The Reciprocate: The Missing Social Innovation Link

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Each member of the MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual experiences of innovation in the lead up to our Degree Show Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making. Here, Kim Li shares her thoughts on bridging from different insights, expertise and approaches towards organizational strategy.

Social innovation aims to create value in society. Historically, value creation systems recognised obligations to give, receive and reciprocate. Today it seems that as trust in organisations declined so has the norm of reciprocity. My area of interest is the missing link of reciprocity in modern society and its relationship with social capital.


My research focused on human behaviours and social structures in order to find drivers of reciprocity. I investigated these topics through both literature review and empirical research, which yielded seven key findings.


The third sector or non-profit sector was the best fit for my research because there is no monetary incentive for people to offer help to the needy. To investigate this sector, I immersed myself in volunteer work. I attended charity events and worked alongside a group of volunteers to understand their motivations for serving. This helped me identify drivers of reciprocity and the value of social innovation in society.


From my research, I gleaned seven key insights:

1. Individualism poses a threat to value creation systems

2. Individualism has a negative impact on social cohesiveness

3. Higher levels of trust in a society yield higher levels of engagement

4. Higher levels of trust also cultivate a value-oriented culture

5. A trust-based environment has a positive impact on social capital

6. Higher cooperation levels correlate with increased reciprocity

7. Reciprocity supports development of social capital


My advice to companies is to see social capital as an intangible asset for both individuals and society to create, build and exploit. Trust fosters creativity and innovation and enables ideas to be discussed and shared. Such social learning generates social capital and nurtures relationships, which in turn creates value in cooperation with individuals and groups. In diverse environments, such interconnectedness enables people to understand and empathise with each other. This not only increases connection to the local community but also to a broader societal context. With added social awareness, people feel increased ethical responsibility to each other and begin to focus again on cultivating traditional values and ethics.


To learn more about social capital and Kim’s research please join us at the upcoming MA Innovation Management Degree Show Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making from 18-22 June.