On 24th April, the European Social Network (ESN) hosted a webinar to look at technology driven social investment approaches for social convergence. The aim of the webinar was to come up with key questions that will be further elaborated at ESN’s 26th European Social Services Conference (ESSC) in Seville on 28th-30th May.
I was pleased to moderate the session with Christian Bodewig, Programme Leader for Inclusive Growth in EU Member States at the World Bank, and Amalia Zepou, Vice-Mayor for Civil Society and Innovation in Athens. Christian focused on its recently published ‘Growing United’ volume and questions as to why technology may be slowing down convergence and risks deepening divide between countries, regions and peoples in Europe, whilst it also offers excellent development opportunities.
This is certainly the case in social services as I described in an article I published last year where I referred to technology driven services such as digital service menus for customers to organise their care, budget calculators for those with personal budgets, or online meal services. Technological innovations have also the potential to make care work more attractive. On the one hand, innovations such as ‘intelligent toilets’ can reduce the amount of unpleasant aspects of bodily care. Robot vacuum cleaners or special coffee machines that make it easier for old people with shaky hands to pour their own drinks have been introduced in Denmark as part of a welfare modernisation strategy to cut the government welfare budget.
As Christian explained, innovations in social welfare transcend social services, and they are key to provide new cognitive skills needed for the world of work, hence acting as a driver for better opportunities. Moving onto the local level, Amalia landed us into the reality of day to day local authorities after years of austerity-led policies and budgetary constraints. Using technology, they mapped community initiatives across Athens and found out that almost 50% of them were in the fields of education and social solidarity. They developed a platform to empower local citizens and have them working with each other. Asked about the recipe for success, Amalia reminded us that technology is a tool to empower individuals and communities but in order to make it work there is a need for leaders that embrace and lead these developments.
Cloud-based sharing platforms for joint training and sharing of resources, big data for better employment and training, prescriptive analytics to solve social problems were some of the topics addressed at the webinar and will be further elaborated at the 26th ESSC in Seville. These are just some of the questions participants will discuss in plenaries and workshops alongside new forms of social contracts, social services impact investment, inclusive activation or public procurement. The ESSC is a unique platform that provides decision-makers and practitioners a platform for innovation grounded on evidence-based knowledge sharing and building from across Europe.
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