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Dias, F.T.; Mafra, R.F.; Casagrande, J.L.; Dutra, A.R.A.R.; Guerra, J.B.S.O.D.A.; Nunes, N.A.; Barbosa, S.B. Social Innovation and Vulnerable Communities. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 13 July 2024).
Dias FT, Mafra RF, Casagrande JL, Dutra ARAR, Guerra JBSODA, Nunes NA, et al. Social Innovation and Vulnerable Communities. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed July 13, 2024.
Dias, Felipe Teixeira, Raquel Francisco Mafra, Jacir Leonir Casagrande, Ana Regina Aguiar Regina Dutra, José Baltazar Salgueirinho Osório De Andrade Guerra, Nei Antonio Nunes, Samuel Borges Barbosa. "Social Innovation and Vulnerable Communities" Encyclopedia, (accessed July 13, 2024).
Dias, F.T., Mafra, R.F., Casagrande, J.L., Dutra, A.R.A.R., Guerra, J.B.S.O.D.A., Nunes, N.A., & Barbosa, S.B. (2024, July 05). Social Innovation and Vulnerable Communities. In Encyclopedia.
Dias, Felipe Teixeira, et al. "Social Innovation and Vulnerable Communities." Encyclopedia. Web. 05 July, 2024.
Social Innovation and Vulnerable Communities

This study aims to analyze the actions of the Invisible Cities Project (ICP) as an example of social innovation and as a way of giving visibility to vulnerable communities. Initially, a theoretical framework was established to understand the possibilities of the visibility of isolated and poor communities located within the urban setting. This framework was established based on the literature that addresses the role of social innovation in cities. Then, participant observations were made in a community to analyze the initiatives that are part of the ICP. Finally, semi-structured interviews were conducted; these interviews reported the lived experiences of participants involved in the project through the narratives of the community members. Drawing from the specialized literature, it was found that this project carries out various aspects of social innovation, such as social visibility, empowerment, the articulation of different actors in society, social inclusion, and the improvement of the urban public space. The project also addresses a variety of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as eradicating poverty, promoting health and well-being, reducing inequalities, and fostering more sustainable cities and communities.

Urban Studies Urban Sustainability Social Innovation Social Studies Sustainable Development Sustainable Cities Social Development

1. Social Innovation

It should be noted that the result of these technological and economic advances is not within reach of the entire population due to the difficulty of access due to economic and social issues, even if they participate in the production process. Thus, exclusion processes and growing social inequality are revealing a perverse model that excludes the less favored strata even when it claims to include them in the legal, political, and economic order [1]. As a field of study, social innovation presents a polysemy of concepts fragmented by different currents and fields of knowledge, which denotes both the need for the consolidation of the area of study and epistemological validation and the varied space for scientific investigations with expressive social richness [2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9].
The authors of Ref. [10] state that in social innovations, under certain circumstances, people use creative capabilities and they project a reality to create and develop new forms of social organization. The authors of Ref. [11] agree that there is a lack of theoretical consensus on what social innovation is about. However, these authors identified that the collaborative process and, therefore, the interaction between actors for the development of social innovation, is the common point between the concepts, and that it can take the form of networks, systems, and clusters responsible for organizing communities that are considered peripheral [12][13][14]. Some concepts of social innovation focus on the process and the result of innovations [15][16]. The concepts that guide social innovation toward a result of the solution applied to a social demand seem to emphasize the utilitarian character of innovation, without the need to commit to structural changes about the major problems that plague today’s societies [17][18][19]. In turn, there are concepts based on the mechanisms that permeate the process of social innovation [2][20][21][22], which include training, mobilization, and effective strategies for social inclusion [23][24].
Mutatis mutandis, both from the point of view of theory and social action, the spectrum of social innovation reveals the intention to create a social impact that generates greater levels of individual and collective autonomy, especially in the most socially and economically vulnerable territories. Consistent with this perspective, scholars assert that social innovation has as its central purposes sustainable development, inclusion, equity, and the broad granting of rights. More specifically, the consolidation of sustainable parameters from an economic, environmental, and social point of view, and the promoters of the inclusion of poorer individuals and communities, provide emancipatory states through which people can access the condition of a more dignified life. However, the practice of equity and the consolidation of fundamental rights are essential for social innovations to materialize organically and sustainably in our societies, especially because the promotion of ethical, political, and economic recognition of the most impoverished strata of society should not do without more egalitarian standards of social justice [3][10][24][25][26][27][28].
For them, social innovations are expressed from the following dimensions: incremental innovation, institutional innovation, and disruptive innovation. In summary: (a) Incremental innovation, about goods and services, is carried out by individuals or by organizations, which aim to meet diverse social demands. In this context, social innovation can be carried out through formal or informal experiments; (b) at the institutional level, there is the intention (when necessary) to reorient the social and economic structures to conform them to the transforming purposes and values of society. This can lead to a paradigm shift in which social, ethical, and solidary purposes take precedence over purely marketing concerns. However, economic viability and sustainability can never be neglected; (c) disruptive innovation aims, above all, to generate transformations in the logic of power. In other words, in this context, social innovations take place through social actions and projects that enable the establishment of more equitable relationships between the different social actors in organized civil society. It is in this sphere that, for example, social movements and social networks act and public policies are implemented that seek to subvert the most unjust structures of society and the state. Disruptive social innovation can, through an organic social organization, propose actions aimed at reducing inequalities and expanding the inclusion of less favored strata [9][29][30].

Cities: The Phenomenon of Social Invisibility

Cities are unique spaces and the stage for multiple social actors who are characterized by their aspirations and activities. This concept of the city promotes the idea that these actors are agents responsible for producing an urban space [31]. From this perspective, the agents producing the urban space materialize in classifications, directing their activities towards socioeconomic purposes a priori [32].
In this way, the agents responsible for producing the characteristics and activities of cities can be considered basically through five classifications: (1) the state, (2) real estate companies, (3) large landowners, (4) large holders of the means of production, and (5) the excluded social classes [31][33]. Notably, the first (1) and the last (5) of these agents directly reflect the scenario of cities, that is, the state is responsible for streamlining the production process of cities, and the social communities are excluded from this ‘macro’ process.
As a result of this process, which is dictated by agents who produce the space of cities, several agendas and phenomena arise to be debated, analyzed, and even questioned, such as the phenomenon of socio-spatial segregation, or socio-environmental degradation [34]. As a result, cities become spaces of inequality, reproducing the global scenario of inequality, promoting spaces characteristic of the poor classes, and continuing the process of inequality and invisibility [35].
The process of socio-spatial segregation and social invisibility is characterized by several factors, among them, the lack of interest of the so-called space-producing agents in cooperating with less favored areas, making them peripheral and marginalized, distanced from social justice [35]. In this way, a parallel phenomenon takes place, in which cities also undergo a scenario of invisibility; in a single space, there is the visible and invisible city, the legal and illegal city [36].
However, to mitigate these negative characteristics, public and private policies must be directed at promoting innovations capable of attracting or connecting the producing agents to the less favored classes, the poor [37]. In this way, the scenario of cities, considering urban and rural peculiarities, lacks new perspectives, outlooks, and projects that may be able to transform these realities, promoting a leap from invisible, excluding, and segregationist cities, to sustainable, fair, and inclusive cities [34]. Thus, among the various possibilities that may exist, it is necessary that the public management of cities, especially those that are subsidized, is supported with studies and innovative techniques. It is necessary to keep in mind that innovations are characterized by new perspectives of thinking about solutions to certain problems, and in this case cities [33].
In this context, a historical moment is highlighted, which is the industrialization process, in which cities began to become powerful magnets, attracting several other cities and populations to the detriment of innovations and new means of production [38]. This scenario showed that whenever there are new attractions, innovations, and other elements that stand out, new perspectives and policies are directed towards a certain space, the cities.


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Subjects: Urban Studies
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