Teaching social innovation is the need of the hour

Rising social expectation, the reduced ability of the state to deliver social development programmes, and increasing income disparities often trigger rise of the conservative governance structures. In many European countries, conservative government has been recently elected ( Germany is an exception) creating a worldwide fear of decline of the welfare state. Simultaneously, inclusive philosophy is on a decline. Immigrants due to war or other calamities are not welcome in most countries and social fragmentation is also increasing. One of the most ominous signs is that developed regions in many countries are unwilling to share their riches with the poorer or less rich regions (recent separatist movement in Spain and Italy are indicative of it). In the past social conflicts emerged in poorer regions.
Under such condition, the idea of inclusive society is under question. How do we counteract this tendency. One of the ways in which we could try to counteract the exclusivist agenda is by teaching social innovation through creative and interesting pedagogues. Two examples have made me realise this as one way of reducing social anomaly. As is well known, apart from twice the year learning walks, shodhyatras organised by SRISTI, I have also been teaching a similar walking course at IIMA for almost decade and a half. This time we went to Saklana valley in Uttrakhand along with Indian and foreign students. Next batch will go to Sikkim in mid December this year.
We interacted with local communities, creative school children in 11 villages and met with local community leaders. Our idea was, as always, to learn from four teachers: with in, among peers, nature and local communities. There were several paradoxical situations witnessed by the students: schools without sufficient water and toilets, girls dominating the discussion with boys taking a back seat, young children competing very ably with our students in generating new ideas etc.
Discussions with the honourable governor of the state also revealed that even in the higher education, girls far outnumbered boys among toppers in different subjects. The schools did not have libraries, many schools did not have labs, and of course sports facilities very limited computers were either not there, or were not functional or accessible to children. Children had to come from far off distance in a mountainous region. Some of the girls had to skip classes due to their menstruation cycles.
During the feedback session, one of the student commented that rather than just writing a final report, why should not students also do alive action project preferable to address some of these problems. Two of the students had a long gap in their classes and term break, decided to spend a month in among the community members addressing some of the limitations in pursuit of meaningful and joyful education. Several of these projects are still in action and some concrete results are likely to be achieved. local chambers of commerce has agreed to provide computer to each school and also host our students. Local NGOs and volunteers of Honey Bee Network are also joining hands with our students to support follow up action.
The point is that action learning mode is imperative, social innovation cannot be taught without actual participation by the students in the lives of the local communities. Disregarding the scale of impact on the communities, the students themselves are likely to be impacted upon a great deal. Though both would feed into each other.
Second example is from Chhadra village, Sabarkantha, where school kids including Lensy, Khushi and several other children made a group. The idea of one of the student from the school was selected for the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Ignite awards this year. This motivated many other children to start daily conversations about ideas that can address unmet social needs. Several had attended a UNICEF-SRISTI children creativity workshop. They had visited some disadvantaged communities where many children lacked books and other teaching aid. They collected money to fill a small gap. They also sent many more creative ideas. Their journey on the path to social innovation had begun. Their research into the community problems revealed several ideas which even adults like us had not thought about. How to design a better head load carrier, how to prevent iron filings spintering around while drilling holes, how to sprinkle water on a newly-constructed wall saving water and effort, what to do to ensure the chalk did not produce enough dust, how to modify a nail cutter like a pencil sharpener so that nails are not strewn around and hurt birds which might them mistaking them for grains.
Social innovations are must for inclusive development. Should we not start using imaginative pedagogies to teach this subject to groom future leaders of our society to become more empathetic?

anilg

professor, iim ahmedabad and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place ,

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