This essay by the mayor of Seoul, Korea, recounts his path to government office and explains why social innovation is central to the way that he governs. From the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Won-Soon Park |
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We are living in a remarkable era of connectivity. People living in Seoul, Korea, for example, are becoming much more closely intertwined with people living in New York City, and finding solutions to the myriad issues we all face has become of vital importance.
Such intertwining extends to government, the market, and civil society as well, requiring collaboration among the three sectors in order to create effective solutions. Indeed, our era requires deep understanding, swift decision-making, revolutionary innovations, and empathetic approaches.
In the past, society often operated according to market rationality, and winners and losers were clearly defined. But gradually, the search for solutions inspired the growth of civil society and the birth of numerous civil society organizations from diverse realms. Despite this growth, the civil sector lacked the power by itself to solve these problems. Likewise, the private sector and the government found that they, too, could not solve social problems on their own.
Such constraints led the three sectors to pursue strategic cooperation with the goal of finding solutions to complex issues. This new reality—that cooperation and collaboration, rather than conflict and competition, hold the key—is now apparent. Cross-sector innovation is a tremendous advance over the way that society had been addressing social problems.
I have made a point of soliciting greater citizen input and getting citizens more directly involved in decision-making, and expanding collaboration between government, the market, and civil society.
As author Peter Drucker wrote, “Innovation is change that creates a new dimension of performance. Change cannot be controlled. The only thing we can do is be in the front, and the only way to stand in front is through organic cooperation and collaboration between sectors.”
As the mayor of Seoul, I have striven to create innovative ways of governing that are based on cooperation and collaboration. I have made a point of soliciting greater citizen input and getting citizens more directly involved in decision-making, fostering social enterprises that use innovative approaches to tackle social problems, and expanding collaboration between government, the market, and civil society.
My approach to governing has been shaped over my three decades of work before taking office—as a political activist, as a human rights lawyer, and as founder of a watchdog organization, community foundation, social enterprise, and think tank. I was privileged to be part of an effort to help civil society take root in South Korea (officially known as the Republic of Korea), and I believe that my career traces the evolution of important developments in modern South Korea that have brought us to this moment of innovation and greater collaboration. And so before I detail some of the social innovation efforts Seoul City has pursued, allow me to share a bit of my own personal journey, which I hope will provide greater context.
No matter how good a job government does to involve the ideas of its citizens, we cannot expect to solve all of the complex problems we face using the perspective of just one expert or the skills of just one sector.