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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Walker

ISTR Day 1: Innovation Perspectives

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Perspective, new points of view, and frameworks I've never encountered are some of the more exciting things about conferences for me. Today was no exception to that. Every paper panel was full of interesting approaches to research and bringing new perspective to what might seem, to some, well explored territory.

Toby Egan presented a paper on the characteristics of innovative organizations and the characteristics of managers that foster innovation in an organization. His research is interesting all around, but of particular interest to me are his findings that innovative organizations prioritize collecting ideas, cooperate with external experts, have overt discussion of the value of creativity and innovation, understand employee motivation, have the ability to evaluate the possibility of implementation, and have the ability to financially support innovation. All of these traits are components of the intellectual capital framework which, when coupled with other aspects of his paper, seems to reinforce how intellectual capital in nonprofit organizations is a method for leveraging a variety of intangible assets towards the organization's programs and services fulfillment of mission-oriented objectives.

Haijing Dai presented a fascinating case study on a female workers cooperative in Hong Kong. The women in the cooperative are comparatively low-skilled women, who at middle age, are considered culturally and economically marginal in the highly market-oriented Hong Kong economy. Cooperatives have a long history of research. What's interesting about Dai's work is that cooperatives in the Hong Kong context are virtually unexplored. There are about 185 worker's coops in Hong Kong. The subject of this case study is one of the oldest. Though it is only one case, Dai found some interesting limitations that this group faced in terms of achieving equity and democratization of power. Despite being a functional team, the women of the group display cultural exclusion toward non-natives which runs counter to the sense of equality and ownership that we ascribe to cooperatives. Even more interesting is that Dai found that the cooperative members, despite training in entrepreneurship and leadership, had internalized the stigma that they are still "less than" and that what they have accomplished and learned is not relevant, valuable, or important to anyone other than themselves. This, in particular, is not what we see in other cultural contexts. Cooperatives generally have an empowering effect on members.

Finally, Aghatha Gonsalves' work on homelessness and social innovation introduced me to a new (to me) framework: French pragmatic sociology. I have more reading to do on what all that framework entails, but I was struck by the concept that to understand the current social problem you're looking at, you have to understand the history and context of that problem locally. It struck me as being a parallel to the socio-political framework Salamon and Anheier's social origins theory of the entire nonprofit sector. I may have completely misunderstood, but I am definitely curious.

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