We live in times of constant change. Social innovations are one of the signs of the progressing democratisation. Everyone can take a bite and try changing the world for the better. Following the examples of other European countries, social innovation in Poland is starting to boom. Poland is one of those countries that due to its modern history is hard to pigeon-hole and locate on the trend spiral. It develops in its own rhythm and direction, taking wild u-turns when the least expected. The Poles are quite commonly known for being “innovative”, even if that doesn’t necessarily imply a positive outcome. Having discarded the socialist system’s strict yoke less than 30 years ago, there’s still an organic need to bypass the rules and create our own, rather than to check public solutions to problems. This also entails a fundamental lack of trust towards the system, as well as widespread unawareness to social issues and public policies.  


Unfortunately, the list of problems related to social innovation growth is long. For starters, it’s worth highlighting an educational system that doesn’t support any sort of innovative thinking and is based on incentives that instill and foster competitive and self-directed behaviours. Secondly, the  public administration isn’t of much help either, since it focuses exclusively on formalisation and creation of rules and requirements. Furthermore, the same schemes are applied time and time again without any reflexion. There’s a common belief that innovations always have to spring in between science and business, which either limits the way up of half of the ideas, breaks them on the way or simply kills the creative thinking from the beginning. Evidently, those all remain huge challenges for Poland to tackle. This can only be accomplished by adhering to the core values underpinning social innovation, that can be best summed up in the saying: “by people for people and with people”. Thanks to the European Union and its generous funding, the proper “change” might happen a little faster.  


The Knowledge Education Development Program is one of the social innovation financing sources, led by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Development. The first competitions at POWER to support innovation have already been awarded. In 2015 micro-innovation recruitment started with a budget of PLN 24 million. It started with more than 300 ideas, that were evaluated by the Minister as “ready to use tools and methods that passed the tests and were recommended by experts for public use in a large scale.” Switching from the education system to professional activity was the most popular topic. In terms of social economy, there were 2030 fundings granted to the related subjects. However, the one measurable effect of the program is probably the macro-innovation one:  de-institutionalisation of services provided to people with mental disorders and diseases. The project was held between 2015-2017 and granted funds for all interested entities. As part of the call, 15 short, 4-month projects were carried out. Their essence was the development of a comprehensive model of environmental treatment of disorders. The models took into account the assumptions of the National Program for Mental Health Protection. They, in turn, include support for the family and the immediate environment of a person with a mental disorder or illness and assume a co-ordination of health and social services, thanks to which they facilitate the return to everyday life. There were 14 awarded projects by the end of 2017 and even though this whole project can be treated as a small kick-off, it definitely is a way to follow to boost social innovation in Poland even more.


In 2013 there were two Polish projects in the semi-final of the so-called “European Social Innovation Competition” organised since 2012 by the European Commission. One of them – Mama CoWork – reached the finals. Mama CoWork is a space where mothers of small children can combine their professional aspirations with the need to look after their offspring. Young mothers who want to return to the labor market, can improve their qualifications, use the office space to start their own business, while still being close to the child. Mama CoWork combines a co-working space (i.e. an office space shared between various entrepreneurs) and a mini business incubator with vocational training and qualified care for young children. 


In 2018 we’re at the point where there are also many other subjects facilitating the social innovations. Among which, the following are worth mentioning:  


 –Laboratory of Social Innovation in Gdynia – an independent budget unit of the Gdynia City Office, responsible for developing and supporting innovative social solutions for the residents of Gdynia. The Social Innovation Laboratory is also an idea that grew out of thinking that the city needs new ideas not only in the sphere of technology or economy but also in social activities directed to its inhabitants to develop in a sustainable way and achieve lasting results. It develops, supports and disseminates innovative social solutions, so that the inhabitants of Gdynia – regardless of their age, social origin or place of residence – live better. 


Towarzystwo Inicjatyw Twórczych – conducts cultural social projects throughout Poland. It creates and promotes new models in the field of culture. They work with young people, culture animators, employees of non-governmental organizations, as well as cultural institutions, artists and seniors. Since 2002, the team has conducted the processes of over 1,000 social innovators starting with the idea to the implementation. 


EBN network – is a network of over 150 certified entrepreneurship and innovation centers and 100 other organisations that support the development and growth of innovative enterprises, start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises – including social innovations. EBN is also a community whose members support each other in their daily work to make their ventures more effective and stable. 


Sieć Sensownego Biznesu – is a multifunctional enterprise – the community of people interested in change (Change), incubation and acceleration program and networks – investors, mentors and support. 


NESsT Polska – an incubator of social enterprises in emerging markets. It develops sustainable social enterprises, offering support at the planning, incubation and scaling stages. It applies a diverse approach through financial investments, substantive support and the provision of social capital. 


Coming soon: Social Innovation Academy 


Conclusively, what we need in today is the concept of social innovation that enables us to step back from a narrow way of thinking about social enterprises. Social innovations are not only good for society but also enhance individuals’ capacity to act. Both number of organizations working on social innovations as well as informative training programs in Poland are very limited. So, the solution came from partnership of ICAN Institute, Limitless and 3 other partners that have started a project aiming to develop the first online Social Innovation Academy in Europe (Social Innovation Academy) with a focus on social innovation projects. If you are interested in keeping up with this project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our Friends, apply to join our Global Advisory Board or follow us on social media (LinkedInTwitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here!. 


 Author: Anna Lakomy

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


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