April 07, 2017

Thirst - a problem ripe for social innovators. Credit: Mark Wolfe / Wikimedia Commons

The public and private sector have always had different priorities, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work together: take a New Zealand government program that pays prison companies to reduce the number of returning inmates. The deal gives prisons an incentive to improve the way they rehabilitate prisoners.

Economist Sonal Shah says such partnerships breed social innovation, and seek to solve problems that allow society to reap more benefits than private companies or individuals. Shah, who is executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown University, worked in the Obama administration, and believes these public-private alliances could improve everything from education to healthcare.

Three Takeaways:

  • Shah says our healthcare system would benefit from social innovation, including giving patients and providers more incentives for disease prevention.
  • The question at the heart of most social innovations, says Shah, is: How do you solve, not serve, the problem? Food pantries provide a great example. “Is the solution more pantries with more food, or should we be thinking about what's causing hunger?” she notes.
  • According to Shah, results of the New Zealand prison program include changes to the architecture of prisons so that inmates, who are nearing the end of their sentence, can “live almost independently in houses,” better preparing them for life on the outside.

More Reading:

social innovation, Business, Culture, Kara Miller, Sonal Shah

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