The European Union has just raised the social innovation bar for governments. On March 17th in Brussels, President Barossa of the European Commission officially launched Social Innovation Europe.
The EU's goal: by 2014, Social Innovation Europe will be the meeting place (virtual and real) for social innovators, entrepreneurs, non-profit organisations, policy makers, foundations and anyone else who is inspired by social innovation in Europe.
Their ultimate goal is to harness fragmented resources to enable the spread, impact and scale of proven solutions across Europe. Listening to Barossa you had a sense he intends to usher in another European Renaissance.
Their first two initiatives are:
- to establish a web based European hub on everything to do with social innovation and
- to develop a social finance strategy by this June. Don't be surprised if the EU backs the development of a European Social Finance Bank.
Vickie and I are were the only Canadians at this exciting 2 day event and Tyze was the only non European innovation profiled. The event was full of senior EU public servants and politicians. In less than two years, social innovation has gone from a marginal consideration to being a central element of the EU's overall innovation strategy.
Since Europe has been applying the discipline of social innovation longer than Canada it is instructive to observe its conceptual evolution and advance into policy and funding there. Here are four distinctions we have not yet made in Canada.
- Social innovation has been integrated as a key component of the EU's overall innovation strategy which in turn has become the backbone of the EU's economic development strategy. Social Inovation Europe is hosted by the EU's Enterprise and Industry Department rather than being marginalized in a 'social' department. Barossa's speech observed that, "social innovation is more important than ever to build smart, sustainable and inclusive growth."
- Europe intends to move from a knowledge society to an innovation society. The report that kick-started the EU's interest in social innovation was prepared by a European Business Panel chaired by Diogo Vasconcelos who also chairs Social Innovation Exchange. Reinventing Europe – From a Knowledge Society to an Innovation Society proposed EU action around "compelling social challenges, to finance venture and social innovation funds; to incentivize large scale community development; to transform the public sector and to unlock the potential of new types of partnerships."
- With that in mind, active and healthy aging has been chosen as the lead challenge to showcase new solutions, new partnerships and new funding strategies.
- The social economy is acknowledged as a driver of economic health. To quote Barossa again: "The social economy in Europe employs 11 million people, (6% of the active population of the EU); the non-profit sector in Europe is contributing to 5% of the GDP and about 40 million employees – 20% more than the transportation industry.
Social Innovation Europe will be coordinated by Social Innovation Exchange (SIX) and a consortium of European partners so set your brower to updates from SIX. The key players at SIX aside from Diogo are SIX Coordinator, Louise Pulford and Geoff Mulgan of the Young Foundation.
To those paying attention to the slow but sure advance of social innovation into official government policy, the Europeans are on the move.