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Social Innovation Prize to create solutions for today's challenges

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Across the world, millions of people are creating better ways to tackle some of the most challenging social problems of our times. This is Social Innovation. The current financial and economic crisis makes it more important than ever.

"We need Europe's creative souls to use their innovation and passion to change society. Social innovation has demonstrated that it can further transform both how we think of work and how work creates value, be that by creating new types of markets, by leveraging resources in new ways or by recognising the creative and productive potential of marginalised people in society. We must look to social innovation to stimulate a more dynamic, inclusive and sustainable social market economy. Unlocking potential and creating new work is what we dearly need in today's difficult times."

Social innovation can create new products, services and businesses to strengthen Europe’s relative position in growing fields such as healthcare and environmental services. Social innovators design public services that are better tailored to citizens' needs and greater value for money. To boost social innovation, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso inaugurated the European Commission's Social Innovation Prize at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon on October 1. Mr Barroso invited Europe's innovators to come up with solutions for unlocking today’s potential to create tomorrow’s work.  In 2013 three outstanding ideas will each be awarded a €20 000 cash prize by Antonio Tajani, Vice President of the European Commission.

Why and how will the competition work?

President Barroso launched the Prize Competition in memory of Diogo Vasconcelos, a social innovator and Director of a leading global IT company who died prematurely in 2011 at the age of 43. The award will honour Diogo Vasconcelos's legacy by promoting and supporting the best of social innovation and enabling individuals to create positive change for their societies through the application of creativity and passion. In its inaugural year, the competition invites proposals that address the specific challenge of “unlocking potential and creating new work.” An expert jury will select a maximum of 30 semi-finalists for mentoring and from these will confirm some 10 finalists; from these three winners will be selected who each receive a prize of €20 000 in May 2013. After the ceremony winners and finalists will be offered additional mentoring support to mature their implementation plan.

At today’s event, President Barroso and the audience of social innovators, business and political leaders launched the competition through simultaneous tweets all across Europe #diogochallenge.

What is social innovation?

While the term is relatively new, the creativity of social innovators is far from a novelty. Social innovators have generated products, services or new process that do everything from making kindergartens to better residences for elderly people, and can come up with new solutions to climate change and poverty – like microfinance. In other words social innovations is about new solutions that bring about more than "just" jobs, growth and competitiveness – it contributes with something to society as a whole. Social innovation is social in its nature, springing from the sharing of ideas and collaboration to fully realise their potential. Most of all, the values that drive social innovation are our most dearly held ideals: solidarity, inclusiveness, and fairness. "These were values that drove Diogo Vasconcelos throughout his life and which we honour” said President Barroso. “Today’s launch of the European Social Innovation Competition is a call to share the ideas and solutions that will shape work, inspire new employment, and capitalise on Europeans’ diverse skills.”

About Diogo Vasconcelos

Diogo Vasconcelos chaired a Business Panel on Future EU innovation policy in January 2009 to provide input to the next European Commission, in the context of post 2010 Lisbon strategy. He was the Chairman of the Social Innovation eXchange (SIX), a global community of over 400 individuals and organizations committed to promoting social innovation. Chosen by Portuguese business newspaper as Entrepreneur of the Year and one of the country’s leading personalities in 2008, Diogo was founder and president of UMIC, the Portuguese Knowledge Society Agency reporting to the Prime Minister Jose Manuel Barroso. As President of UMIC, he created and leaded the implementation of the eGoverment Action Plan and National Broadband Initiative. He became the Knowledge Economic Advisor to the Portuguese President of Republic Prof Cavaco Silva and lead the President’s widely studied digital campaign and “digital presidency”.

How to enter the Europe Social Innovation Competition

The Competition is open to everyone (individuals, organisations or groups) established or resident in EU member states and in countries with an agreement to participate in the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (see for latest list: http://ec.europa.eu/cip/faq/index_en.htm#0901262484312773). Ideas and proposals from all sources, sectors and all types of organisations including for-profit, non-for-profit, or private companies are welcome. 

Applications can be submitted via the website at http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/innovation/policy/social-innovation/competition/index_en.htm prior to 21st December 2012. 

Selection of semi-finalists will take place in January-February 2013. Semi-finalists will be offered coaching by international business, communication and finance professionals, social economy entrepreneurs and public sector organisations.  

Selection of finalists will take place in April 2013. The award ceremony in May 2013 will distinguish the best three ideas and reward their authors with 20,000 euros to implement their proposals.

Further information is available via the website at http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/innovation/policy/social-innovation/index_en.htm.

Social innovation, why not do things differently if it works better? 

Social innovation is a generic term to designate innovations that are social in both their ends and their means. They are new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and create new social relationships or collaborations. They are innovations that are not only good for society but also enhance society’s capacity to act.

Social innovation leads to better solutions to tackle some of the most challenging social problems of our times: climate change, chronic disease, social exclusion, and material poverty. Often ideas come to life through collaborations that cut across the public and private sectors, civil society, and households. Frequently, they make use of new technologies, including broadband and mobile communication. Some of their successes are now part of everyday life, from microcredit in rural communities to web platforms linking teachers and learners, as well as banking services using mobile phones, community land trusts, restorative justice programmes, and more.

But social innovation is not just about generous or respectable ideas; it is about results, both in terms of well-being for the society and of economic outputs, for competitiveness, growth and jobs. Some examples are listed below.

 Social innovation in figures

The term “social innovation” is a relatively new one, but social innovation itself is not new. There are many examples of social innovations throughout history, from kindergartens to hospices, and from the cooperative movement to microfinance. A “field” of social innovation, however, is a new idea. Discussions often focus on the terminology and around the world many organisations offer different definitions, making it difficult to draw boundaries and estimate its exact social and economic weight.

Yet social economy and entrepreneurship in the European Union is estimated to represent:

  • 10% of European gross domestic product;
  • More than 11 millions of workers, 6% of total employment;
  • 7.5% of the active population in Finland, 5.7% in the United Kingdom, 5.4% in Slovenia, 4.1% in Belgium, 3.3% in Italy or 3.1% in France for instance;
  • 1 out of 4 new enterprises set-up every year in the European Union, and up to 1 out of 3 in countries such as Finland, France and Belgium.

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Healthcare - Home-based cancer hospital with over 3,300 patients

Spending on healthcare, currently between 5% and 13% of GDP for EU countries, is set to rise by approximately 4 % by 2050 while EU government are facing budgetary constraints. At the same time, there is an increase in patient demand for home based healthcare. Countries therefore need new healthcare initiatives, particularly those which reduce the necessity of hospitalisation for chronic diseases that are both very inadequate for patients and costly for healthcare systems.

In Italy, the ANT Foundation successfully developed the largest EU home-based cancer hospital with over 3,300 patients assisted in their homes, organized by 21 regional clusters. The ANT Hospital is composed of around 224 medical professionals, and 1,300 volunteers in support roles. This amounts to a complex system, affected by issues of communication limits, data and knowledge sharing, personnel and resource scheduling, and asset tracking. They utilizes information and mobile technology developed by Nethical company which thereby help ANT to offer the same care, benefits and efficiency of a traditional one-site hospital.

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Active ageing – Empowering elderly to become active participants in society

By 2020, 25 % of the population will be over 60. The 80+ population is expected to double before 2050. This will give a workers-retirees ratio of 2:1 which in turn will lead to an increase of costs linked to pensions, social security, health and long-term care by 4-8 % of GDP by 2025. Beyond these economic consequences, those of a social nature are just as relevant. In an increasingly individualistic society, the risks of isolation and social exclusion for the elderly increase, while the burden on social security systems poses fundamental issues of intergenerational sustainability and even social justice. Responding to ageing requires changes that range from employment law and pensions to new models of care, including self-managed care and new types of housing.

Despite a wealth of evidence showing that physical activity can help reduce the risk of diseases and injuries and that it is more cost effective than curative treatment, health and cost benefits of preventive action are currently underestimated. In France, through research and showing the impact of its activities, Siel Bleu tries to make stakeholders and the society aware that injuries and other diseases are predictable and preventable. By integrating older people into group sessions of physical activity, Siel Bleu empowers them to become active participants in society, offering social links, physical autonomy, self-confidence and an incentive for active behaviour. In France, in 2009, Siel Bleu offered more than 105,000 interventions of physical activity, helping more than 60,000 weekly service users. Since its launch in 1997, Siel Bleu has grown to employ more than 250 staff (160 full time staff).

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Education – Drop out children play in an orchestra

Social innovation has generated many ideas to combat school drop-out with initiative such as second-chance schools which aim to provide new opportunities through education and training directed at young people who lack both the basic knowledge and the specific skills to benefit fully from training or to find employment. The guiding principle is to organise partnerships between local players who share a concern for the social and economic reinsertion of young people faced with exclusion.

In Portugal, the Projecto Geração started from the need to combat truancy and school drop-out in Amadora in the suburbs of Lisbon. Activities under this project range from work and play provisions for the very young, enabling parents to stay in full-time employment, to a number of programmes working with children to encourage them to stay in education. The ‘If You Keep Studying’ programme currently involves 120 children through two occupational activities — martial arts and a youth orchestra. Both activities require children to attend class in order to participate. The project involved various partners such as the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the municipality of Amadora, local schools and churches. The project has had a positive impact on the whole community. It has touched the lives of over 1 000 people and new projects have been created within the project. The Hairdressing Workshop provides a good illustration. An alternative curriculum was created, allowing students who achieve the minimum requirements to train as hairdressers at school. It has been running for two years, with all of the 22 pupils who have so far taken part now in full-time employment.

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Entrepreneurship - Fun and interactive financial education programmes

At a time where unemployment is reaching peaks in Europe and is particularly affecting young generations, social innovation is still an open field where entrepreneurship particularly for the young generation should be promoted. It is particularly true when it comes to information and communication technologies that could be further designed to meet given social needs or adapt to particular population groups. In order to make such ideas translate into businesses that grow, the EU can tap into available talents and provide for better framework conditions, through access to finance obviously but also with dedicated training schemes.

In the United Kingdom, My Bnk is a charity which delivers financial and enterprise education directly to 11-25 years olds in schools and youth organisations. My Bnk team is made up of teachers, youth workers and people who have worked in the financial sector. Together with young people they created fun and interactive financial education programmes on topics such as saving, budgeting and university finance. To date 45,500 young people have learnt about money and business.

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Inclusion - Employing people with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum

Social innovation can translate into targeted services for deprived communities or better care for people in needs but it can also materialise into new solutions for groups who are excluded from the labour market, while they could have a very concrete contribution to the economy.

In 2004, Specialisterne Denmark was founded as the first company in the world to base its business model on employing people with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Their vision was to harness the characteristics of autism in a positive way and provide valuable services for the corporate sector on market terms. The company offers the following services. The service starts with assessment and training (to date it has benefited some 200 individuals with an autism diagnosis). 40% of our assessment activities result in employment as an IT consultant in Specialisterne Denmark. Specialisterne now has 34 consultants who solve valuable IT tasks such as software testing, data registration, quality control and information packaging for a number of the leading IT and telecommunications companies around the world. In September 2009, Specialisterne Denmark started a three-year education program for young adults from 16 to 24 years old with autism spectrum disorder.

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Urban regeneration - Enhancing cultural heritage through the integration of important buildings

In many cities, some districts are affected by a conjunction of issues that require multidisciplinary solutions that can tackle urbanism, economic development, transport, education or cultural aspects in a comprehensive manner but more importantly in a way that is customised to that area, its inhabitants and their aspirations.

The architectural, cultural and social decline in the Portuguese city of Vila do Conde has been reversed through an innovative and integrated urban regeneration programme, which received support from the European Union regional funds. A core aspect of this programme centred on enhancing cultural heritage through the integration and recovery of important buildings in the historic centre of Vila do Conde – the ‘Identity Anchor Poles’ – and their use in activities primarily related to culture and creativity. Activities undertaken under the project increased social cohesion, as the differences became an element of individual valuation, reinforcing the integration of the population – including the ethnic minorities – in the regenerated urban context. Crucially, the demographic decline of Vila do Conde since the 1980s has been reversed.

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 Fortunately, there is no shortage of social innovations in Europe. Many are very well established – from the Mondragon group of Cooperatives in the Basque Country in Spain, to France’s Emmaus communities which are now active all over Europe and Italy’s San Patrignano which is now the largest drug rehabilitation community in the world. Some are less structured, as individuals, communities, organisations and companies begin searching for new ways, and adapting old ones, to address the modern societal challenges.

The current crisis also translates into many initiatives like this recent example Reload Greece which aims to produce new insights into the current challenges of Greece’s economic development and encourage the next generation to take his responsibilities, create innovative enterprises, be part of the solution and contribute to a new start.

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