The Forum on Social Innovation took place on the eve of the Committee of the Regions' Plenary Session on 10 May 2011. The Forum’s ambition was to share existing and new concepts in the field of social innovation and give regional and local authorities new insights into how to create and implement innovative social policy. The debate focused on the areas of poverty and the ageing population, with special attention to new strategies for starting and financing regional and local initiatives.

The Forum brought together 200 participants and 24 speakers and moderators representing Brussels-based offices of regions, regional and local authorities, EU institutions, European associations and NGOs working in the domains of social policy and innovation. ESN’s Chief Executive, John Halloran, contributed to the panel debate on how to deliver local and regional quality services in times of austerity?

In his contribution, he said: “Local and regional authorities are central to EU action and there are many examples of innovation in social services, from the development of independent living and personal budgets for people with a disability, the emphasis on ‘recovery’ in mental health and generally a more personalised agenda for adults and children in need of care and support. The challenge for the future is to make better use of resources across health, social services and education to develop innovative solutions. The challenge will be to manage change.”

Social innovation is endorsed by the Europe 2020 strategy, which recognizes that it is “an important new field which should be nurtured.” According to commitments of the strategy, the Commission launched the Social Innovation Europe Initiative, aiming to create a dynamic, entrepreneurial and innovative new Europe, on 16-17 March 2011 in Brussels.

This initiative promotes a broad idea of innovation and aims to set an example globally. By 2014, Social Innovation Europe is aiming to become the meeting and debating place (both virtual and real) for social innovators, entrepreneurs, non-profit organisations, policy-makers and everyone who is inspired by social innovation in Europe.

Through a series of gatherings, and a new online resource, Social Innovation Europe promises to:

  • connect projects and people who can share experiences and learn from each other;
  • develop an easily accessible resource bank – so you can find about other projects, organisations and ways of working;
  • develop a resource bank of up-to-date policies at local and national levels and provide information on funding opportunities;
  • facilitate new relationships between civil society, governments, public sector institutions and relevant private sector bodies
  • develop concrete recommendations in financing and in upscaling/mainstreaming of social innovation in Europe

“Social innovation is not only about finding alternative solutions to gaps in the market and public sector, but it is about finding the best ways to empower people - especially deprived groups - through their active involvement in the innovative process. It is also about creating and improving social relations and models of governance through new forms of organization and interactions between public sector, civil society organization, private enterprises and citizens,” said László Andor, EU Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, at the launch of the Social Innovation Europe Initiative in March this year. Full speech available here.