‘Social innovations are inherently about changing the way things are done and the way social needs are conceptualised. In this sense, systemic change is the ultimate goal of social innovation, even if very few social innovations reach this stage.’i 

‘Systemic change is never achieved through a single organisation or sector; it always involves a complex interaction of culture, consumer behaviour, business practice, legislation and policy. Moreover, it always involves a change to attitudes and behaviours and requires people to see and think in new ways.'[i] 

In this article we will introduce eight social innovations that created true systemic change.  


Grameen Foundation 

Grameen Foundation is a global non-profit organisation creating breakthrough solutions spanning financial, agricultural and health services. They use digital technology and strengthen local partner networks to design and deliver solutions that open opportunity for women and families living in poverty. 

Their work is inspired by the people they serve. They believe there is no greater force than the power of women driven to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them. But these women need real breakthroughs that enable them to overcome the economic, cultural and gender barriers that keep families trapped in poverty. 

To engender such breakthroughs, Grameen Foundation design strategies that equip women and families with essential tools and knowledge. They train networks of field agents to implement the solutions and provide training and education to the women themselves. They bring together partners to co-design and scale up solutions. And, they evaluate their impact to continuously improve the work they do.[ii] 

Read more about the project here. 


Care Center Yawaragi 

Care Center Yawaragi was created in 1987 as a volunteer organisation to provide care for the handicapped and elderly. But within a short time, Harue Ishikawa, the founder of Yawaragi, realised that volunteerism by itself wouldn’t adequately fill the service gap. And so, relying on gap analysis to inform his decision-making, Yawaragi developed a standardised menu of care services and a care management system. The organisation’s efforts were widely acknowledged, and it was granted ISO9001 certification in 2001 (highly unusual for a non-profit). 

Importantly, Yawaragi also disseminated the concept of having a care management system that could cater to varying needs. In doing so, the organisation essentially launched the era of modernised elderly care in Japan; Yawaragi soon began to receive many visitors, including government officials, seeking to learn about how its paid elderly care model works. 

Ultimately, the model that Yawaragi developed was incorporated into Japan’s national elderly care insurance system; it was adapted by the Japanese Ministry of Health in 2000. With this insurance system, elderly care in Japan has transformed into an $80 billion service industry, in which even major publicly held companies are now participating. What’s more, the idea of elderly care insurance has also been replicated in other East Asian countries facing ageing populations.[iii] {Field} 

Read more about the project here 


Hokkaido Green Fund 

The Hokkaido Green Fund (HGF) was founded in 2001 by Toru Suzuki. Prior to that time, as a director of a consumer cooperative in Hokkaido, Suzuki had been looking for effective ways to persuade the government to reduce the country’s dependence on nuclear power. One day, he came up with the idea of encouraging a cooperative approach to producing electricity—using a model similar to a market contracting with organic farmers to produce vegetables and fruit.[iii] 

‘To bring his idea to life, he sought investors to support the creation of a wind power plant and ultimately raised an initial $2 million from 217 individuals. The electricity produced by the plant, which began operating in 2001, is sold to the local electricity company to generate revenues that will help to repay investors in 18 years. That seed of a renewable energy industry led to the creation of a model whereby the government started to set feed-in tariffs (policies guaranteeing payment for renewable energy, thus encouraging investment in the field) in 2012. As a result, by the end of 2016, HGF was operating 18 wind power plants in Japan.’iii  

You can find out more about the project here 



‘Avaaz is a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere. Avaaz—meaning “voice” in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages—launched in 2007 with a simple democratic mission: organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.’iv

Avaaz empowers millions of people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues, from corruption and poverty to conflict and climate change. Their model of Internet organising allows thousands of individual efforts, however small, to be rapidly combined into a powerful collective force.[iv]

The Avaaz community campaigns in 15 languages, served by a core team on 6 continents and thousands of volunteers. They take action – signing petitions, funding media campaigns and direct actions, emailing, calling and lobbying governments, and organising ‘offline’ protests and events – to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people inform the decisions that affect us all.[iv] 

You can find out more about the project here 



The Greenpeace journey started more than 40 years ago. 

Bob Hunter, the co-founder of Greenpeace, was a true Canadian social innovator who fundamentally shifted the mind space of the planet. He brought his ideas, courage and rage to bear in defending the seas, the whales and the planet. He was willing to stand up for what he believed in and put his body in the way of what he was fighting for. He cleverly used the power of the media to craft his campaigns and influence the way that people perceived the issues that mattered to him. The tactics of Greenpeace shifted the power dynamic, creating a mass media voice that was able to put a spotlight on corporate and government abuses. Bob and the Greenpeace co-founders were able to create a new public accountability – he gave eyes to the masses to see what governments and corporations were doing.[v] 

‘Today, Greenpeace is more than three and one-half million strong, with supporters, partners and allies in more than 55 countries.'[vi] 

You can find out more about the project here 


charity: water 

charity: water is a non-profit organisation bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. The New York City-based charity works in 20 developing countries around the world to bring clean water to people in need. They recognise that 800 million people on the planet don’t have access to clean water.[vii] 

Since 2006 charity: water has provided access to clean water for 8 million people around the world, funding nearly 30,000 water projects in 26 countries. Over one million people have donated more than $300 million to its cause.[viii] 

You can find out more about the project here 



Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. 

They combine the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 600 scientists, lawyers and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water and the wild.[ix] 

‘NRDC works to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water and the wild, and to prevent special interests from undermining public interests. 

‘NRDC experts use data and science to unearth the root causes of the problems that confront us. We use that information to blueprint transformative solutions, and we mobilize the support of partners, members, and activists to advocate for laws and policies that will protect our environment far into the future.'[x] 

You can find out more about the project here 


Friends of the Earth International 

FoEI is the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, uniting 75 national member groups and some 5,000 local activist groups on every continent. With over 2 million members and supporters around the world, they campaign on today’s most urgent environmental and social issues. 

Their decentralised and democratic structure allows all member groups to participate in decision-making. They strive for gender equity in all of their campaigns and structures. 

Their international positions are informed and strengthened by their work with communities and their alliances with indigenous peoples, farmers’ movements, trade unions, human rights groups and others. 

They challenge the current model of economic and corporate globalisation and promote solutions that will help to create environmentally sustainable and socially just societies.[xi]  

You can find out more about the project here 


Learn more at Social Innovation Academy 

Limitless, along with 4 other partners, has recently launched a project that aims to develop the first online Social Innovation Academy in Europe. The Social Innovation Academy will be the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation.  

Why Social Innovation Academy? Social innovation is increasingly seen as the answer to the rising number of European societal challenges. While the European authorities, leading academics, policy experts, business people and activists agree that social innovation is the key to a better future for Europe and the world, it is extremely difficult for professionals to obtain high-quality training on what social innovation actually offers and, more importantly, how it can be done in practice.  

The Social Innovation Academy will aim to change this situation in Europe and beyond. If you are interested in keeping up with this project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our friends or follow us on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here. 


i Social Innovation. (n. d.). Systemic Change. Retrieved from: https://socialinnovationni.org/systemic-change-2/ 
ii Grameen Foundation. (n. d.) About Grameen Foundation. Retrieved from: https://grameenfoundation.org/about
iii Ito, K. (2017, February 16). Creating Systematic Change [Article]. Retrieved from: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/creating_systematic_change 
iv Avaaz. (n. d.). About usRetrieved from: https://secure.avaaz.org/page/en/about/
v Surman, T. (2016, April 10). The mind bomb room at CSI. [Article]. Retrieved from: https://socialinnovation.org/the-mind-bomb-room-at-csi/ 
vi Greenpeace. (n. d.). About Greenpeace. A Trip For Life, And For Peace. Retrieved from:  https://www.greenpeacefund.org/about-us/ 
vii Charity: Water. (n. d.). Our Mission. Retrieved from: https://www.charitywater.org/about 
viii Clifford, C. (2018, March 22). How Charity: Water’s founder went from hard-partying NYC club promoter to helping 8 million people around the world [Article]. Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/22/how-scott-harrison-founded-charity-water.html 
ix NRDC. (n. d.). About us. Retrieved from: https://www.nrdc.org/about 
x NRDC. (n. d.). Our work. Retrieved from: https://www.nrdc.org/work 
xi Friends of the Earth International. (n.d.). About FoEI. Retrieved from: https://www.foei.org/about-foei 


The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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