Social Challenges Innovation Platform
Social Challenges Innovation Platform is a far-reaching European action aiming to create an online ecosystem encouraging the interaction between social innovators and SMEs for the co-development and take-up of sustainable and marketable innovations with clear social impact. Social Challenges Innovation Platform (financed by the European Commission under Horizon 2020) granted 81 social entrepreneurs with a total 2,5 million Euros to solve real challenges in different cities around Europe.
If the promise of social innovation is to be realised across Europe, it is time for it to engage a much wider section of the economic population, and the SME sector is by far the most relevant. After all, SMEs represent 99% of all businesses across the EU and in the past five years they have created some 85% of new jobs and provided two-thirds of the total private sector employment in the EU.
Social innovation can in this sense fill the growing gap between what governments and philanthropic organisations provide, and what SMEs can offer. However the interaction among these actors needs to be facilitated. To this end, Social Challenges Innovation Platform provides a challenge award mechanism to:
1) Give voice to communities bearing interests about hard-to-solve, high impact social problems: the so- called “challenge owners”. The social needs that SCHIP considers are not limited to a particular category, but the solutions need to pave the way for lasting social change, whichever the chosen category.
2) Incentivize more SMEs to pioneer innovation within the social sector through ground-breaking entrepreneurial ideas responding to concrete social needs that are formulated as clear challenges. In the SCHIP framework, SMEs need to demonstrate the capability to make a change and to contribute achieving social outcomes, within well-defined trans-European growth objectives.
3) Encourage contamination between social entrepreneurs/social innovators and SMEs by asking them to team up before proposing solutions to social challenges.
4) Help the combination of solution providers and challenge owners to scale up by accessing key actors such as impact investors, multinationals, other stakeholders.
5) Achieve all the above by leveraging two (Impact Hub & EBN) major European SME and social entrepreneurship networks’ ability to support challenge-generation, idea-testing, business-incubation, mentoring, capacity-building and above-all transnational scaling.
In this framework SCHIP provides support and financial incentives to turn innovative ideas into viable solutions to challenges with a social dimension with the aim of putting social innovation at the core of the European innovation ecosystem, as one of the drivers for European competitiveness and growth, to overcome the crisis, create jobs and opportunities, and meet the societal needs of European citizens.
Social Challenges Innovation Platform aims at stimulating and supporting bottom-up approaches to social innovation, encourage and enhance the participation of SMEs in the development of high-impact solutions, incentivize cooperation paths for social innovators and SMEs, increase awareness on social innovation opportunities among a wide spectrum of European Stakeholders (mainly intermediaries such as business support organisations, investors and alike) by enabling multi-level, multi-actor and multi-sectoral connections through an online challenge platform and an impact driven funding scheme.
Social Challenges Innovation Platform collected a total of 83 challenges, from 18 EU countries (involving a total of 47 cities).
The core audience (55%) are cities under 250.000 inhabitants, which are the most common type of city in Europe (83%). According to the Commission’s report: “Cities in Europe - The new OECD-EC definition” , the average city in Europe has between 50.000 and 100.000 inhabitants (51% of European cities).
To facilitate the application process, 10 main topics have been pre-identified for the challenges:
- Smart Cities/Mobility
- Social Inclusion/Gender
Three call for solutions have been opened on-line:
- The application period of the 1st call, with 30 challenges on-line, ended on 21st December 2017. In total 225 applications were received.
- The application period of the 2nd call, with 29 challenges on-line, ended on 15th April 2018. In total 167 applications were received.
- The application period of the 3rd call, with 24 challenges on-line, 15th July 2018. In total 110 applications were received.
Applications have been received from 36 countries. The top 5 countries from which applicants to the call participated have been 1) Italy, 2) Netherlands, 3) Spain, 4) UK and 5) France. Applicants from the top 5 countries together represents the 55.53 % of the total applications.
After a careful revision and analysis of the Solutions, a total of 81 grants that had been distributed across Europe, for an overall funding of 2.430.000 Euros.
Each selected solution has been granted with a total of 30.000 Euros, to co-develop together with the challenge owner and with the support of local mentors, over a period of 6 months, an MVP [Minimum Viable Product] or pilot of the proposed innovation.
The goal is to help Social Entrepreneurs to scale-up internationally and to prove that their solutions can solve real challenges.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Four innovative aspects:
1) Encourage bottom up, networked definition of social and societal challenges and needs, by breaking down the existing silos that prevent growth by encouraging contamination between social and innovation based entrepreneurship, alongside the formulation of social needs at local/regional level and the subsequent sharing of solutions at larger scale.
2) Support the formulation of societal challenges and promote the co-development of solutions with collaboration between social innovators and SMEs.
3) Enable the emergence of an online ecosystem for social innovation, by making available a European ‘go to’ platform where social innovation demand and supply can meet, and encouraging the interaction between social innovators and SMEs for the definition of sustainable and marketable innovations with clear social impact
4) Provide financial support to the most promising solutions, enabling the testing and market-uptake of some of the most promising solutions.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Social Challenges Innovation Platform currently provides support and financial incentives to turn innovative ideas into viable solutions to challenges with a social dimension with the aim of putting social innovation at the core of the European innovation ecosystem, as one of the drivers for European competitiveness and growth, to overcome the crisis, create jobs and opportunities, and meet the societal needs of European citizens.
Social Challenges Innovation Platform already provided 2.450.000€ to SMEs and social innovators (third parties) who submitted a eligible solution to a social challenge published on the platform (www.socialchallenges.eu) and supported with a clear commitment by the challenge owner to test the selected solution. Solutions have been selected on:
- innovation potential
- social impact
- clarity of the expected economic benefits
- proposed implementation plan
- coherence of the activities to reach the planned objectives
- qualification of the team for the purpose
Collaborations & Partnerships
The innovation process mostly happened at local level through the Impact Hub and EBN networks, using a combination of online and offline tools to mobilise entrepreneurs and to mentor them, and through the collaboration with local municipalities and NGOs, to co-design and co-develop innovative entrepreneurial solutions to pressing social challenges.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Users, Stakeholders and Beneficiaries:
- social entrepreneurs (benefitted from financial support to scale-up nationally/internationally
- business acceleration and support centres (acted involving local innovation ecosystems, gathering interest and challenges from public stakeholders on one side, and giving support to selected entrepreneurs on the other side)
- NGOs/local authorities/municipa (identifying challenges to solve, selecting entrepreneurs, and co-designing solutions with them)
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
- More SMEs engaged in the field of social innovation, finding new markets, creating new jobs and testing new business or growth models;
- More unmet social needs or societal challenges found solutions;
- Concrete connections and further business opportunities made possible between social enterprises and other SMEs;
- More business intermediaries, incubators and investors engaged in the field of social innovation, supporting social enterprises and helping them to address specific challenges;
- Larger European cities are generally more successful at attracting startups from elsewhere, and keeping the startups which emerge from within them. The risk is that most of Europe’s small to mid-sized cities could be ‘hollowed out’ of talent and growth. Despite this, some of the smaller cities active in Social Challenges Innovation Platform achieved better results than their larger counterparts [Lieuwaarden (NL; population: 108k) and Angiers (FR, population: 148k) were among the best perfomers].
Challenges and Failures
- The challenge platform services and basic tools did not match with the users’ needs: several tests and iterations have been done during the platform development;
- Critical mass of proposed social challenges not reached: customized communication campaigns developed and involvement of local stakeholders to buy in the approval of municipalities and local authorities;
- Difficulties in aggregate an appropriate critical mass around the call for grants: use of additional and already existing networks to spread the knowledge on the call throughout Europe;
- Difficulties in managing too many applicants: support by external experts and stakeholders during the evaluation of applications;
- Difficulties in monitoring awarded actions: ad-hoc evaluation framework defined to monitor all awarded actions.
Conditions for Success
The importance of unleashing cross-sector collaboration in the social innovation sector, and particularly building strong bridges between SMEs and social innovators, is widely acknowledged by policy-makers and practitioners alike.
Social Challenges Innovation Platform adopted a multi-sector approach by considering a large variety of sectors where the social innovation can take place, such as e.g.: education, employment, public administration, corporate social responsibility, culture and the arts, environment, energy, mobility, health care, social care, poverty reduction, sustainable development etc.
Promoting social innovation within European societies entails both the mobilisation of a wide range of actors whose potential action has an impact on key social aspects, such as inclusion, cohesion and well-being, and the aggregation of different skills, backgrounds and businesses to provide innovative outcomes not focussing only on business products.
Social innovations are new ideas that meet social needs, create social relationships and form new collaborations.
Social Challenges Innovation Platform allowed us to test an innovative funding mechanism/scheme for demand-driven social challenges and related solutions.
The EPIM (the European Programme for Integration and Migration), an initiative of currently 25 private foundations, has been the first external stakeholder to recognise the key role of our platform, and during last summer 2018 decided to use Social Challenges Innovation Platform and to self-sponsor a new, ad-hoc, independent and private call for solutions to identify socially innovative solutions (project, process, service, practice) located in an EU, EFTA or Western Balkan country addressing the migrants inclusion challenge, with a whole-of-society approach and driven by local communities. With this call, through the platform, 120 innovative solutions have been received from all over Europe (evaluation in progress).
The requirement to put national/regional innovation strategies for smart specialisation in place led in many EU States and regions to a significant change in policy-making culture in terms of stakeholder involvement, inter-departmental cooperation, evidence-based policymaking and a shift towards a holistic and systemic innovation policy concept.
Against this backdrop, Social Challenges Innovation Platform made available a new support ecosystem to promote social innovation at the regional, national and EU levels, exploiting the best possible actions in order to stimulate the interaction between social innovators and SMEs and challenge owners for the definition of sustainable and marketable innovations with clear social impact, able to efficiently and timely cope with social challenges.
Social Challenges Innovation Platform stems from the recognition that social innovation has a complex landscape with a number of actors, varying socio-economic conditions, several different historic and cultural contexts. The “value” aspect of social innovation is one of its central characteristics; it is based much more on social outcomes rather than economic purpose. This value orientation comprises generalized social expectations, such as simplification, relief, replacement, enhancement or stabilization and also the creation of methods and means of effectiveness. The evaluation of the social impact of this “efficiency increase” is in turn dependent on the given local perspectives of the involved stakeholders. Therefore, social innovation solutions often do not translate into larger-scale projects, do not trigger significant changes in public policies, or do not inspire similar projects elsewhere. Promoting social innovation at larger-scale is extremely important, however it entails mobilizing a number of actors for combining skills, business and services that is usually hampered by the lack of visibility of the “social innovation” due to an absence of an engaging discourse.