The 10 most important social innovations of all time

Social innovation is all around us and everyone is at it. In thinking about what innovations are likely to have a real impact on the big issues of the present and future, it's worth considering some of the social innovations that have had the biggest impact in the past. Social impact guru Jeremy Nicholls chooses his top 10

 
1. Washing machines and white goods generally
Laundrette
You can keep your incubators & accelerators – laundrettes are the real hubs of social innovation. Photo by spiesteleviv 
 
Massive change for women, freeing up the hours of hard badly paid work in laundry, cleaning, daily shopping and food preparation.
 
2. Public sewerage, clean water
Sewer cap
Before London's sewers were built cholera epidemics were rife, causing 10,000 deaths in 1853 alone. Photo by andrewmalone
 
Possibly the biggest impact on health, the recognition of the need for clean water combined with the engineering technology to produce clean water and the extraordinary distribution system to get it to each house.
 
3. Trade unions
Strike
International Ladies Garment Workers Union Photopgraphs (1885 - 1985) from the Kheel Center, Cornell University
 
The idea that people should be able to organise in order to negotiate fair wages and working conditions and that this is a necessary condition for equitable negotations between employers and employees was a massive innovation.
 
4. Accounting and audit
Abacas
Are the basic accounting principles that have developed over hundreds of years still fit for purpose? Photo by Paul Schadler 
 
Without the ability to create information on the value created by business activities and a process to make it reliable enough to underpin investment, the level of investment into business activities would not have happened, driving the huge increases in average incomes per head from which many of us have had and are benefiting from – the distribution of that income is another story.
 
 
5. Radiators 
Radiator
Another of the most important social innovations we now take for granted. Photo by GeS
 
Not only another innovation that freed up labour from daily tasks of collecting and burning fuel but also by centralising energy production allowing a much more efficient form of energy and an improvement in air quality. And then there's the general feeling of well-being we get from not shivering. Shame we are so profligate with it.
 
6. And air conditioning
A fan
#6 on the list of the greatest social innovations ever still hasn't made it to the London Underground. Photo by exfordy
 
The flip side of radiators.
 
7. Public parks (and allotments)
Swimmers in Hyde Park
'Lansbury's Lido' at Hyde Park. Photo by Leonard Bentley
 
The idea that local government could and should provide open spaces for recreation was mad enough. Getting the first ones built was another challenge entirely.
 
8. Insurance and pensions
Insurers are well-known as the friendliest, most trusting and helpful members of the social innovation community. Oh hang on... Photo by click-the-shutter
 
The ability to share the cost of risk across a community 
 
9. Phones
Red telephone boxes
"Stop callin', stop callin'. I don't wanna talk anymore. I left my head and my heart on the dancefloor." Photo by echiner1
 
Imagine life without yours. Making information accessible to many more people, relatively cheaply.
 
10. Hair dye
Sleeping woman
How a 45-year-old woman looks without hair dye. Photo by eflon
 
Nora Ephron’s view was ‘there’s a reason 40, 50 and 60 year-olds don’t look the way they used to and it’s not because of feminism, better living or exercise. It’s because of hair dye'