What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?).


You have an excellent idea for a project. You’ve planned and analysed your alternatives, however nothing has come of it.  We asked advice from 8 social innovators representing some of the most dynamic social innovation initiatives to describe the beginning of their projects, how they decided to make the first step and moved their projects forward. The following answers are provided by people from different fields, sectors and countries who turned their ideas into a successful social innovation reality.  So let’s see how successful people make their projects happen.

Yolanda Rueda, from Cibervoluntarios Foundation, started the initiative over 17 years ago, before the term “social innovation” became mainstream in Spain. She explains, “We’ve just started a small group convinced about the power of technology to change things. We were very clear since the beginning that the digital divide affected different groups of attention, so you needed to tend to all these different needs.  We started with a small group of cybervolunteers, that step by step with hard work, become a large network of 1.500 cybervolunteers generating activities and collaborating with almost 400 Grassroots Organizations across Spain”.

Yolanda Rueda, Cibervoluntarios

In a different approach Alex Bond, CEO and co-founder of Fresh Check, tell us how to get funds in order to start: “Once we had done some research into the issues surrounding contamination and bacterial growth we formed a plan for how to test for dangerous substances. Ultimately, we couldn’t afford to buy anything to make our prototypes so began searching for grants to fund our early stages of technological development. The Imperial College’s Advanced Hackspace provided a Project Boost grant that provided £500 to buy initial materials and space to do some experiments.”

Alex Bond, Fresh Check

The initiator of the Re-Button came up with the initiative of creating awareness among young children regarding the need to reduce plastic waste.  He points out how team work is so important: “ReButton started from scratch, I don’t know a comparable project like this. I’m the «inventor» of the ReButtons, but people around helped by giving feedback and testing it. It started with the task of developing a practical experiment for children under the umbrella of the PlasticTwist project.  Something to do yourself (DIY) and at the same time the idea of the revaluation of plastic in itself”.

Chris Obrist, Re-BUTTON, FabLab Luzern

Peter Frühmann joint forces with Khaled Al-Ostath to work on a private initiative for a school for young orphans in Gaza, Palestine, to teach them reading and writing in English.  One of Khaled’s mentors was/is Paul Andrew Costello (Washington D.C. USA), the driving force behind the ‘New Story Leadership’ Project.  Frühmann explains: “With Paul’s help Khaled had written a ‘business plan’ for his school, which he called ‘The Reading Stars of Gaza’. He had looked at available (school) space, the materials he needed to teach and the amount of money he would need to set up a first year of teaching (in his spare time!). As he wanted to start with orphans, an orphanage offered him the space. Paul Costello and I promised to support the school financially and with (second hand) books for the age groups he wanted to work with”.

Peter Frühmann, Reading Stars of Gaza Story Bag

The founder of DayCape, who was included in the Forbes 30 Under 30 – Europe – Social Entrepreneurs 2017 and started the idea as a school project responds: “In the beginning I was just trying to learn as much as possible about the life and difficulties for the children. I was still in school so I took some time during breaks or after school to do my research. I started contacting organizations and professionals specialized working with autistic children, asked them questions, talked to the parents. (…) A classmate had heard about what I worked with and happened to see an article in the newspaper for an investment competition focused on technologies for people with special needs. The only problem was that is was targeted towards companies and not individuals. But I decided to try anyway and during the process of doing a series of pitches I started a company and formed a small team. So at my school graduation I landed the investment and started working on creating DayCape”.

Anton Håkanson, DayCape

As the soul of Fundación Maimona, a nonprofit, philanthropic and independent entity, Alejandro Hernández Renner has ideated and implemented many social innovation projects and initiatives, he says: “The idea was originally born from the founder, Diego Hidalgo, and the town mayor at the time, Cipriano Tinoco. At an initial stage, in the year 2000, main local actors and social forces were directly involved in the design of a local economic regeneration plan.  Our case is one of classic philanthropy: a visionary donor designs and generously endows a social venture”.

Alejandro Hernández Renner, Fundación Maimona

Matjan Cojhter, the general manager and founder of AVANTUS employment centre, reflects on the beginning of his initiative: “Looking back, we can say it was fun, we had a mission, we had a plan, but we did not have soul and passion in our work. We have been working hard, but were not satisfied with the initial phases of the company and were missing something: a product which differentiated us from others”.

Matjan Cojhter, AVANTUS

The co-founder of SOFFA, a sustainable fashion factory that provides training and work integration to women victims of Human Trafficking SGBV (Sex Gender-Based Violence) & Refugee Women in the eco-sustainable fashion industry, explains “In September 2015, we raised our first income from European Commission to create a training program on how to become a Social and Sustainable Fashion Entrepreneur. In November 2015, we won sponsorship as a Web Summit Alpha Team. In April 2016, we were invited at the Skoll World Forum’16 in Oxford University’s Said Business School. We were based on volunteering, self-funding and cross financing from other projects until some own income was started being raised from sales…”.

In addition she says “SOFFA provides regularly revenue to various local SMEs, including weavers, mills, printing shops, and has produced and sold 12,000 garments, raising 43.000 euros from sales, while recycling from landfill 146 kilos of textiles and clothes…

SOFFA has an own income generating approach from sales targeting gradually the self-funding of its training and inclusion programs”.

Fiori Zafeiropoulou, Social Fashion Factory, SOFFA

Want to know more what other Social Innovators think about their projects/initiatives, their ideas, their challenges, their plans for the future, and their lessons learned. Check out the Social Innovation Academy for more interviews, answers and other topics related to social innovation.


It will be the first Social Innovation Academy in Europe, with a fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation, developed EOLAS, Limitless and with 3 other partners.


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