Diogo Vasconcelos was a prominent Portuguese social innovator who focused on fostering innovation to address some of the great societal challenges of our time. During his career he worked closely with the European Commission and others on issues such as globalisation, sustainability, urbanisation, democratic participation, public services and healthcare. After he passed away in 2011 at the age of 43, the European Commission launched the European Social Innovation Competition in his honour, known affectionately as the #diogochallenge. The competition is open to applicants from EU member states and countries associated to Horizon 2020, and is delivered on behalf of the European Commission by a consortium of partners from across Europe, including NestaKennislandAshokaENoLL and Scholz & Friends.


The 2018 Competition is titled RE:THINK LOCAL and seeks to find the most innovative projects, products, services, business models and collaborations that empower young people to participate fully in the changing economy. Youth unemployment is a persistent problem. Increasing numbers of young people are also starting their working lives in short-term or casual jobs, often in the gig economy. Long-term unemployment or underemployment is damaging for the future employability of young people and also creates knock-on negative impacts for society. Each community has its own challenges and assets arising from its unique story. Different places have different histories of industrial change, migration and regeneration. This year’s competition called on Europeans to think about this, and to ask themselves what’s available in their local community and what’s presenting a challenge. How could this be used to design solutions that ensure young people can fully participate in the economy and society?


The competition supports social innovation in a number of ways. Firstly it promotes the merits of the concept across the European region, seeking to foster it’s development as a meaningful part of the economy in every European country. It also provides a programme of support to the teams identified as semi-finalists in each year of the competition. This support includes access to experienced regional coaches, development webinars and a pool of expert advisors. It culminates in a coaching academy, providing an opportunity for the semi-finalists to meet, learn from each other and expand their networks. The competition then provides funding for the implementation and development of the most promising social innovation ideas, as each year 3 winners receive 50,000 Euros for their respective projects. There is also a further 50,000 Euros awarded to the semi-finalist from the previous competition that has achieved the most social impact in the past year.


The competition has also sought to support to social innovators all across Europe to develop their ideas through the creation of a free-to-access social innovation toolkit. This toolkit is meant to encourage innovators to step forward and build their capacity to deliver ground-breaking solutions. While acknowledging that innovation is messy, unpredictable and risky, the toolkit takes innovators through a journey through problem definition and ideation all the way through to scaling. The toolkit covers the essential building blocks of building a social venture, covering issues such as framing a problem, prototyping, revenue generation, stakeholder engagement and communications, sustainability and impact measurement. The toolkit builds upon the expertise and input of coaches and workshop leaders that have collaborated with the European Social Innovation Competition over the years.


After launching in Paris on 20th March, the 2018 edition of the competition received over 700 eligible entries from 39 different countries. A judging panel of leading European social innovators then chose 30 semi-finalists to progress to the second round. The semi-finalists received training designed to prepare them to successfully launch and scale their innovations, as well as complete the project development plan that is required for the next stage of the competition. The 2018 training academy took place in Cluj-Napoca in Romania, well-known regionally for its flourishing youth initiative scene, including being named European Youth Capital in 2015.


The first day of the academy explored the semi-finalists’ connection to this year’s theme: RE:THINK LOCAL, as well as the concept of social innovation more generally. In the afternoon they addressed questions such as ‘how do you know that you are achieving positive social change?’ and ‘how do you demonstrate your social impact?’ During the second day of the academy, the semi-finalists were able to choose from a selection of workshops designed to help them test, deliver and scale their innovations. In the evening there was a public event to enable the semi-finalists to share ideas and collaborate with the local social innovation community in Romania. The final day of the academy focussed on crafting and communicating a story. The semi-finalists received training from a communication expert, including receiving feedback on their projects’ 90 second elevator pitch. Before leaving the academy, the semi-finalists also had a chance to meet the judging panel for this year’s competition. Pictures from all three days of the academy can be found here. For competition updates sign up to the newsletter and follow the Twitter account.


The Social Innovation Academy aims to build on the work of the European Social Innovation Competition in fostering the development of social innovation in Europe and empowering European citizens to become social innovators. It will be the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation. While the European authorities, leading academics, policy experts, business people and activists agree that social innovation is key to a better future for Europe and the world, it is extremely difficult for professionals to obtain high quality training on what social innovation actually offers and, more importantly, how it can be done in practice. Social Innovation Academy will aim to change this situation in Europe and beyond. If you are interested in keeping up with this project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our Friends, apply to become a member of our Global Advisory Board or follow us on social media (LinkedIn,Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here!

Gary Fawdrey. I currently work for Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, within their Challenge Prize Centre. I co-ordinate an international consortium delivering the European Social Innovation Competition on behalf of the European Commission. This is a yearly competition with a changing theme, offering three winners €50,000 each, as well as providing mentoring and training to 30 semi-finalists. The competition aims to support and encourage social innovation across Europe. I am also an Advisor to Social Innovation Academy.

Prior to this, I worked in the youth social action sector, first for Generation Change and then vInspired. In these roles I supported young people to volunteer in their communities in meaningful ways. I sit on the board of the youth and community development charity Hackney Quest, and founded the social impact career directory and mentoring scheme Progressive Careers. I hold an MA in Public Administration and Public Policy from the University of York.

LinkedIn: Gary Fawdrey | Twitter: @garyfawdrey


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