The European Commission Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry defines social innovations as:
… new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and create new social relationships or collaborations… Social innovations take place across boundaries between the public sector, the private sector, the third sector and the household.
The Commission goes on to note that the EU has a rich history of social innovation, even though the term is relatively new. Social innovation aims to find new ways of meeting social needs and creating tools for social policy and investment.
The European Commission promotes social innovation by:
- promoting networking, through the medium of Social Innovation Europe, launched in March 2011;
- organising the annual European Social Innovation Competition (see below);
- funding programmes such as Progress or the Employment and Social Innovation Programme (EaSI);
- sharing information about available financial support from public sector organisations, foundations or private investors;
- providing the framework conditions for social innovation, under the Social Business Initiative;
- gathering and disseminating evidence about the benefits of social innovation;
- supporting incubation structures for social innovation in Europe, such as two EU-wide networks of incubators (Transition and Benisi), implemented in October 2013;
- encouraging innovators to scale up their operations from the outset and to aim for systemic change in Europe.
The European Social Innovation Competition (335 KB PDF) invites entries from any individual or group with ideas ‘to help people move towards work or create new types of work’. It includes a mentoring component for shortlisted entries. Most recently, the three best proposals were each awarded €20,000 in May 2013. These projects aim to reduce youth employment by sharing jobs among young and older employees, to extend the reach and quality of small-scale social care and health services via an app, and to improve access to the job market for the economically deprived by advertising their skills more widely.