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Nuria Font and Joan Subirats

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Social Innovation and Democratic Leadership

Communities and Social Change from Below

Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

This book explores new forms of democracy in practice following the 2011 global uprisings; democracy that comes from below, by and for the ‘have-nots’. Combining theories of social innovation and collective leadership, it analyses how disadvantaged communities have addressed the effects of economic recession in two global cities: Barcelona and New York.
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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

In this chapter we review different approaches on social innovation and leadership. Social innovation is usually conceptualized as a way of improving territorial development in disenfranchised neighbourhoods. However, little attention has been paid to the dynamics by which responses emerge, how social impact or scalability could be achieved and, finally, how social change could be effectively accomplished. Bringing together disruptive theories of social innovation and constructionist theories of collective leadership this chapter delves into the context–agency debate. In so doing, we identify the main challenges for the novel approach to analyzing social change that we develop theoretically and empirically throughout this book.

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

In this chapter we discuss the effects of the Great Recession in the US and Europe and outline the key responses developed at the macro and micro levels, exploring how social innovation has become a powerful response to evolving social challenges within communities. We also justify our claim that communities matter for fostering social change from below, and then introduce Barcelona and New York as the two cities that host the innovative efforts we chose to highlight in our selected case studies.

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

Being geographically and institutionally embedded, social innovation has proven to be context-dependent. Social innovation does not emerge anywhere or at any time; not all communities produce the same type of socially innovative initiatives, nor to the same degree. This chapter draws upon the Urban Studies literature on the influence of neighbourhood characteristics on the life chances of individuals to better understand how and why social innovation emerges. We introduce some approaches and concepts, such as ‘civic capacity’, related to how historical and geographical context might enable or constrain community responses that arise from below. At the same time, neighbourhood resilience is explored as a useful approach to understanding the geographies of social innovation. The chapter concludes by raising several questions that will be empirically addressed through our case studies.

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

This chapter focuses on the agential dimension of social innovation. Realizing that governments would not solve the post-crisis aggravated community problems, social organizations – as has traditionally happened – responded with creative solutions to their constituents’ new landscape of scarcity. To better understand how things are getting done in these organizations, this chapter challenges leader-centred traditional understandings and proposes instead highlighting the collective nature of leadership. What type of leadership practices did participants in these organizations use to make their work more resourceful? How did they transform individual efforts into collective achievements that produced social transformation? How did the leadership work in these organizations help community members bring their voices into the public debate as they engaged in contestation, public deliberation and action, as agents of change and active protagonists of collective problem solving? Three types of leadership practices, which will be empirically analyzed in our case studies, are introduced and described: unleashing human energies, bridging difference and reframing discourse. Finally, the chapter reflects on the relationship between the work of collective leadership, the identified leadership practices and democracy.

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

Bushwick is a neighbourhood suffering a huge gentrification process. It has a dominant and longstanding low-income Hispanic community, which is being displaced by newcomers. As a result, the neighbourhood is divided in two social groups. In this context and under the conditions of economic crisis post-2008, we see various struggles for social innovation: efforts to stabilize employment for the low-income, action to stem the tide of housing displacement (aggravated by stagnant and falling incomes) and struggles to integrate the neighbourhood’s major constituencies to keep the neighbourhood whole – as one Bushwick rather than two. It has not been easy for Bushwick to deal with gentrification effects. A former political machine – engaging the New York State Assemblyman for the area and a big traditional non-profit – has constrained any other social initiative. However, Bushwick is starting to evolve. It is precisely Bushwick’s community that, through building networks and experimenting with new ways of doing, is leading this emerging process of social change.

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Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

The South Bronx is a socially excluded urban area that has significantly improved over the last 40 years. It has been revitalized and transformed from a national symbol of urban dystopia into a collection of ordinary working-class neighbourhoods. However, stigmatization remains a handicap; environmental problems have not been adequately addressed; housing is still not affordable for many; unemployment is high, the poverty rate remains extreme and access to good education is a serious contemporary problem. In the South Bronx, the Great Recession hit an area that was already vulnerable, shrouded in a sense of a lack of investment. There is a feeling among residents that public authorities have failed their community and that public institutions should do more for the area. At the same time, though, in recent decades a strong sense of belonging – fostered by the ‘we stay’ movement – has helped to build a community with solid ties and a powerful organizing capacity. This community has struggled, has influenced public policies and has been able to work together with public authorities in order to improve the South Bronx. There is a history in the South Bronx of organizations and interests banding together.