As organizations move toward creating more equitable, justice-focused workplaces, a new way of thinking about social justice performance has begun to emerge. Innovation labs, commonly used in the corporate world to engineer pioneering ideas for business strategy, are increasingly being used in the nonprofit and activism sectors to revolutionize social justice practices. With emphases ranging from advancing the rights of marginalized communities to protecting reproductive rights, these five social justice-related innovation labs provide coursework, impact strategy and funding to assist the community in their goals to promote social equity.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance founded NDWA Labs in 2015 to innovate solutions to the issues faced by domestic workers in the U.S. Within the context of broader social problems such as COVID-19, domestic violence, economic inequality and racial and gender discrimination, NDWA Labs has used its platform to create, propose and enact solutions. From surveying Spanish-speaking domestic workers about their quality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic to funding benefit systems for financially vulnerable workers, NDWA Labs uses its innovation to uplift the mission of its founding organization.
Created by and for Greenpeace International in 2011, the Mobilization Lab (MobLab) was developed to research emerging strategies for modern nonprofit campaigning, which it used to guide the organization toward these practices. Focusing on modernizing activism in the digital age to promote meaningful, people-powered engagement for historically powerful organizations, the MobLab has since moved to become independent, expanding the reach of its research to other groups, such as Civicus.
An offshoot organization of CoreAlign, an innovation lab founded by the New School professor Sujatha Jesudason in 2012 to reimagine the capacity of reproductive rights activism, the Social Movements + Innovation Lab takes a broader approach to innovating social movement theory. By offering toolkits, classes, fellowships and consultation programs, this innovation lab provides support to organizations and leaders looking to transform the scope of their work.
Designed to support innovative worker advocacy and empower worker success, health and safety, The Workers Lab serves its community by investing in new ideas, learning about the impact of those ideas and informing leaders about how to best use them to support workers. Much of the lab’s work aims to fund innovative projects seeking to solve problems experienced by workers, such as worker-collectives like Los Deliveristas Unidos. In addition, The Workers Lab hosts a digital Learning Hub, which provides insight into the knowledge gained by the projects of its funding recipients.
With a concentration on the legal system, Justice Innovation Lab seeks to innovate new, well-researched pathways to reforming criminal justice. Recognizing that changes to the justice system are best achieved by community collaboration rather than top-down reform, Justice Innovation Lab works with a wide variety of communities and professions, including prosecutors, law enforcement and activists to visualize and enact a more equitable justice system. Through its innovative approaches, it hopes to eliminate the system’s structural inequalities.
Image at top: Innovation labs are increasingly being used to revolutionize social justice practices. (Illustration by Christina Chung)