a more worthwhile society for all. How would you define social innovations, and – in your view – which are currently the greatest challenges to which social innovations could provide solutions?

Tamara Ferreira Schmidt:

The defines social innovations as new solutions to a social problem that are more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals. Working in the financial market and researching related topics, I can mention the lack of access to the conventional financial system by poor people as a big challenge. Microfinance and crowdfunding are social innovations that handle it somehow because they give people an alternative to escape the subsistence cycle. Other solutions from different fields can be highlighted as well. 's initiative emerged from identifying the need of people who need to walk kilometers to get water in underdeveloped countries. The company created an instrument (WaterWheel), with an affordable price, which holds up to 50 liters of water and can be rolled along the path traveled, being an alternative to clay pots.

Ingo Steffgen:

Over the past decade I have repeatedly redefined the term ‘social innovations’, at least for myself. On the one hand, I realised over the course of the years that the concept as such applies to all (radical) reformers. For example to Martin Luther, but certainly even further back than that. The other aspect is the fact that this is not always about specific disruptive societal improvements, but about small things that can make a difference. This is why social innovation to me is everything that enables us to make friends across borders and to build intercultural networks that form the basis for peace. Opportunities for open-minded exchange are vital here, including through social media but even more so due to the fact that everybody can learn about different cultures and learn to appreciate them.

Magdalena Parcheva:

At the present stage, social innovations as theory and practice are gaining special relevance. Social innovation is the subject of increased research interest, it is the focus of public programs and stimulus measures to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It is difficult to give an unambiguous definition of the term "social innovation", as it has many faces. Innovative technological solutions that are co-created and contribute to the integration of vulnerable groups in education and the labor market are examples of social innovations. New approaches and forms of cooperation that have been developed and adopted by various stakeholders and address challenges related to climate change are a manifestation of social innovation. New mechanisms for citizen participation in the process of shaping local policies that contribute to good governance at the local level is another example of social innovation. From the management point of view, social innovations comprise new business models that aim at both achieving economic efficiency and realizing a social mission. Social innovation is also the combination of new social practices that invariably accompany the implementation of technological solutions, and thus contribute to the improvement of economic development and quality of life.

In this sense, I would define social innovations as new solutions that have been developed together with different stakeholders in response to societal challenges in order to achieve social impact. Social innovations create social value and contribute to social change and sustainable development. Today's social challenges are manigfold: social inequalities, climate change, the social side of digitalisation and the growing use of robotic solutions and artificial intelligence systems. The consequences of the hostilities in Ukraine lead to major public challenges as well: human tragedy, humanitarian crisis, large-scale refugee waves, as ell as economic consequences that have their own social projections.

Evans Quartey Hammond:

Social innovation is a paradigm that consists of new ideas or hybrids of existing ones that are used to empower people and foster social solidarity, thereby contributing to economic viability and social change. The concept aims to meet new needs that the market has not satisfied, as well as to develop new, more satisfying ways of giving people a better social life. Social innovations could include the creation of biodegradable bags made from non-edible plants, bio-briquettes made from agricultural waste, a global action plan for zhe transition to renewable energy by 2050, as well as regenerative agriculture. Social innovations can be used to address social issues, such as social exclusion, high unemployment, poverty, and environmental challenges by bolstering people's capacity to meet their own needs. The emphasis is on developing people's skills, reinforcing their self-confidence, and motivating them to adopt positions and solve societal problems.

Raju Gurung:

Our current reality is that we live in a highly polarised and unequal world where far too many groups and societies have not been incorporated into the new industrialised and digital economy. If executed correctly, social innovations are an important antidote to this problem. In my view, social innovation at its core is about reducing human suffering and enabling human beings to enjoy a better quality of life. 

Currently, social innovations still focus on Maslow’s lower level of needs – ensuring global food security, eliminating homelessness, securing access to clean drinking water and clothing, and finally providing access to jobs. We need to enable smart interdisciplinary teams of social innovators to come together to solve these complex challenges. Furthermore, we need better policies, incentives and co-ordinated eco-systems to enact these challenges.

Get to know other committed Germany alumni


In our expert interview, five Germany alumni report on where they see inequality and need for more social justice and how they are working with their projects and initiatives to promote more equality. They also give specific tips for those who also want to campaign for equal opportunities.


From cultivation to roasting and packaging: the multiple award-winning Rwandan speciality coffee Angelique’s Finest is produced exclusively by women. The co-founder of the Fairtrade project is Allan Mubiru, alumnus of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s International Climate Protection Fellowship. In order to launch the product in 2018, the economist and climate finance expert launched a successful crowdfunding campaign.

* mandatory field