The social, economic or environmental challenges that societies face in future years will force governments, corporations, organisations and citizens to tackle them globally with responsibility, creativity and urgency. In a context characterised by globalisation, uncertainty and complexity, innovation becomes a key lever to foster growth, development and the sustainability of our contemporary societies. According to Frost & Sullivan [1], this decade will be characterised by ‘the need to harmonise multiple types of innovation to address complex and interlinked global societal challenges’ and in this sense, the notion of ‘convergence’ regarding social innovation becomes crucial.


As has been evident in previous years, global challenges, such as those outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations [2], cannot be met from a unilateral perspective and social innovation is recognised as an important component of this new framework. The challenges we face demand innovative solutions implemented jointly by the whole society and accomplished with a mission-oriented approach that leads us to a New Innovation Paradigm [3]. Social innovation can no longer be understood as a siloed field. Of importance now is the need to foster the potential of social innovation through a constructive approach and this demands interaction between sectors and actors, as well as interdisciplinarity to solve grand challenges.


The relationship between democracy and social innovation will lead us to another level of understanding about what democracy is, how to build more democratic institutions, organisations and societies and how democracy can be encouraged. In this sense, social innovation can support democracy by applying the processes of social innovation to promote public participation and engage citizens to build a socially sustainable future. Social innovation can also help the systemic transformation of society and its institutions. But to do this, ‘political leaders must foster innovations in participatory democracies at a much bigger scale’.


In this vein, social innovation will be present as a cross-cutting issue in the next EU funding programme, Horizon Europe, essential for developing the future of the continent and the well-being of all European citizens. There is a common acknowledgement that social innovations are capable of responding to the megatrends of our society and tacking future challenges such as globalisation, sustainability, digitalisation and demographic or climate change. Emerging pressures such as migration, ageing or the urbanisation of the world will bring focus to social innovations as the facilitators of sustainable solutions to these types of challenges.



8 social innovation trends to watch out for in 2020


Within this framework, in 2020 social innovation will be related to:


  1. Sustainable Development Goals and social innovation. Achieving the 17 goals set by 2030 will require new forms of innovation in development but also for development. In this sense, social innovation is a specific element to work with across the 17 SDGs in order to help meet societal needs.


  1. Urbanisation and social innovation. The world is becoming more and more urban. The role of cities is being reinforced as spaces for experimentation and laboratories of opportunities to build Smart, Green, Sustainable, Equitable, Inclusive and Resilient societies.


  1. Migration and social innovation. Migration is becoming an urgent and challenging issue for Europe, which as a region hosts the largest number of international migrants (82 million) [4]. Social innovation has a lot to offer with regard to the challenge of migration. Since 2015, which was the year in which an unprecedented number of refugees and irregular migrants arrived in Europe, various initiatives have emerged from both the public and private sectors as well as from society, highlighting novel ideas to pave the way for newcomers to integrate into European culture and countries.


  1. Social system and social innovation. In a decade with more people aged over 30 than under [5], the decade of the ‘yold’ as referred to by John Parker [6], it is imperative to rethink how we improve our social systems and make them more inclusive and egalitarian in terms of education, healthcare or cultural services. Social innovation offers us a new perspective from which to tackle the complex problems of our societies as well as ways in which to build the capacities of our communities and individuals, changing the relationships between people and promoting greater social inclusion.


  1. Climate change and social innovation. Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of this century. Actions aimed at combatting climate change have gained the attention of social innovation practitioners, innovators and the community as a whole. Social innovation actions regarding the mitigation of climate change can be split into various missions that have been designed to address smaller but no less real objectives for tackling this daunting challenge. Among these initiatives we can note the following: moving away from fossil fuels, looking for alternatives to the use of plastic or fostering re-forestation, among others.


  1. Technological development and social innovation. Despite the undoubted value of the digital world, new digital technologies will transform our societies as we know them. From the education field to the work environment, from policy making to the forms of relationships, our societies will experience radical changes. Digital Social Innovation (DSI) has huge potential to strengthen collaborative and open technologies to tackle some of the most prominent challenges in Europe.


  1. Circular economy and social innovation. In 2015, the EU launched the Circular Economy Action Plan which defined a set of actions to be implemented by member states in order to deal with future challenges and pave the way to a climate-neutral, circular economy where pressure on natural and freshwater resources as well as ecosystems is minimised. In 2020, the EU will maintain a strong commitment to the circular economy, and thus social innovation is finding fertile ground for development.


  1. The future of work and social innovation. In a world of constant change, societies will need to be more intuitive, to sense and respond to new technological opportunities, social challenges and citizens’ needs, and it is here where social innovation can play a role in making societies more inclusive, resilient and equal.


Written by Igone Guerra and Gorka Orueta


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[1] Frost & Sullivan (2014). Social Innovation to answer Society’s Challenges. Social Innovation Whitepaper.

[2] The Sustainable Development Goals were set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030.

[3] Howaldt, J. (2019). Rethinking Innovation: Social Innovation as Important Part of a New Innovation Paradigm. In J. Howaldt, Atlas of Social Innovation: A world of new Practices (Vol. 2, pp. 15-20). Munich: oekom Verlag GmbH.

[4] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2019. The International Migrant Stock 2019.

[5] By 2030, the population aged 65+ in Europe is expected to reach 88 million.

[6] Parker, J. (2020). “The decade of the ‘young old’ begins”, in The World in 2020. 21st November 2019. The Economist. https://worldin.economist.com/edition/2020/article/17316/decade-young-old-begins

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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