Necessity is the mother of invention
February 21, 2017 12:32 AM   Subscribe

Looking for examples of nonprofit organisations or other types of social enterprise who are doing innovative work or focusing on innovation as a way to meet social needs, particularly examples that break away from or subvert the charity model.

I'm interested in not just product innovations like the foot pedal washing machine or the hippo roller, but actual innovation in the way services are designed and delivered, perhaps like microfinancing more generally, but examples of specific programs or organisations known for a different approach would be appreciated.
posted by amusebuche to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I like the work that One Acre Fund is doing.
posted by Karaage at 12:38 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Look up Nesta in the UK. They fund and support innovation in the not for profit. sphere.

For volunteering, initiatives like The Good Gym and Casserole Club are two that are looking at things differently to the way volunteering is traditionally done in the UK.
posted by Helga-woo at 12:43 AM on February 21, 2017

Take a look at the Oxford Humanitarian Innovation Project
posted by brozek at 1:23 AM on February 21, 2017

Tiny Homes for the Homeless
Freedom Service Dogs rescues dogs from shelters and custom trains them instead of breeding yet more dogs. They don't charge $ for the dogs, you pay it back in volunteer hours.
The animal rescues that rely on foster homes rather than physical shelters.
The Prisons that have dog training programs thus rescuing dogs and people at the same time.
Freecycle as well as the folks who leave things out in the alleys or on the street with a free sign rather than in the trash can.
A temporary dog park in a lot that would have just sat vacant for 5 years.
The Next Door app. Unfortunately it depends on your neighborhood. Some are wonderfull, like mine, and some are just a bunch of trolls. I see folks with lost animals who suddenly have total strangers out pounding the streets helping them look. People will ask to borrow stuff and almost always someone will offer. Baby gates or play pens for visiting grandkids, yard tools or tables and chairs for a family reunion.
Go Baby Go (youtube video) This guy makes mobility devices for children out of toy cars and changes their lives. Here is their Facebook page, it looks like they have workshops too.
I just came across Nation Swell when I was looking for the toy car mobility project, I haven't had a chance to check it out thoroughly but it looks interesting so far.
Fabulous Question, amusebuche.
posted by BoscosMom at 4:16 AM on February 21, 2017

412 Food Rescue here in Pittsburgh is Uber for fighting food waste and food insecurity.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:40 AM on February 21, 2017

With the caveat that I work here (and the additional caveat that our website currently sucks): the International Legal Foundation is an international criminal legal aid nonprofit working in post-conflict countries, and its model differs from other nonprofits in the same space in that it doesn't just pop in, do trainings for local lawyers, and pop out - it sets up permanent legal aid offices, hires local lawyers, and trains and mentors the lawyers in those offices in international criminal defense standards, with the goal of spinning the programs off into independent organizations or integrating them with government legal aid systems.

It also focuses on developing the practice of strategic litigation, and as a result its lawyers have made material changes to the justice systems in each country where it works. In particular it's changed practices on access to lawyers at the police stage in every country where it works, even for lawyers who don't work for the ILF. In most or all of those countries it was the first organization to push for the right to access lawyers at the police stage.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:26 AM on February 21, 2017

Design for America is a college student organization in which student groups use innovation to solve social issues. From their website:

"DFA empowers students to tackle social challenges with human-centered design. Interdisciplinary collaboration, learning by doing, and real-world partnerships allow DFAers to build communities and create positive change."
posted by crabapple at 9:11 AM on February 21, 2017

To give a couple of Irish examples, Food Cloud is working on food waste/food poverty issues in Ireland and the UK.

An ex-colleague of mine is one of the founders of Aid:Tech who are using technology to improve traceability and security for money transfers for international aid organisations.
posted by irishalto at 12:21 PM on February 21, 2017

Thanks for all the answers so far. I've been slowly working my way through all the links. Just following Nesta and its many partners led to a rabbit hole of social innovation networks, so that was super-interesting and fruitful, Helga-woo. Design for America: how cool. Where was this when I was in college? Food Cloud, Freecycle and 412 Food Rescue: I love the business models that are emerging around recycling "waste", and other down cycling/up cycling/circular economy stuff.

BoscosMom, I'm still working on your many links. NationSwell looks really amazing for the range of things they report on. What a great way to find out about stuff.

Things like the Humanitarian Innovation Project and Aid:Tech have provoked some really good questions for me about what we mean when we use the word innovation in a social/humanitarian, rather than strictly technological context.

I'm not sure who to mark for best answer, because these are all great examples. If anyone has more to add, I'd be pleased to keep on expanding the list.
posted by amusebuche at 6:35 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

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