Collaborative Governance for Social Innovation and the Rise of the Hybrid Domain

istock-512692038-computer-people-abstractYuko Aoyama and Balaji Parthasarathy explore possibilities for new governance structures that blend social and economic missions and advance the livelihoods of the poor in the Global South.

Persistent inequality amidst low levels of socio-economic development calls for new institutional arrangements. In a timely new book, Yuko Aoyama and Balaji Parthasarathy  conceptualize the rise of the hybrid domain, which refers to an ever-growing “middle” that lies between states and markets. Although various aspects of the hybrid domain have been reported and analyzed as separate processes – from the marketization of the state to the socialization of markets the authors argue that these processes should be understood within a single conceptual framework. With recent attention turning to systems and policies oriented toward more socially inclusive and pro-poor designs, they seek a synthetic approach that involves the state, markets and civil society.

Stakeholders in the hybrid domain have the interest and the willingness to go beyond their conventional knowledge to identify sustainable solutions for social missions.

The hybrid domain is comprised of dynamic, heterogeneous, experimental and bottom-up processes to solve a problem. The hybrid domain draws diverse stakeholders have only one mission in common, which is to find a solution to a social project that encounters bottlenecks of innovation, implementation, and adoption i.e., solutions to typically “wicked problems”. Stakeholders encompass multinational enterprises (MNEs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), social entrepreneurs, and the state. Stakeholders in the hybrid domain have the interest and the willingness to go beyond their conventional knowledge to identify sustainable solutions for social missions. They come together because they are unable to identify and develop solutions on their own, whether driven by exclusively non-profit or for-profit motives, or by adopting strictly global or grassroots processes. While most theories of collaboration require developing cohesion by way of shared norms and common agendas, the hybrid domain draws strengths from heterogeneous stakeholders from various geographies, who converge on a common desire for social change. These collaborations aim at inducing social innovation using new technologies, indigenous knowledge and, often, transnational resources. Broadly defined, social innovation refers to innovation with strong social impacts, one that is designed to fulfill unmet social needs of under-served populations.

The pursuit of social innovation coincides with growing public interest in ethical investments, and the attendant shift in the priorities of corporations in the Global North from the single- to the triple- bottom-line of social, environmental, and the economic objectives. Corporate social responsibility (CSR), and the rise of benefit and certified B corporations in the United States, also suggest the reconceptualization and the reconfiguration of economic and social objectives. NGOs too have become more professional, at times commercialized, increasingly globally networked, and technologically proficient. In addition, there is heightened interest in social entrepreneurship in North America and Europe, with social entrepreneurs becoming transnational to address social missions.

There is growing consensus that social objectives in the Global South cannot be met effectively by retaining the conventional division of labor between the state, CSR initiatives, and NGOs. Emerging collaboration between MNEs and NGOs, for instance, signals a new organizational approach in the context of the Global South to overcome entrenched information and power asymmetries. This suggests a systemic failure of public/private goods provision, with the risk of repeating the failures by reinforcing the conceptual dichotomy between states and markets. The authors seek to articulate how corporations, states, and civil society organizations develop common agendas, despite the differences in their primary objectives. The process of coordination in developing a common agenda, in innovating and designing solutions, and in generating relevant institutions constitutes the rise of the hybrid domain.

The book’s focus on India is motivated by the country’s recent shift from being merely an offshore delivery centre for ICT services to a favoured location for global corporate research and development (R&D) activities. The authors contend that various social innovation stakeholders are increasingly viewing India as an ideal learning laboratory. India makes an attractive laboratory for social innovation for many reasons. Despite the rapid economic growth in the past 25 years, a large percentage of the population still lives in poverty, and India’s predominant post-independence development models, whether the Nehruvian strategy for industrial self-sufficiency or the Gandhian ideal for self-reliance, failed to produce adequate infrastructure, whether physical or social. The Indian government’s recent emphasis on inclusive development has generated interest in exploring a new avenue of empowerment for the poor by articulating their role beyond traditionally conceived livelihood sustenance. The Indian economy is known as among the most entrepreneurial in the Global South, with a high rate of business start-ups. Befitting the world’s largest democracy, civil society organizations thrive in India, with the official figure at nearly 3.2 million. Furthermore, transnational social entrepreneurs, mainly transplants from the Global North, including those not of Indian origin, play an increasingly pivotal role in coordinating globally sourced technology, business know-how, and financing, to develop solutions to critical local problems. Combined, India is emerging as a location that specializes in design and engineering for the perceived needs of populations in the Global South. The emergence of India as a location of social innovation demands a reorientation in our theoretical and empirical understanding of the geography of innovation.

The hybrid domain is a fertile seedbed for social innovation

The hybrid domain will likely grow, even if it is unlikely to be the dominant domain. It is important to recognize its emergence and its growth, for the hybrid domain is a fertile seedbed for social innovation, from which catalytic, systemic solutions may emerge. Hybrid logics and collaboration among unlikely partners and stakeholders who do not think alike, will increasingly find social acceptance. The most notable aspects of the hybrid domain is on how it transforms both states and markets. The hybrid domain is neither a result of state failure nor of market failure, but the combination of both. The rise of the hybrid domain signifies the shift from shareholder-driven to stakeholder-driven capitalism on the one hand, and the growing role of civil society organizations as key stakeholders working in conjunction with the state and corporations in pursuing social missions on the other.

The book’s objective is to engage with the question of collective capacity-building for scholars in innovation, science and technology policy, entrepreneurship, governance, and development. Through an analysis of various forms of collaborations for social innovation, the book seeks to break an intellectual impasse that has developed in academic discourses over ideal forms of governance, primarily between those who believe in market solutions as a preferred vehicle to address societal problems, and those who believe in state actions. In contrast to the increasingly dichotomous and ideologically charged debates, the book draws on numerous ongoing experiments on the ground that blend social and economic missions in new ways in various parts of the world.



The Rise of the Hybrid Domain is out now

Read the introductory chapter free on Elgaronline


Yuko Aoyama is Professor of Geography, Clark University, USA. Balaji Parthasarathy is Professor at the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore, India.



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