Innovations, Spring 2008 (A quarterly journal published by MIT Press)
By Ken Cukier
The idea of innovation used to conjure up images of scientists in white lab coats peering into microscopes. Then, what sprang to mind were buff Silicon Valley entrepreneurs devising new business models. These caricatures sound simplistic, but they largely held. However, a new form of innovation has emerged that forces us to change our mental picture again. Its agent of action is the social entrepreneur, and the method is to do for society what their forbearers did for business.
On the surface, the link between innovation and rights may not be apparent. International Bridges to Justice’s operations seem straightforward: it promotes legal rights around the world by partnering with governments to develop and assist a community of public defenders. It sounds like another do-good non-governmental organization.
But this is to severely misunderstand IBJ’s work and the method of its founder and president, Karen I. Tse. Rather, it represents a radical approach. On one level, IBJ cleverly turned a series of difficult obstacles into a “market opening” for its activities. At the same time, IBJ’s initiatives effectively transform legal rights from a political problem to an economic issue. By putting it on a different plane, a window of opportunity is opened whereby substantial, long-lasting change is possible.