Giving Compass' Take:
- Johanna Mair, Josefa Kindt, and Sébastien Mena explain the role of social innovation in addressing the problems of democracy.
- What role can you play in supporting innovative efforts already underway? How can you facilitate the development of new efforts?
- Learn more about strengthening democracy.
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In 2020, amid a global pandemic and a wave of antiracist protests inspired by the US Black Lives Matter movement, the young German nonprofit JoinPolitics prepared its first group of motivated citizens to enter politics. The organization follows a typical social-venture model through which it scouts, selects, and supports political talents with innovative ideas to strengthen democracy across different regions and levels of government. The handpicked cohort undergoes a curated six-month program that includes funding and training in a variety of skills, such as how to run a campaign, as well as access to an extensive network of politicians, entrepreneurs, civil society organizations, and foundations.
In the program, participants can pursue their ideas, such as drafting legislation to empower stateless people, establishing a lobby group to represent the interests of an underrepresented community, or consulting government agencies to recruit staff from minoritized groups. The solutions they develop address a host of sociopolitical problems that have made German democracy vulnerable to deterioration, including increasing polarization, right-wing populism, social injustice and inequality, and stagnant processes and structures. JoinPolitics is explicitly pro-democratic, but nonpartisan. It supports talents that belong to a spectrum of political parties, as well as those with no party affiliation, but it does not engage with non- and anti-democratic parties.
Caroline Weimann founded JoinPolitics in 2019 after working at a German foundation to address societal challenges. Her transition from grant maker to social entrepreneur was sparked by the realization that “the big questions of our time, be they social inequalities, climate change,” she says, “will have to be solved on a political level.”
For Weimann, as well as others, social innovation must enter politics to unlock its full potential. JoinPolitics departs from conventional social-innovation practice, which recognizes the role of policy in creating a favorable environment for the sector but does not prioritize changes in the political system. Traditionally, the practice of social innovation has stopped at the gates of political systems. Instead, JoinPolitics promotes innovation to fix or reconfigure elements in the political system, effectively liberating social innovation from the dominant narrative that has divorced it from the political realm. The focus of the nonprofit and its political talents is on finding solutions to mounting threats against democratic principles of justice, equality, representation, and civic participation in Germany.
Researching this unconventional political engagement across six continents, we found that the threats to democracy and concerns about destabilization that drive endeavors like JoinPolitics are ubiquitous. As organizational scholars, we analyzed reports documenting the state of democracy and spoke with professionals in public administration, business, academia, organized civil society, and politics. Over the past year, we have conducted more than 50 interviews with experts and players involved in a wide range of activities like those practices of JoinPolitics.
Read the full article about political innovation by Johanna Mair, Josefa Kindt, and Sébastien Mena at Stanford Social Innovation Review.