Three Big Opportunities for Social Innovation in 2012

Last year we did an article predicting disruptive social innovation trends in 2011.

By mid year, we’d seen impact investing and crowd-funding for social enterprises taking off, and covered tech for social good. We’d also seen Japan’s earthquake relief efforts gamified by Zynga.

As the new year began over the weekend, we asked ourselves the question – What opportunities exist to innovate for social good in 2012?

We realized there were several. Here are the three social good challenges that topped our list, underpinned by data and web

1. Crowd-sourcing opinion and sentiment for Activism and Campaigns

Time magazine acknowledged that 2011 was the year of the protestor. From #OWS in the US to protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and the anti-corruption campaign in India, protestors took to the streets demanding change. Mainstream media either downplayed the protests (as in Syria and the US) or hyped them (India, Egypt) but there is currently no way to accurately gauge or measure sentiment through crowd-sourced opinions. For instance #OWS was about the 99% against the 1%. But did the 99% actually subscribe to this idea?

Corporations have access to technology to measure customer sentiment on social networks. And while the Ushahidi platform does do this to an extent, its really designed for crisis-mapping. What we’d like to see is startups leveraging Twitter, Facebook and the social web to crowd-source opinions and data, providing activists and Governments with real data to measure protestor sentiment and help with decision making.

2. Use of Open datasets to build products for Social Good

Open datasets are publicly available collections of data published by Government, non-profit and private organizations. This could include data such as healthcare statistics, addresses of organic food retailers, geo-locations of free public wi-fi hotspots etc. Using products such as Google’s fusion tables, it is possible to mashup datasets to create unique products and experiences for consumers.

If more social enterprises and non-profits begin sharing datasets like did, this will give other tech entrepreneurs the chance to build companies and business models around mashups from such public datasets. Check out this great experiment, a Farmers Market API created from a USDA dataset.

3. Getting rid of the Middleman

Around the world, and especially so in developing countries, there exist middlemen (or cartels) that control access to goods and deprive artisans and producers living at the bottom-of-the-pyramid from receiving the true value for the products they create. Fair-trade tries to tackle this problem by sourcing products from co-ops and groups that adhere to minimum wage for producers. But essentially this hasn’t done much to remove the strangle-hold that middlemen have on the prices of commodities and products. Moreover middlemen add little to no value in most cases.

Technology could help to bypass middlemen altogether, by bringing consumers closer to producers like Abe’s market and does, and reducing pockets of non-value from the supply chain.

You may notice a trend here in this article. We believe that data and the social web have the power to bring about massive change, and accelerate social good globally. While the tech community realizes the importance of this, not too many in the social space have looked at building tech products that promote social good, leveraging publicly available or crowd-sourced data. We would like to see 2012 as the year of the tech social entrepreneur.

If you are a startup working on some of these challenges or know someone who is, please tweet us up on @DutieeTweets. We’d love to feature your work on Dutiee. Happy New Year!

Filed under: Grow


Amit Deshmukh

A hacker and engineer, Amit believes that technology, if put to good use could one day solve some of the worlds biggest social and economic problems.