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Inclusive innovation policy as social capital accumulation strategy

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Governments deploy policies that strive to increase the participation rates of under-represented demographic groups (according to gender, ethnicity, sexuality and disability status) in innovative activities. A growing thrust of these policies focuses on accumulating non-financial resources, particularly social capital, as the strategy for improving inclusion. Such policies include mentoring and networking schemes, role model campaigns, competitions and prizes. In contrast to the policies’ growing prevalence, only a handful of studies have empirically analysed them, and fewer still offered analytical conceptualizations. In this article, we contribute by applying insights from the extant scholarship on social capital, innovation and entrepreneurship to conceptualize the policies in bonding and bridging social capital terms. We find that bonding strategies foster in-group connections, with the primary aim of encouraging under-represented groups to want to participate, thus focusing on increasing the supply of labour. Bridging strategies, in contrast, strive to link under-represented groups with finance and other centres of power, and to update societal preferences, in order to increase the demand for labour from under-represented groups. Our novel conceptualization emphasizes that policies should be studied according to their bonding or bridging social capital aims, as even the same policy instrument (i.e., mentorship scheme or campaign) can differ significantly in how it is employed.

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