Social Innovation plays a key role in today’s modern society. The most effective way is to combine technological, economic and practical issues with updates in the field of social innovations. We can all contribute, to a large extent, to an improved quality of life. The social innovations that we present below demonstrate the dynamism, passion, creativity and innovation taking place in communities and voluntary sector organisations across Europe. But do also bear in mind that social innovations cover a wide variety of fields and issues.
So here are eight fascinating European social innovations that work for the public good.
The European Commission recently announced the ten finalists in its annual Social Innovation Competition. All of them derive from the European continent and aim at showing ways in which humans can bring low-wage and low-skilled workers into the digital revolution.
Among these social innovations, one highly effective and useful design came from Spain and is called ‘Mouse4all’. Specifically, Mouse4all gives people with motor disabilities the opportunity to use all of the apps on their Android devices without even touching the screen! In other words, the instigators created Mouse4all to allow their users, via adapted mice, trackballs and joysticks, to easily access Android tablets and smartphones.
We find the clever electronic system to be extremely innovative and distinctive. It reflects how the world is becoming mobile and that it is unacceptable to leave millions of people out of this dramatic change. [Find more information about similar initiatives here]
Still with the European Social Innovation Competition, but this time regarding young people. The committee selected 30 semi-finalists with ideas for turning local challenges into opportunities for young people in the economy.
‘Young people are the future. They should have the opportunity to fully participate in the economy. How? By acquiring the right skills, having a well-paid, rewarding job and creating value for themselves and their community. At the same time, our economy is changing. New technologies, ways of working or migration impact places and communities, bringing both new opportunities and challenges.’ (EU Social Innovation Competition, 30 Ideas to Empower Young People in a Changing Economy)Y
We spotted REvive Greece, an interesting initiative seeking to help young people from the most vulnerable groups (unemployed Greeks, refugees, migrants, etc.). REvive is a registered non-profit mission with the goal of integrating these vulnerable social groups into the socioeconomic fabric. They seek to achieve this by re-skilling them in computer programming through ‘blended learning’. ‘It then connects them with the private sector for job placement as paid interns, where the demand is significantly higher than the supply. The next step will be matching them with European entrepreneurs to team up and form tech start-ups, to which it will provide support through an incubator based in Athens.’
If you want to find out more about the Social Innovation Competition, click here.
The sturdy, flat-pack housing for refugees
Another similar example is ‘Better Shelter’.
‘The Better Shelter is a temporary shelter created with refugees in mind, and has an expected lifespan of three years. It comes in flat packs, which means aid organisations can transport it efficiently and assemble it without tools. The designer created the shelters with family needs in mind, so each one includes a solar panel and lamp to provide light.
‘Better Shelter teamed up with the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and the IKEA Foundation to use the shelters in countries where refugees need them most, such as Greece.’
This incentive serves the aim of integration and smooth coexistence among different cultural groups.
Interested in similar projects? Click here.
Prevention of forest fires (Spain)
A great example of voluntary action comes from Spain, specifically from forestry defence groups (ADFs) – associations of forest landowners, local volunteers and representatives of municipal councils.
This type of action, which has gained strong support from large groups of the population, was formed with the aim of preventing and fighting forest fires. ‘The first social networks for firefighting and help in rural areas emerged in Catalonia (Spain) in the early 1960s. In 1986, these networks were formalised and now they participate in the development and implementation of fire prevention programmes, disseminate information about fire prevention and fighting amongst forest owners, and run public awareness campaigns.’ [Find out more here]
‘The ADF is a social initiative which has enabled neighbours to come together to prevent and put out fires, thereby protecting their common goods: the town, landscape and forestry resources.’ In order to reach its goal, ADFs contribute in a decisive way to municipal plans for tackling forest fires, organising campaigns with farmers and in schools, safeguarding water points and mountain access tracks, as well as receiving specialist training from the fire-fighters.
Find out more about similar projects here.
Social Innovation simply has to include one up-to-the-minute issue which affects all European countries to some extent, and that issue is unemployment.
Various attempts are being made from all directions to try and mitigate the impact of this severe social phenomenon. The following initiative is quite efficient in our opinion and is a way of trying to tackle the problem of unemployment in a practical way.
As we all know, in many major European cities we see ‘voids’ – units of social housing that are empty because city councils have insufficient budgets to turn them into viable homes. Voidstarter in Ireland has tried to improve these untapped places by converting them ‘into temporary learning spaces and entrepreneurship labs that provide unemployed people with new skills and capacity while bringing the voids back into use for homeless people. The project will be initially tested in Dublin, a medium-sized city with approximately 400 void units. (10–15 of them will be used for the pilot).’
Learn more here.
Social farming (Austria)
‘According to Di Iacovo and O’Connor (2009), social farming describes short- or long-term activities that use agricultural resources such as animals and plants to promote and generate social services in rural areas.
‘In the mid-20th century, social farming activities emerged in the western European countries (e.g. Belgium and the Netherlands) and soon spread throughout Europe (Gallis, 2013). Today, social farming activities are considered a reliable system of social care. The two main fields of social farming among the variety of initiatives are employment-oriented initiatives and educational farms.
‘As far as we have been informed, the first experiences in social farming in South Tyrol started in 2007. The South Tyrolean social cooperative “Mit Bäuerinnen lernen-wachsen-leben” (Learning- growing- living with women farmers) offers day care for children, educational activities, elderly care and life counselling for farmers’ families. In more detail, the social cooperative initiated day care for children on farms with the objective of providing childcare and encouraging interaction with nature. Thus, the farm has been expanded to a place of learning and offers a complementary and alternative setting for environmental education.
‘Social farming pushes innovative patterns of sustainable, rural development that are rooted in local resources. Hence, social farming represents a social innovation, as new initiatives are developed to enhance the capacity and social integration of individuals and establish new collaboration between different social farming stakeholders.’
Find out more about this initiative here.
Spring clean-up campaign (Estonia, Tallinn)
Environmental maintenance and the promotion of environmental awareness are significant issues for every society on a global scale. At the same time, voluntary work is in the foreground and contributes to sensitising citizens.
‘Every year from April to May, the City of Tallinn (EE) holds a big Spring Clean-Up Campaign. Volunteers get together to clean salt from the streets, plant trees and flowers, and pick up litter from the Baltic beaches. There are celebrations and a far-reaching environmental awareness campaign. In terms of waste management, the main actions are to remove self-generated landfills, collect hazardous waste and clean up roads and green areas.
‘The Spring Clean-Up Campaign is widely publicised in Estonian and Russian, with a public screen in the central Freedom Square, coverage in district newspapers, a campaign website and a booklet, “The ABC of Public Facilities and Maintenance”. In 2017, the event took place for the 26th time.’ [Click here for more information]
Such activities increase the satisfaction of people and help them to effectively change their own habits by participating actively in the maintenance of their own home surroundings.
GameBus: Social Healthcare Games for the Entire Family
‘EIT Digital started GameBus in 2015 through the Digital Wellbeing Action Line.’
The idea came when the instigators realised that it would be useful to create a range of healthcare apps aimed at helping the elderly to feel happy and satisfied. ‘As the European population is ageing and are caught by the busy schedules of different daily duties, it’s always a challenge to find a balance between work-life and leisure activities.’
GameBus developed an easy-to-download social health games app that stimulates interaction between groups of people such as family members, employees or ordinary citizens. The result is a personalised gaming experience that encourages people to stay socially, mentally and physically active.
This exciting app helps you to stay active and enjoy quality time with those you love the most. ‘Just invite friends and family members of all generations to build your team.’ (EU GameBus, Mission Statement)!
Find out more about GameBus here.
To sum up, over the last decades there has been a phenomenal drift towards social innovation. Social innovation provides a unique opportunity to step back from a narrow way of thinking about social enterprises, business engagement and philanthropy and to adopt new, updated points of view, depending on present-day social and economic contexts.
Although social innovation is a substantial prerequisite and helps citizens to be highly informed about a number of social, economic and business issues, the social innovation practices in places in many countries and across different sectors worldwide are not adequate.
Learn more at Social Innovation Academy
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