Today marks International Women’s Day – a global event celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political value and achievements of women. This year, as every year previously, will also see calls for greater and more purposeful action on gender equality every day of the year.
Both are important. For social innovators, they are imperative if we are to achieve the kind of impact the pioneers of our field envisaged. As far back as 1954, Michael Young’s book The Rise of the Meritocracy portrayed women as the ring leaders of the movement to unseat a self-sustaining elite who have convinced themselves they are there on superior merit. One could conclude this reflected a belief in women’s superior organising skills but more likely he recognised that the insights and actions of those for whom a status quo is excluding or undervaluing is what always drives meaningful change.
The huge achievement of the women’s movement since then is testament to this, with feminism surely counting as one of the greatest social innovations of the last century. Over the last few generations we have seen profound changes, ideas that are commonly accepted today, such as the value of women entering the workplace or men spending time caring for their children, were once opposed or even unimaginable. However we are still far from achieving full gender equality with all the benefits this could bring to us all – women and men, girls and boys.
As we highlight in our report Unequal Nation – the case for social innovation for work for a gender equal future remaining gender inequalities continue to be one of the greatest social and economic challenges of our time. As such they must be given due priority by a social innovation and investment movement concerned with social progress. But we must now go beyond celebrating and supporting women’s contribution as investors, pioneers and entrepreneurs – important though that is. If the potential for social innovation to accelerate change is to be fully harnessed we must act to build innovation ecosystems that target support and investment to social products, services and social action that purposely advance gender equality.
Our Gender Futures initiative is working with both gender equality and social innovation actors to make this happen. Next month we will publish new research on what social investors can do to catalyse change. Our key finding is that investing in gender equality is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. The evidence, now recognised by governments across the world, is clear. We simply will not deliver sustainable social and economic development without moving gender equality from the desirable to the essential to do list of our growing social innovation movement.