Why Business Can Alleviate Wicked Social Problems?

Whenever there are humans, there are social problems, only matters to what extent. So what is the social problem? From the time we are living now, we face climate change, social injustice, homelessness, food insecurity, poverty, health care, aging challenge, technology exclusivity and etc on a global level. And all of them are so-called ‘wicked social problem‘, which is coined by Webber and Rittel in 1973.

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They introduced the term in the context of distinguishing problems that are complex, involving so many different systems, and yet no clear answers. They also proposed ten characteristics of wicked social problems:

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping sign, which means there are no signals to show they are solved.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but only better or worse.
  4. There is no way to test the solution.
  5. Every solution is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. There is no end to the number of solutions or approaches.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
  10. Planners, that is those who present solutions to these problems, have no right to be wrong. 

As wicked social problems are so unique, complex, and cannot be solved easily, then are there any methods to mitigate them and their effects? Researchers found that many of these problems are entangled with markets, so corporations may play a role in improving our society, to pursue a ‘common good’ as a goal of marketing.

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Some researchers have studied the relationship between marketing and wicked social problems, and proposed several metatheoretical frameworks and theories:

  1. Systems theories. It includes but is not limited to service ecosystems theory, social ecology and behavioral ecological systems theories, complexity theory and complexity economics, and structuration theory. Basically, it assumes that systems are continually evolving, and highlights the relationship between each market and network agents, which could apply to understanding the interconnections between markets and wicked social problems.
  2. Practice theory. It focuses on a wide range of routinized practices and processes in market systems, from micro, meso, and macro levels. Such as how CSR, brand activism, and corporate philanthropy, contribute to or mitigate a wicked social problem.
  3. Institutional theory. This theory is concerned with the relationship between institutions and their external environments, such as norms, rules, and beliefs, so that it can be applied to examine the breadth and depth of wicked social problems.
  4. Socio-material theories. It includes both human and non-human actors and how they network and affect each other. Regarding wicked social problems, understanding stakeholders and what is contributing to the problem have the capacity to mitigate wicked social problems.
  5. Social and cognitive psychological theories. It studies consumer behaviors, their emotions, attitudes, intentions, social groups, identity, and other factors in individuals or groups that could be used to illuminate agent actions that contribute to wicked social problems.
Image source: B-corp

We face numerous social problems and their consequences every day worldwide. Given that many of these problems are entangled with markets, business leaders and researchers should acknowledge their responsibility to help alleviate them. Marketing for a better world is not just a slogan, but actually a possible way to mitigate wicked social problems.

This is article is an abstract of a research paper: UNRAVEL-ing gnarly knots: A path for researching market-entangled wicked social problems.


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Why a 2-year-old Japanese toddler can shop by himself?

Recently there’s a Japanese reality show ‘ Old Enough‘ went viral on Netflix, showing a bunch of kids ranging from two-and-a-half to five years old, walking on the street and shopping alone as they’re sent on errands for their families. People are amazed by their ‘capabilities’ considering their age, especially Americans, which also triggered a debate over kids’ safety.

Image source: Netflix

So why can this ‘incredible thing’ happen in Japan? Japanese parents are not worried about their children’s safety? Is this a way to train kids to be independent? What can we learn from this?

Firstly, of course, Japanese parents are concerned about their kids’ safety, but sending them to shop is safe in Japan. According to Wikipedia that Japan’s rate of intentional homicide per 100,000 population was one of the lowest in the world at 0.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, while America’s rate was 4.7 per 100,000 people. And Japan’s gun homicide rate was 0.01 per 100,000 people, while America’s rate was 3.5 — 350 times the rate of Japan.

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The second is education. We can see that Japanese school kids are often asked to clean their classrooms, serve schoolmates meals, even grow vegetables at school and sometimes cook by themselves. They are also trained to take trains or buses alone from a young age, of course, for younger kids, schools will distribute a yellow patch on their uniforms to identify them on the street so that they can start their adventurous journey more smoothly. So independence is part of Japanese education, they believe independence is the most important attribute, either from their parents or school teachers. On the other hand, parents and teachers also think being independent is the responsibility of kids.

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The third and less interfering factor is the city’s infrastructure – Japanese public infrastructure is of a higher quality on roads, highways, railways, subways, etc, and they are often on time. Nevertheless in the 21st century, with the development of technology, parents can easily track their kids’ location also the public transport information.

Image source: world bank

Japan has set a high standard for child safety, why not other nations? And if you want to know more about the “how,” then start watching the “Old Enough” TV series.


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Here is what you should do if you truly want to know about the Ukraine crisis

Since yesterday, Russia started its invasion of Ukraine, there’s tons of information and news everywhere, which is difficult for normal people to distinguish the facts from them. We want people to get aware of what is really happening in Ukraine, also to filter out misformation, so here is what you should do:

Follow the trusted sources, not influenced by a political standpoint:

Big news channels are trustworthy, the New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, etc, but some of them have their standpoint, so you can sense their political views before you fall into their circle. For example, Fox News said that ‘Putin just wants to keep his western border secure’ in their headline yesterday, which is the total opposite of the facts and that is why you should avoid such information.

Image source: CNN

In addition, it is more recommended to follow the government’s official channels to keep updated, for instance, the Defence of Ukraine Twitter, also Bellingcat has collected the Lists of Twitter accounts to follow for people who want to know about the conflict.

Double-check the source:

The photo of the burning plane was released yesterday on Twitter, saying it was shot during the Ukraine crisis, and Bellingcat later revealed that the image was taken in 1993 and people used it to boost their internet flow as it was for the Ukraine crisis. So if you ever doubt the images or information you receive, please double check your source, and we recommend Bellingcat organization, they are an open-source investigation platform aimed to find the truth, and they have started their project to document this Ukraine crisis in order to hold Russia accountable for the consequences.

Distinguish between facts and opinion/emotion/judgment:

The internet is full of information, and we humans are rational beings since we have different points of view rather than facts, so we can easily be influenced by others’ views. We respect people’s views regarding this crisis, but we hope you could distinguish them from facts, in order to form your own, not led by others.


‘A Russian armed vehicle ran over a civilian car on the street of Kyiv’s Oberon district’

‘Ukrainian Army destroys the large force of Russian invasion from southern Crimea’

‘In Lviv, western Ukraine, sirens sounded as loudspeakers urged people to seek shelter’



‘Wasn’t Putin supposed to invade Ukraine over the weekend according to US intel sources’

‘Maybe Ukraine should have given up joining Nato to avoid this bloodshed’

‘It is all because of the weakness of Western countries, Nato and the UN’


Do not stop at the title:

A media title is the first impression so it is attractive and usually exaggerated. With the fast load of life, most people would stop at reading the titles, not go deep into the content, which may limit the understanding of the whole crisis. And it is mostly can be seen in the Russian and Chinese media.

Chinese media title: Ukraine is being abandoned by the west and everyone is frightened.
Russian state TV paints Moscow as the savior of eastern Ukraine
(Image source: apnews)

It is important to fight misinformation or fake news, because we all may become one of the victims of it one day.


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What do we know about Elderly Service and Technology?

Researchers have found innovation, specifically, technology can improve elderly lives and other stakeholders’ benefits in the long run. Innovative interventions have been implemented in several sectors, and they will play an even bigger role in the future, especially with social innovation, which seemed to be a force to create social change and social impact. Meanwhile, technology has been seen as an obvious representative of innovation, which has been widely used in the private sector, and yet to be seen as great potential in the public sector as well.

Elderly Services and technology:

Due to the expected growth of elderly people with chronic diseases and the associated strain on formal care services, there is a need for new and innovative solutions for supporting informal caregivers (Steffen Torp et al. 2008). One promising approach is using assistant technology in elderly care, due to the advanced development of information and communication technology (ICT). Although technology has been well understood and developed in a variety of disciplines, there is not as much research talking about the natural place of technology in aging and the elderly. Britt Östlund (2004) has suggested that contemporary research should include studying the problems associated with aging as part of its work. Biologists study the physical changes associated with aging, economists study the role of the elderly in social economics, social psychologists study role changes, etc.

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In the beginning:

In the 1990s, the issues of the elderly with technology have been noted in few conferences and later the role of the elderly in the IT society was articulated in a number of policy documents which put the issue on the political agenda and resulted in funding for research and development ((Bangemann, 1994). Researchers argue that the attention to the elderly with technology, on one hand, is because of the growing elderly population and the problems associated with rising as well. On the other hand, is due to the market needs to sell new technology solutions to the elderly and their families. When it comes to technology, the elderly are the most vulnerable group based on our preconception that the elderly is needy and outdated, hence technology is far more than advanced for them. Thus, there are two obvious research perspectives working with the elderly from the technology and non-tech sides.

Two perspectives:

Researchers from the technology background are driven to apply technical knowledge to solve problems or, in some other way, create new possibilities for people (Britt Östlund, 2004). Generally, they develop the technology first and then study how the elderly interact with the technology, in order to test the efficiency and usability of the technology.

In another non-tech group, the key issues are

  • (1) Technology as a tool to solve the elderly’s problems. Dario, Branislav and Damir (2016) conducted a texts analysis that revealed a strong interaction between physical activity, the elderly, and ICT systems. Specifically, technology plays an important role in promoting physical and social activity among elders. It echoes the paper of Regina and Peter (2016) that ICT use was consistently found to affect social support, social connectedness, and social isolation in general positively.
  • (2) Macro-level studies on technology acceptance and costs. Rana Mostaghel (2016) discusses how the elders’ acceptance of innovative technology in their everyday lives is a key factor in the success of governments, technology providers, healthcare providers and other major players in the lives of elders. William and others (2009) conducted a randomized controlled trial and found that their 18-month intervention using home environmental interventions (EIs) and assistive technology (AT) devices showed a significant decline for FIM (Functional Independence Measure) and the institutional and certain in-home personnel costs reduced through a systematic approach to providing AT and EIs.
  • (3) Ethical issue and humanity. Many researchers pointed out that technology should not replace all human contact and connection. In the early time, Michael and Eric (1985) had already warned that we should balance technology and humanity. Eftychios and others (2020) concluded that the technology should be implemented so that users don’t feel their privacy is violated and retain control without compromising efficiency.
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Call for research:

From a micro view, the research and practice on the relationship between innovation and the wellbeing of the elderly would explore the room for innovation in the elderly and their future needs under the conception of success of aging. Meanwhile, it offers a unique glimpse of innovation/technology in the elderly that contributes to the design for the elderly as Britt Östlund (2004) stated that social-science-oriented researchers can make contributions to projects with technical applications. In light of organization and government entities, there are very limited studies on the application of well-grounded and established theories from the fields of innovation and technology management (Kohlbacher & Hang, 2011), so relevant research is a key force in the public organization to be highly innovative and forward-thinking through the lens of elderly services organizations.


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How to meet aging challenges with social innovation?

Given the inherent characteristics of social innovation as an emerging subject, it is necessary to leverage the power of social innovation on elderly services as life expectancy increases, as well as the aging population, along with the challenges and demands. According to the United Nations (2009), the estimated aging rate is 2.6% per year, this trend of aging brings tremendous changes in society. At the same time, so many countries are struggling to manage the increasing number of service requirements for the elderly. Improving elders’ lifestyle quality and increasing the benefits of relevant stakeholders, as well as the public policies that are the cornerstone of social security of many governments.

Elderly services and social innovation

According to the United Nations (2019), there were 703 million people aged 65 years or over in the world in 2019. The number of older people is projected to double to 1.5 billion in 2050. Globally, the share of the population aged 65 years or over increased from 6 percent in 1990 to 9 percent in 2019. The elderly live longer and healthier, and elderly services or eldercare has been shifted dramatically due to demographic change and those services or policies could have fundamental impacts on society as well. Researchers have anticipated those changes and are studying how to meet these upcoming challenges.

Image source: World Health Organization

There are three major areas on elder services and social innovation:

  • (1) Definition and framework. Faridah and Faïz (2006) have proposed a definition of care services for the elderly that draws on the economics of services and provides a simple framework for analyzing innovation in terms of economic categories. Later in 2016, Katrien and Paul made an explicit point of innovation in the elderly care sector and developed a framework to capture innovation and explain the capacity for innovation in the elderly care sector.
  • (2) Innovation strategy in elderly care services. Davies and Ferlie developed measures of efficiency as early as 1982, and then produced scores to measure. They concluded that the most successful approach to the study of the improvement of efficiency through innovation sees such behaviour as largely motivated by the search for external finance. Beate, Endre and Joseph (2016) highlighted that innovation strategies in formal innovation training, workforce recruitment, and knowledge-sharing networks between communities are the current strategic direction based on the eldercare theory.
  • (3) Innovation case study. Researchers used elderly services as a case to find out how innovation is formed and what factors contribute to the success or failure of innovation, the key point here is the relationship between practice-based and human-centric approaches. Ali and Anna (2012) used the case of elderly home care and delivery to suggest that creative action emerges in our bodily expressive-responsive skillful coping mode. The same as Lars Fuglsang (2019), discussed how human-centric service innovation integrates with co-production in public services, defining how a practice-based model treats knowledge and learning, and the advantages of the practice-based model from a managerial, an employee, and a societal perspective.

Public sector innovation is hard, and social innovation provides a specific window of opportunity for future elderly wellbeing and welfare, utilizing innovative interventions. Given that innovations create social value, especially social innovation (Robert and Luis, 2016).


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How can social innovation empower community engagement in data governance?

With the rise of technology, data governance is becoming more and more important, not only for the government itself but also for its people. So how can we ensure data accountability and responsibility that could do good for society? Researchers from different universities of Australia designed a process of engaging citizens with social innovation tools to participate in smart city development and urban data governance projects, hoping to find out the intervention efficiency.

In our human history, the relationship between citizens and the government is always unstable, and the government has more and more power with the help of technology nowadays, so researchers want to find a way to engage urban communities and empower them in terms of data governance. Hence, they developed and tested a participatory methodology to identify approaches to empowering community engagement in data governance.

They used the ‘Design for social innovation‘ process and tools to enable a small group of precinct citizens to co-design prototypes and empower them to support the development of data governance and reveal a diversity of perspectives. The whole process involved two stages, the first stage gives participants a whole view of global city examples of data governance approaches. The second stage consists of a background survey and participatory co-design workshops, which focus on problem identification, prototype, ideation, and rapid development.

Image source: Cambridge University Press

As a result, they found that deliberative spaces for participation can promote inclusive community engagement, also empowering community engagement can raise important issues related to democratic engagement, value creation, and data literacy. Overall, their participatory design approach can empower precinct citizens to engage in complex problems, Although, this research also has its limitations considering the wider impact, feasibility, and generalizability.

Download their paper here: A participatory approach for empowering community engagement in data governance: The Monash Net Zero Precinct | Data & Policy | Cambridge Core


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Unveil the mysterious veil of social innovation

Driven by the trend of social innovation as the engagement of citizens and organizations in policy and management practice, the adoption of social innovation has been rapidly spurred in scholarly research, despite its conceptual ambiguity and diversity of definitions and research settings. However, as an increase in social innovation has the potential to alter the structure of innovation systems, corporate identities and strategies, employee motivation, as well as public and private governance (Robert and Luis, 2016), it can dramatically change the organization’s operation and the services, then ultimately deliver social impact.

Researchers and scholars have had a rising interest in social innovation in recent years, but the definition of it still remains debated and yet to be solved. Much of the discussion of social innovation is vague, and there are many competing definitions of social innovation that attempt to delineate a field of study (Jenson and Harrison, 2013).

Image source: Google trend

Up to date, the research literature that focuses on social innovation specifically is limited, albeit growing (Nicholls et al., 2015). The main focus of this study could be listed as follows from 1990 till now:

  • Community psychology: This approach demonstrates how to leverage the power of innovative interaction to achieve social change and solve social problems. Robert and Luis (2016) looked at the community psychology literature discussing the Experimental Social Innovation and Dissemination (ESID) model to promote innovative social and behavioural change. A key issue here for innovation research is how widespread changes manifest in society.
  • Innovation policy: From an economic perspective, innovation policy requires different agents’ adaptation to new innovative demands to capture economic growth. It mainly focuses on the relationship of social innovation and policy implementation, from bottom to up, analyzing the behaviour facing the societal challenges as an innovation driver, together with other stakeholders to build innovative policies. Slavo Radosevic (2020) developed the Innovation Policy Index (IPI) as both a monitoring tool and an instrument to facilitate policy dialogue, programme coordination and promotion of good innovation policy practices.
  • Public sector innovation: Public innovation is more focused on developing innovation model theory and enhancing its ability. Jason and Tim (2010) have proposed a practical model of public sector innovation that is more cognizant of the scientific method of randomized controlled experiments. Later, Hanna, Victor and Lars (2016) developed an empirically based framework of potentially important antecedents and effects of public sector innovation. Moreover, Jacob (2018) suggested that public innovation could be enhanced by multi-actor collaboration.
  • Social challenges: Social innovation as a means of innovative solutions to social problems, so that some research papers focus on public management and cross-sector partnerships (e.g., non-profit collaborations) to ensure its sustainability (Robert and Luis, 2016). Weerawardena and Mort (2012) also show a clear relationship between social entrepreneurship and social innovation.
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The definition of social innovation often applies to innovative practice or intervention with social change and social impact, and yet the relationship between them is undefined, which poses a challenge and opportunity for researchers. Overall, there is no established paradigm of social innovation (Nicholls, 2010). But as simplistic it could be, social innovation is perceived as novel ideas that resolve social problems and meet social needs, finally creating social impact.

In practice, social innovations can take the form of specific ideas, actions, frames, models, systems, processes, services, rules, and regulations as well as new organizational forms (Nicholls et al., 2015). As far as we can see that social innovation relies on innovative ideas, social processes, and social outcomes. Interestingly, according to Daniela Papi Thornton, she claimed that social innovation or social entrepreneurship is beyond generating new ideas and putting them into practice, it is to finally create a social systematic change that relevant stakeholders will benefit and long-lasting change is foreseeable.


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When Blockchain meets social innovation

Blockchain is a hot topic now, with its decentralization, open-source, and security characteristics, people believe it could be the next trend to reshape financial systems and alter global power structures. So what could happen when blockchain meets social innovation and creates social impact?

When it comes to cryptocurrency which is associated with blockchain, it is easy to understand that people can donate those currencies directly to some charities and foundations, to make sure the purpose of the transfer. And indeed, there are already some websites that facilitate the donation of cryptocurrencies to good causes.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on

Moreover, in the government sector, blockchain can be used to manage records of each government service, to make sure transparency and cut corruption. Also, blockchain technology can be used to buy private services to ensure accountability and efficiency. Regarding the investment sector which is directly related to cryptocurrency, blockchain can help impact investors make use of their money, also entrepreneurs can scale their businesses by measuring the project’s impact.

Blockchain in Action from newamerica

Blockchain can be used in many ways to build the trust we have lost in history, as it’s in the public or private sectors. Importantly, it also helps to nourish innovations that can improve people’s lives. Looking back at our human history, maybe this technology is a key to rebuilding our society.


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The best example to find the truth through omnipresence info – Bellingcat

In 2016, Bellingcat published a report showing that Russia was supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, also attacked the Ukrainian government troops.

In 2017, the British Secret Intelligence Service cited Bellingcat’s report that it is reasonable to believe Russia shot down the MH17 while it was flying over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Route of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on 17 July 2014 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Image source:

In 2017, for the Syrian Civil War which happened in 2011, Bellingcat published an investigative report on the bombing of a mosque in Aleppo, that the bomb pieces were related to the US military.

In 2018, Bellingcat assisted the BBC’s Africa Eye investigation and found the Cameroon government faked the news of soldiers have been arrested for killing women and children. As a result, the US withdrew $17 million in funding for the Cameroonian Armed Forces.

BBC Africa Eye. Image source: BBC

And there is much more truth Bellingcat has discovered, so how? Bellingcat has been using leaked Internet video, Google Maps photos, and satellite imagery to support its investigation, along with thousands of human resources from 20 different countries.

Recently, Bellingcat has conducted an investigation into the border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan crisis in April 2021 and found that the crisis may be related to the harsh environmental situation due to climate change from satellite imagery. In terms of COVID-19, Bellingcat specifically looked at and studied patterns in Twitter data using Twitter API and Python, to show the severity and speed of escalation of the coronavirus crisis in India last year.

The map shows Twitter posts containing the words “help” or “urgent” in India. The color shows what percentage of these posts also contain the keyword “oxygen.” Image source: Bellingcat

Now, Bellingcat is an independent open-source platform that brings together researchers, investigators, and citizen journalists to conduct investigations into war, human rights abuses, and the criminal underworld to achieve greater transparency and accountability. Their work also has been recognized by the general Press industry and receives awards each year for their incredible work.


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One biggest takeaway from the Facebook whistleblower, for all of us!

The former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen has come forward accusing Facebook of creating more hate speech and violence online, which will also harm the young generation and democracy on Oct. 4, 2021. This brought her under the light also made people think of this issue seriously. Similarly, in 2020, Sophie Zhang also reported about the Facebook fake-engagement and the political manipulations. She argues that Facebook is not acting out of malice, but rather slapdash, haphazard and concerned with self-preservation and public relations, according to Wikipedia.

As one of the biggest social media platforms, Facebook has its own uniformed army and huge user base, with nearly 2 billion active users monthly, let alone the big influence it creates over the world, and all of us could be involved in this, also our young generation. Then why do other Facebook staff haven’t shown their concern about those issues earlier, then we can fix it before it’s too big? And why do they simply accept it and “work in the dark?” Huge pay could be a reason and also worry about the lawsuit, but one of the biggest reasons we can find out in one murder case which happened in 1964.

On March 13, 1964, a 28-year-old bar manager Kitty was attacked on her way back to her apartment at 3 am, she was screaming for help loudly, her neighbours, 37 of them have woke up and seen the attacker stab her to death, while none of them has come to help nor called the police. This phenomenon inspired some researchers to study why people were so cruel and didn’t act apathetic and indifferent, which leads them to the ‘Bystander effect’.

reference to

The bystander effect, is a social psychological theory that states individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when there are other people. Social psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley conducted several experiments to compare help given by bystanders who are either alone or with others, they found out that victims are less likely to get help if there are too many people around, and they are more likely to get help if there’s less person. In a nutshell, they summarized that as the number of bystanders increases, they are less likely to identify the accident, less likely to care about it, and less likely to take any actions.

Then how to reduce this effect? Arthur Beaman and his colleagues revealed that if we understand why the presence of bystanders inhibits helping, then they become more likely to help in a group situation. That’s the reason why researchers inform their students about the bystander effect and hope to let more people know, hence, change can happen.

You know it now, so you can also change and offer help no matter how many bystanders are beside you. But it does not only stop here, as we talked about the Facebook whistleblower, so imagine if there are more people who get to know about this within themselves, then maybe more whistleblowers would show up and they can start to make changes. More importantly, as a social innovator, changemaker, social entrepreneur, or simply a citizen, a human, if you witness any social problems around you, then don’t wait for others to take any actions for you, try to avoid the bystander effect and take your own actions to make changes and ‘offer help’.

This article was edited and published by the original author, no reproduction without consent.