ESF projects are changing social relations, but capacity building is needed

ESF projects are changing social relations, but capacity building is needed


The final event of the Social Innovation Community (SIC) project, funded within Horizon 2020, took place on 12-13 November 2018 in Seville. The ESF Transnational Platform’s Aleksandra Kowalska reports.

Social innovation cuts across many different areas, as evidenced by the presence of representatives from four different Directorates-General of the European Commission – DG GROW, DG EMPL, DG RESEARCH and the Joint Research Centre.

As Sławomir Tokarski (DG GROW) explained, the Commission has no specific unit or agency for social innovation. Instead, existing departments address it from their own perspectives, playing the role of facilitator and enabler.

DG Employment, however, has a special part to play. Vítor Nogueira drew attention to the new ESF+ regulations and their social innovation priority. The draft regulation (see article 13) lays on Member States the obligation to support social innovation or the upscaling of innovative approaches previously developed under the Employment and Social Innovation Programme (EaSI).

The Commission is encouraging Member States to reserve more ESF+ resources for this type of activity by allowing a bigger EU financial participation (a 95% co-financing rate, up to 5% of total national ESF+ resources).

Mr Nogueira stressed the importance of experimentation projects, insisting on the need to take and accept risks. Learning from failure might also be a valuable outcome,” he said.

Some unsuccessful projects were presented to highlight the fact that despite not being sustainable they allowed learning about what works and what doesn’t in a given context, contributing to a significant change in social relations and social behaviours, which underlie social change.

One such project is the Shop in the City project which is engaged in community-led initiatives to bring abandoned commercial spaces back to life. As Martha Giannakopoulou, an architect from Athens, explained, not all of them worked out from a business point of view. But the added value, she claims, is intangible and much more important – rebuilding the community’s trust and engagement.

It is clear that the ESF can make a big contribution to local communities by taking a social innovation approach. One speaker, Kuba Wygnański from the Shipyard – Centre for Social Innovation and Research, is actively engaged in social innovation projects under the Polish ESF 2014-20 Operational Programme.

The Trust Bond project, for example, is testing a social impact bond in the field of services for dependent people, a totally new approach in Poland. The idea is to build new structures for multi-stakeholder co-operation to deliver public services. The project ends in April 2021.

Building the ESF’s innovation capacity

If social innovation is to live up to its potential within ESF+, it is crucial that Managing Authorities and Intermediate Bodies explore ways of building capacity. This might include:

  • Connecting to other programmes and funds, learning what has been already done, building synergies to find the best way to implement social innovation and scale up innovations that have already been proven;
  • Exchanging experience and knowledge around experimentation management methods (how to make calls, assess projects, manage risk etc.);[1]
  • Changing the narrative – using positive encouraging language (looking for opportunities, not focusing on problems), redefining success (qualitative indicators);
  • Endorsing the Social Innovation Declaration, thus helping to mobilise a bigger and more diverse community, ranging from social economy organisation and citizens’ groups to public and private organisations, around shared values and a vision of a sustainable, resilient and inclusive Europe.

[1] Some ideas can be found here