Supporting young people through social innovation and investment

As a topic high on the EU agenda at present, social innovation is being seen as a tool to help achieve key objectives outlined by the European Commission in its Social Investment Package (SIP) ‘Towards social investment for growth and cohesion’, launched in February 2013.

Modernising social protection systems

All Member States are dealing with structural, social and demographic challenges, and they have to adapt to ensure that their social systems are both adequate and sustainable. Modernising social policies is a concern at EU level and doing so means supporting people at critical points in their lives so that they can participate to their full potential in social and economic life. Young people are a key target group as many of them have found themselves outside the labour market and society in the crisis period. To avoid more young people being at risk of social exclusion and poverty, Europe recognises the need to invest in expanding young people’s skills and modernising social protection systems. As outlined in the SIP, ‘social innovation must be an integral part of necessary adjustments by testing new policy approaches and selecting the most effective ones.’

Promoting social innovation

Eurofound’s report Social innovation in service delivery: New partners and approaches explores how the social partners, civil society and people in vulnerable situations are involved in social innovation – defined as new ideas that simultaneously resolve societal challenges, meet social needs and create new social relationships among the groups concerned. It looks at programmes in six countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Sweden) and presents three case studies from Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden. Among the examples of social innovation mentioned in the report, some show what can be done to support young people.

  • In Austria, Go West, an association for homosexual, bisexual and transgender people, runs a project geared at young teenagers and aims to motivate students to question prejudice and stereotypes.
  • Junior Achievement Bulgaria is an example of an NGO and the private sector working together in the social innovation field. It provides entrepreneurship education for children and young people with the help of volunteer business advisers.
  • In Ireland, Young Social Innovators engages young people aged 15–18 in civil society activities with the objective of enabling them to deal with difficult issues and to advance change.
  • In Puglia in southern Italy, the Bollenti Spiriti Programme aims to enable young people in the area to participate in all aspects of community life.
  • The Włącz się (Join in) project in Poland aims to integrate marginalised young people, people with disabilities and victims of domestic violence into the labour market.
  • The Social Incubator in Slovenia, hosted by the student organisation of the University of Ljubljana, provides a supportive business environment for students and graduates of the university who want to become social entrepreneurs.
  • In Stockholm County, Sweden, the UMA (Utveckling mot arbete) project helps people aged 16–64 who are outside the labour market, many for a long time for reasons such as mental disorders, alcohol or drug abuse, social problems or stress. The aim is to provide them with opportunities to find and keep a job, as well as increase their acceptance by society, especially by employers.

Many initiatives are co-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF). Social innovation is set to play a greater role within the ESF as an effective way to help achieve the objectives of the SIP.

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