To Go Far, Go Together
Big Issue|Issue 293
Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading (VPUU), an area-based community development organisation, has used social innovation to coproduce strong neighbourhood economies while helping to fight COVID-19.

VPUU is successfully building strong and sustainable neighbourhoods with social innovation and integrative partnerships. The organisation is of the opinion that integrated and holistic co-production of safety needs to be adopted in as many neighbourhoods as possible in South Africa as well as across the world. Co-creating safety is an adaptive challenge that requires innovative approaches and solutions to improve people’s quality of life.

Learning social innovation

The concept of social innovation focuses attention on the ideas and solutions that create social value – as well as the processes through which they are generated, regardless of where they are coming from.

Social innovation is defined by California’s Stanford University Professor Sarah Soule and her colleagues Bernadette Clavier and Neil Malhotra as, “The process of developing and deploying effective solutions to challenging and often systemic social and environmental issues in support of social progress. Solutions often require the active collaboration of constituents across government, business, and the non-profit world”. Fundamental to the success of social innovation are two principles: inclusive opportunities (i.e. supporting projects that will directly impact people in resource-poor communities), and inclusive participation (i.e. including people who are living and working in the community to be a part of the innovation that will impact them).

New approaches

“With COVID-19 forcing a change in how we work, it has spotlighted South Africa’s frightening digital divide. Hence, we aspire to provide an innovative internet system that is agile, smart, owned by the people and doesn’t use your personal information and habits as commodity to make profit,” says Michael Krause, CEO of VPUU.

The VPUU team looked for responses that were rapid and effective, but different to the traditional disaster relief approach. By partnering with communities at risk, the organisation had an enabling and supportive role in those solutions. The successful solutions were then developed to scale into similar environments where communities have identified similar challenges. This inclusive approach to innovation protects communities from poor planning and misaligned development agendas.

Information technology plays a pivotal role in accelerating meaningful responses and scaling deployment. Below are some innovative projects VPUU are busy scaling and iterating.

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