What is Social Innovation and Why Does It Matter to Davis?

Keeva Kase (left) with Pastor Bill Habich (right) at Pollinate Davis.
Keeva Kase (left) with Pastor Bill Habich (right) at Pollinate Davis.

Today at 9 am, the Social Innovation Symposium will be held at the Davis Odd Fellows Hall. Social innovation is defined as “new ideas (products, services and models) that meet social needs and create social relationships, enhancing society’s capacity to act.”

On Friday, the Vanguard spoke with Pastor Bill Habicht, one of the organizers of the symposium, and Keeva Kase, who flew in from Durham, North Carolina.

Mr. Habicht explained, “This builds into the ongoing innovation ecosystem conversation that began last year.” They have looked into networking through JumpStart Davis and the co-working space at Pollinate Davis. He said, “My area is addressing social issues. The innovation mind set plays a critical role to moving our city and region forward.”

“The intent behind the symposium is to hear from people that have experience or knowledge of social innovation,” he explained. “It’s more than just coming up with innovative solutions but it’s also innovative approaches and how you tackle problems, structure, processes, things like that.”

He said he wants the conversation to start here in Davis and create a new facet in Davis and help “differentiate ourselves from anyone else.”

The event will have three presenters, one from San Francisco, one from Sacramento and Keeva Kase from Durham.

The event features Roshen Sethna, the program manager for Exygy, “a certified B-corp dedicated to designing exceptions software for the world leading change makers”; Keeva Kase, the executive director of the Durham based Bull City Forward,” a social innovation center that seeks to increase the creation and scale of innovations for the greater good”; and Tammy Vallejo, found of e49corp, “a spirit led movement that exists to connect, resource and mobilize organization into collaborative response to critical needs in the region.”

Each of the speakers will give a short speech and there will be a panel discussion asking questions and allowing a conversation.

Keeva Kase explained that he reached out to a blogger who is a consultant to congregations throughout the world. He said he was interested in looking toward the church and its place in the social justice movement.

He explained that this represents “what I believe the Gospel to be. I felt that the church has kind of fallen off of that.” Through this conversation he got in touch with Bill Habicht in Davis.

Mr. Kase said that he felt like “I could bring some experience out here and share what’s happening in Durham and the triangle reason, and what I’m beginning to see trending out to communities across the country.” He said, “I’m excited to see what’s happening in Davis.”

Keeva Kase is seeing an explosion in downtown Durham “where there was 15 years ago very little going on in downtown Durham – a very different place from what I’ve seen at least from my two hours in Davis, my first time here.” He said there have been great investments by the universities and the Research Triangle Park.

“In Durham we have a big tech organization – it’s a co-working facility, but really it’s its own ecosystem – called the American Underground. They house some of Durham’s most important and up and coming companies and entrepreneurs including one of our most recent fellows, Mati Energy Drinks, which just came out here and brought home another 100 thousand owners from Google .”

“Across the board in Durham, there’s a lot of energy around innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said. “However, however, Durham is also historically the home of ‘black Wall Street.’ It was the richest ‘black’ city in the country.”

He cited the North Carolina Law Review late in 2014: “Professor Jones wrote about how the institutions that black farmers and mechanics were forced to develop because they couldn’t get money. They were able to pool their resources and create NC Mutual Mechanics and Farmer Bank, these began to flourish and became the largest black owned financial institutions in the world.”

“So successful were they that Jim Crow almost had no real relevance to their lives,” he said. “As the tales have turned a little bit in Durham, the black community and I would say the Durham community is beginning to see some tensions rise around this – I think it’s because of gentrification. I’m hopeful the mayor of our city, who has been there 12 years now, will continue to be a vocal advocate for the people of Durham as the changes occur and advocate for the greater good of Durham.”

As Davis moves forward with a potential new vision, the lessons of Durham may apply here as well.

“Imagine what you want and call for people to share their imagination,” Keeva Kase suggested. “Craft a shared vision, a vision that includes folks from different areas of your community. When you have that vision, I would suggest you tackle that vision with purpose, with a mission that everybody understands and articulate and with goals that people can see being achieved over a reasonable time line.”

He warned – as some have on the Vanguard – that “it can turn into jargon very quickly.” Mr. Kase said, “You want to back up what you’re saying with action, content, with meaning.”

Bill Habicht had mentioned that so far in their endeavors they have not gotten pushback yet in creating things like JumpStart and Pollinate Davis. Mr. Kase warned, “I think that you will. You’re an intellectual town, people will say you’re throwing around this phrase ‘triple bottom line’ what does that mean? Explain that to me.”

“Rightfully so,” he said about pushback on phrases like “innovation park,” “Because I think words matter. You want your lexicon to be sound. I think that people are quick to adopt ‘corporate social responsibility,’ ‘green,’ the latest fade in making yourself appear to be an ethical and purpose-driven enterprise. People are quick to adopt because ultimately it doesn’t affect your financial bottom line.”

He argued that when Coca-Cola is introduced at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford as a big partner in the social entrepreneurship movement, “we have to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be a social enterprise? I think that’s an important question.” He said, “Maybe the tent is too big, maybe it’s not big enough. But I think you will get pushback in an intellectual community, what do you mean by that?”

Mr. Kase referenced an article from 2003 by Wayne Norman and Chris MacDonald, “Getting to the Bottom of ‘Triple Bottom Line.’” In it they note that almost all major corporations pay at least lip service to “social responsibility” and that a “substantial percentage of the major corporations are now issuing annual reports on social and/or environmental performance”

They write, “We find controversy not in these assumptions, but in the promises suggested by the 3BL rhetoric.”

Mr. Kase said, “They said what is novel about the concept is unsound. And what is unsound about the concept is not novel.”

Bill Habicht told the Vanguard, “I think we will get some pushback, however, depending on whose involved with this and leading this, hopefully its people that have track records already and have some public trust going into it.”

“Pushback always happens when the issues are close to people’s hearts,” he said. He noted that his congregation gets pushback all the times on issues like homelessness. They will try to listen as carefully as possible but ultimately “that’s what leadership is. Listen but you still move from a place of values when you’re making your decisions. Not everyone’s going to be thrilled with this, but that’s what leaders do.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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    1. Bill

      Sarcasm not appreciated and, to be blunt, disrespectful to the presenters. Mr. Kase flew across the country to share some valuable wisdom and possibly help our city approach social issues in new ways. I rarely speak so directly online, but when someone flies 3000 miles to offer help, receiving no honorarium or payment in return, I would hope that sarcasm such as what was posted can be shelved. If you want to talk directly about this topic,  I’m happy to do so. 412 C Street, Monday – Thursday. My cell is (530) 746-8512, bill@dccpres.org.

      1. Barack Palin

        I had no idea what “social innovation” could possibly be.  Reading your posts and other posts it’s apparent that other commenters have no idea what social innovation is either.  In fact you state that you need to draft another article to clarify what it is, your words not mine.  We’ve had several Vanguard articles lately about “food justice’, “racial justice” and “restorative justice” among other things so that’s where my innovation justice quip came from.

        1. Bill

          I offer this suggestion sincerely: Save the “quips” for  in-person dialogue. They do not reflect well nor do they add constructively to conversations online.

          The other commentators raised their points respectfully and I’m happy to oblige them. All I can do in response to your post is make a suggestion on how you might interact more meaningfully in the future.

  1. Frankly

    A couple of points.

    The first owner of black slaves in this country was a black man. So, how about we stop with the “Jim Crow” and other inferences that white on black racism is the root cause of social problems.

    Second, a dynamic and robust economy does more to enhance social innovation and social outcomes than does anything else.

      1. Frankly

        Not really.  He was the first slaver as per court ruling.  Previous examples had no legal basis and are only speculations as to the relationship between employer and employed.  The norm at that time was indentured servitude.

        You skirt the main point also… that being that slavery was an common, albiet ugly, practice that was never exclusive to whites.

        The other part of the point is that robust economic growth solves most of the social problems derided by social justice crusaders… who ironically seem to also support business-punishing and success-punishing high taxation and extreme environmental regulation that stifle growth and econmic opportunity.

    1. Tia Will


      The first owner of black slaves in this country was a black man. So, how about we stop with the “Jim Crow” and other inferences that white on black racism is the root cause of social problems.”

      How about we exercise some of the honesty that you have called for on previous posts ? How about we admit that it is totally irrelevant what color the first or 50th owner of slaves in America happened to be ?  How about we acknowledge that slavery, “Jim Crow”,  previous federal, state and local housing policies, as well as other policies that discriminated against blacks in favor of whites have had a huge effect on the ability to acquire equity in homes ( for example) which could then be leveraged for economic and social advancement which still affect significant portions of our population ?

  2. Don Shor

    [moderator] my apologies to Pastor Habicht and Mr. Kase for the comments. I’m sure you were hoping for a more productive conversation. Participants please keep to the topic now.

  3. davisite4

    From this article, “social innovation” sounds equivalent to “technological innovation.”  If the term means something more than that, I’d be really interested to hear what that is.  Otherwise, it sounds just like more pushing to bring high tech to Davis, rather than genuine innovative thinking that included different professions and different ways of living.

    1. Bill

      Davisite, thank you for that question. It’s different than technological innovation. Maybe I need to draft and article that can clarify this. I’ll try to work on something next week.

  4. DT Businessman

    Bill, Davis Community Church and Davis Roots, many thanks for inviting Davis Downtown to join you in oganizing the symposium. You created a great pportunity for DDBA to further one of our key strategic goals: building community & fostering the common good. And thank you Odd Fellows for supporting the event by donating the facility. Go Odd Fellows!

    Michael Bisch
    Davis Downtown Business Association

    1. Bill

      Thank you Michael, Davis Downtown, Davis Chamber of Commerce, Odd Fellows  and Davis Roots. Looking forward to more cross-sector collaborations in the future.

  5. Don Shor

    Re: jargon — there are, in fact, whole paragraphs of this article that I don’t understand the meanings of the words. I don’t know what social entrepreneurship is, what a B-corporation is, what exceptions software is, what a social enterprise is. A couple of references are made about ‘pushback’ but I can’t understand what anybody would be pushing back against. So I do think, much as with the innovation centers and ecosystems and other jargon — there is developing an insular conversation among like-minded people and it will have the effect of excluding others who might actually support the principles and practices.

    Are these community service organizations? Are you trying to link business people with church-based services? Do you/they provide social services to certain categories of people? What exactly are you doing and talking about here?

    Sorry if I seem dense, but at this point I think the jargon is getting in the way.

    1. Bill

      Got it. I’ll work on something this week. It’s a new approach and mindset, so I’ll need to spend some time on education. I’m still learning myself, but I’ll do my best in a future article.

    2. Robb Davis

      Don – Based on what I heard today at the forum I would say that social innovation (not quite the same thing as social entrepreneurship) is a search for new ways to confront perplexing social problems (homelessness, exclusion, addiction, poverty, etc.) that bring together non-profit, local government, academic, faith community and local business actors.  Each group has gifts and approaches which are different, but complementary.  Social innovation attempts to move beyond a “service delivery” approach to confronting these challenges and seeks system-wide change that is sustainable.


      Social innovation takes a “systems” approach by moving beyond narrow technical silos and inviting different perspectives about how to solve real life problems in local communities.


      (Also, a brief note to Frankly who wrote: “a dynamic and robust economy does more to enhance social innovation and social outcomes than does anything else”.  I don’t know from where your evidence comes but I can tell you that after having worked for over 25 years in some of THE most economically dysfunctional places on the planet, social innovation will not wait for the salvation of the market or a strong economy.  If you had seen what I have seen you would understand that social innovation (via social capital creation) is keeping people alive and thriving when economies are not robust. In such settings complex and functional systems of exchange, gift giving and social safety nets assure that the most vulnerable in many places continue to contribute to society in meaningful ways.  Because humans are innovative and experimental, it is in the places which have the least that the strongest and most resilient social outcomes exist.)

    3. Topcat

      Got it. I’ll work on something this week. It’s a new approach and mindset, so I’ll need to spend some time on education. I’m still learning myself, but I’ll do my best in a future article.

      I’d like to see more practical and specific information about what is proposed.  For example, what should we do about the mentally ill population?  What should we do about those who still can’t get adequate health care, despite the Affordable Health Care Act?  What should we do about educating people?  What should we do about people who can’t find work?  What should we do about crime and the large number of incarcerated people?

      1. Topcat

        I don’t know if can drill down into solutions, but I can share some pragmatic mechanisms that are being employed.

        Thank you.  It would be enlightening to see some actual practical recommendations rather than meaningless jargon.

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