Japan is facing several pressing social problems: growing social inequalities due to aggravating labor conditions, demographic change, and the problem of homelessness, among others. NPOs and social enterprises play a major role in finding innovative solutions to address social issues by generating and implementing new ideas and approaches. This includes social entrepreneurship (e.g., micro financing or street newspapers sold by the homeless), social movements (e.g. fair trade) and also the creation of commercial markets (e.g., for open source software or organic farming). Although the term itself is now at the center of public and academic discourses on how innovation may help solving current social problems, in reality social innovation remains constrained by many institutional obstacles in Japan. As a consequence, NPOs and social enterprises tend to develop comparatively weak financial and human resources and suffer from a lack of networking capabilities.
This presentation explores how NPOs in Japan utilize social innovation and diffuse new concepts in novel institutional contexts. Drawing on Roger’s (2003) theory of diffusion of innovation, I focus in particular on change agents who propagate new forms of organizational activities and who, at the same time, try to overcome institutional constraints stemming from corporate culture, social values and the regulatory environment. To illustrate this point, I will present an in-depth case study on so called Food Banks in Japan who collaborate with manufacturers, distributors and retailers to support people in need. Food Banks are part of a recent and worldwide wave of social aid and poverty relief movements – yet in Japan they are exceptional both with regard to their organizational structure as well to the instruments they apply. The presentation will demonstrate challenges and obstacles to social innovation specific to Japan as well as, more generally, shed light on the diffusion of social innovation.
Nadine M. Vogel is a PhD candidate at Freie Universität Berlin and currently a fellowship holder at the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ). She holds a Master’s degree in Japanese Studies and Sociology (FU Berlin). In 2013 she was a visiting researcher at Waseda University on a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).