Social innovation has taken on a whole new meaning after the events of 2020. Coronavirus forced the STEM community to focus on human-centric solutions to help mitigate the pandemic, civil unrest has encouraged governments and enterprise to invest in monitoring technologies such as facial recognition to improve citizen welfare, and AI funding has been booming like never before to help humans adapt to the new digital way of life. As the first true social-impact generation that champions the SDG approach to governance and societal living, emphasizes environmentalism and a people first approach, and prioritizes technological advancement in all domains, Gen Z is the true Social Innovation Generation that can help accelerate social innovation goals around the world.
For starters, Gen Z believes that any solution created by a government or the public/private sector needs to be built in a manner that reflects the human need. There has been a paradigm shift from tech for profit maximization to tech for human value added creation––the epitome of social innovation. When interviewing a few of my peers, they expressed the following about AI for social innovation:
“I think that AI has been traditionally thought about as a tool or a way to make things more efficient for companies, not necessarily for people in general. I think that now with the popularity of sustainability, we’re going to start seeing AI as more of a human helper that can solve practical human issues or complex problems, like smart homes or medical procedures. This is how I see AI falling into social innovation.”
“With the way our economy is going, like the push to green energy and cleantech, I think the social innovation with AI marriage is totally inevitable. If the status quo is sustainability, then AI will have to live up to those standards, or else we will have major problems.”
There is clearly an expectation from Gen Z that AI will play a big role in social innovation. Moreover, there is an expectation by the Digital Native generation that companies will play by the same rules. According to a Cone Communications survey, 94 percent of Gen Z respondents said they believe companies should help address critical social issues. RippleMatch further discovered that on a scale of 1–5 (5 being most important), Gen Z scores company social impact initiatives rather high at 3.42. Company prestige, on the other hand, scored the lowest––meaning status or brand name is not what’s important, but the impact of social innovation is.
We can expect to see great leaps forward in social innovation thanks to Gen Z’s mentality. It is up to our generation to keep uplifting others, and educating others on the merits of AI and tech for social good.