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Fighting unemployment with social innovation

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Matthias Ansorg, one of the winners of the 2013 Social Innovation Competition, helped create Economy App, which is designed to improve access to the job market.

With around 27 million citizens currently out of work, social innovation – innovative ideas that meet social needs – is essential for meeting the job challenge. For the second consecutive year, the Social Innovation Competition aims to remedy European unemployment by encouraging creative solutions.

More than five years after the onset of the global financial crisis, it is clear that there is no easy fix for the current economic malaise. But instead of merely wishing for things to change, the European Commission is enlisting Europe’s innovative problem solvers in an effort jumpstart recovery.

The number of unemployed Europeans has reached roughly 27 million, while millions more are stuck in low-paying jobs and feel that they have few alternatives because of their gender, age or a disability. By not taking action, Europe’s employment issues will cast a shadow over the economy and the society for years to come. Indeed, long-term unemployment is not merely an economic issue, but a societal one as well.

Therefore, for the second straight year, the European Social Innovation Competition is looking for forward-thinking solutions to create employment opportunities throughout Europe.

The 2013 European Social Innovation Competition, which drew 605 entries from all over Europe, awarded three winners for their ground-breaking ideas for increasing jobs creation (see box). The 2014 Competition, whose winners will be announced in May 2014, will do the same.

The EC will help three social innovators bring their projects to life by awarding them €30,000 in financial support to develop their ideas, and enabling them to participate in the Social Innovation Academy.

We need to think and act differently to combat unemployment – the biggest societal challenge of today,’ says Antonio Tajani, European Commission Vice-President. ‘I hope that these types of innovative ideas could be expanded and replicated to have large-scale impact. This is a source of growth and jobs we need to tap into.’ 

Social innovation, which can be defined in a number of ways, essentially describes new ideas – products, services, business models and more – that enhance our capacity to respond to societal challenges. Although it is a somewhat new term, social innovation is in no way a new concept. Examples of social innovation throughout history include kindergartens, hospices and microfinance.

For more information on the second Social Innovation Competition, including how and where to apply, please visit the Commission’s official Social Innovation Competition homepage.

 


The European Social Innovation Competition was created in memory of Diogo Vasconcelos, the former Chairman of the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), a global community of more than 5 000 individuals and organisations committed to promoting social innovation. He also chaired a business panel on future EU innovation policy in January 2009 to provide input to the European Commission on jobs and economic growth.

The 2013 European Social Innovation Competition winners

Community Catalysts: This UK-based group is helping mentors connect with community entrepreneurs in order to create microenterprises. These sustainable, small-scale ventures in the areas of social care and health not only provide affordable services for those who need them, but also create new jobs. The enterprises can be offered to a wide range of people, including the disabled, elderly and family carers. The reach of the network is currently being extended via an online platform and mobile app.

Economy App: By collecting information from users on what they could offer in a local economy, Economy App improves access to the job market for the economically deprived. For every user in a particular economic network, which generally consists of at least 30 people, the app keeps a record of the value of products and services provided and accepted. This way, transactions take place without money changing hands – just goods and services, be it home-made cheese, carpooling, computer support or anything else of value. In this way, individuals can become their own ‘microenterprise’.

MITWIN.NET: By creating an intergenerational professional network, the Spanish venture MITWIN.NET aims to reduce youth unemployment. Older workers are encouraged to share a job post with younger people, allowing those approaching retirement to disseminate knowledge with those being incorporated into the job market. This eases both entry and exit from the job market.

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