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For Successful Social Innovation, Start With The Problem, Not The Solution

You might think you have figured out a great solution to a global problem, but unless you’re working directly with the people you’re trying to help, there’s a good chance you’re not thinking about the problem correctly.

Aleem Walji, a practice manager for innovation at the World Bank, says that underlying all the major problems of the world is a social problem that requires major innovation. Everything from climate change to violence to lack of energy has a social root or component, and to solve them you both need to understand that cause and focus on innovations that can stop the problems at their roots.

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Walji also lays out three simple points for creating the most powerful social innovations:

  1. Start with the problem, not the solution. If you start with a solution, it may not actually solve the problem.
  2. Identify the “binding constraint” that is causing the problem. Be careful of coming up with a solution that doesn’t actually remove that constraint.
  3. Work with the user. We think we know what is best, but then we get it wrong. Listen to them and co-create a solution.

This video is part of a series on prominent social innovators, convened by PricewaterhouseCoopers during the 2012 Social Innovation Summit, discussing the evolution of social innovation and offering advice to social entrepreneurs. We’ll be featuring them here on Co.Exist.

Here’s a little preview of everyone who will be featured.

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About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Impact section, formerly FastCoExist.com. Have an idea for a story? You can reach him at mclendaniel [at] fastcompany.com

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