Social innovation is now widely recognised as having the ability to enhance society’s capacity to act by turning social and economic challenges into opportunities. The global map of social innovation initiatives reveals countless approaches and successful stories which show the strength and potential of social innovation in many areas, not least education and poverty reduction, addressing demographic changes and the environment.
While growing fast however, social innovation in Central and Eastern Europe lags behind much of the world. In fact, as underlined by Zoya Damianova, programme director at the Applied Research and Communications Fund, a Bulgarian innovation policy and research institute, even the term social innovation is relatively unknown across the region.
Innovative in a traditional way
According to the European Innovation Scoreboard, the innovation performance of Central and Eastern Europe is below the EU average. Sweden was the 2019 EU innovation leader, followed by Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
“Innovation equals future jobs and growth. I am happy to see general progress in the EU,” commented Carlos Moedas, commissioner for research, science and innovation. “Yet to stay ahead in the global race, both the EU and our member states need to continue investing and developing the right policies for innovation to flourish.”
Amongst the countries of emerging Europe, only Estonia currently boasts the status of strong innovator, the others considered merely as moderate or modest innovators, still focused on technologically-driven projects and traditional R&D activities. On average, the innovation performance of the EU has increased by 8.8 per cent since 2011, increasing the most in the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) and decreasing the most in Romania and Slovenia.
“Technology and R&D projects were used as a tool to keep up with Western Europe,” says Uros Bulatovic, founder of the Union of Young Entrepreneurs Of Montenegro (UMPCG), an organisation which won the Emerging Europe award for the year’s best Young Empowerment Initiative. “But social innovation is maybe even more practical, sometimes less expensive and an efficient way to deal with certain issues. Policies are one of the barriers, because they don’t recognise social innovation sufficiently, and it is policies which determine funding and actions.”