Social innovation refers to new strategies, concepts, ideas and organizations that meet social needs of all kinds – from working conditions and education to community development and health – and that extend and strengthen civil society. The term has overlapping meanings. It can be used to refer to social processes of innovation, such as open source methods and techniques. Alternatively it refers to innovations which have a social purpose – like microcredit or distance learning. The concept can also be related to social entrepreneurship (entrepreneurship is not necessarily innovative, but it can be a means of innovation) and it also overlaps with innovation in public policy and governance. Social innovation can take place within government, the for-profit sector, the nonprofit sector (also known as the third sector), or in the spaces between them. Research has focused on the types of platforms needed to facilitate such cross-sector collaborative social innovation. Social innovation is gaining visibility within academia. Prominent innovators associated with the term include Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank which pioneered the concept of microcredit for supporting innovators in multiple developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America and Stephen Goldsmith, former Indianapolis mayor who engaged the private sector in providing many city services.

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