Sustainability Action Blog


The International Social Innovation Challenge: ‘Empowering Women through Safer Communities’

By Julia Kendal |

Guest blog by Josie Francis, University Social Enterprise Manager

This summer, ten students from the University of Southampton will travel to India to take part in the International Social Innovation Challenge in Delhi.  Accompanied by peers from OP Jindal Global University, India, and Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan, Southampton students will participate in an immersive ten day programme of social innovation workshops, an orientation and visits to the Indian social enterprise sector, cultural excursions and an opportunity to work together to create innovative projects around the theme of ‘empowering women through safer communities’ in the context of North India.

The subject of women’s safety is one with universal resonance.  It has increasingly gained the attention of the international community, and both the root causes of, and solutions to, female subjugation have been the focus of intense discussion within global political forums.  Yet, a number of recent high profile news reports demonstrate that we are still far from finding adequate models for ensuring women’s safety and wellbeing, and highlight the need for innovative and creative thinking about the issue.  The international social innovation challenge seeks to address this need by bringing the three universities together in collaboration to put their expertise, resources and creative capacities into generating sustainable projects which empower women and build safer communities.

Yet as institutions, we must also be careful that we do not isolate ourselves from the very communities that we seek to transform.  Innovations are only effective if they adequately reflect the realities of the spatial and contextual parameters in which they operate; moreover, we cannot seek to generate sustainable projects without first recognising that social issues exist at a localised level and can only be addressed if we understand the specific cultural, economic and political drivers that perpetuate them.  Most importantly though, we must recognise that meaningful change and resilience are the products of innovations which directly empower and resource the community by working with it, not without it.

For the students who participate in what we hope will be the first of many international social innovation programmes, the biggest challenge will be to cast aside their certainties and pre-conceptions around the issues of women’s empowerment and safety and instead to immerse themselves in what they see, learn and experience during their 10 days in Delhi.  If they are able to do this – to create meaningful and community-centred innovations – then they have the potential to generate meaningful and sustainable change which could transform women’s lives in North India.

If you are a current undergraduate student and you would like to apply for a place on the International Social Innovation Challenge, please email Josie Francis, Social Enterprise Programme Manager stating your name, year and subject of study and a 250 word explanation of why you would like to be considered – by noon on 25th February.