cross border

Given the multitude of global development challenges and the resources invested in solving them, there is a clear need for proven social innovations to spread effectively around the world, as well as for social entrepreneurs to collaborate internationally. The vision of the Ashoka Globalizer Project says it all: great social innovations travel to improve people’s lives around the globe and inspire more changemakers.

Cross-border social innovation already takes place in various forms. Developed-world entrepreneurs often realize the enormous social impact – and market potential – of their technological innovations in the developing world, such as a solar light bulb, or innovate specifically with the local needs in mind, such as a no-nonsense car for Africa. There are also global networks, conferences, competitions and awards to facilitate innovation, be it to challenge international innovators to solve local problems of a particular city or to reinvent the toilet that will benefit nearly 3 billion people in the developing world.

In addition to the social innovation efforts driven by the developed world, closer ties among social entrepreneurs from countries in various stages of development are vital to inclusive and effective innovation. As a part of the so-called “south-south” cooperation, we need to unleash the potential for local innovators to create solutions jointly and to finance, replicate and scale their projects by leveraging the growing economic and diplomatic ties among their countries. The evolution of India, China and Brazil from aid recipients into donors (and, let’s also add Turkey to this list) may be an important catalyst, especially considering their strong interest in Africa.

And, the “north” can be integral to this process by facilitating and supporting such exchanges, not to mention learn from them.  As an upcoming book about African innovation highlights, necessity is the mother of invention and the resourcefulness and creativity of social entrepreneurs in developing countries can also benefit the rest of the world.

For example, when Turkish Ashoka fellow Sengul Akcar, who runs dozens of women’s cooperatives in Turkey, wants to promote solar cooking, does she have the chance to work directly with entrepreneurs and women in Kenya, where this innovation has already been adopted, so that they can exchange ideas on production, marketing and implementation, and perhaps come up with a new product or business model altogether? How can the US organizations and funders that aim to spread the use of solar cookers ensure this collaboration and spread lessons learned to other countries?

Given our experience with international social entrepreneurship so far and the evolving dynamics in the developing world, the questions we pose to you are:

  • What are the best ways to systematically accelerate cross-border social innovation and foster greater engagement of social entrepreneurs from developing countries? (See a related Social Edge discussion hosted by Rodney Schwartz: Are the only the innovations in social entrepreneurship Anglo-Saxon? )
  • What makes a social innovation most likely to spread globally? What kinds of ideas travel most effectively?
  • What are the main challenges when innovations travel across borders? What is needed to ensure success when innovating for a different geography or population?
  • How can we best leverage the internet and social media; academic and public-private partnerships; collaborative spaces and incubators; and social entrepreneurship networks in cross-border social innovation? What can be the role of diaspora communities?

Join Selen Uçak, Executive Director of The American Turkish Society, and Matthias Scheffelmeier, country coordinator for Ashoka Turkey, in this important conversation.