Anna Kucinska
29 March 2015

New Ways to Grow - 2015 European Social Innovation Competition launched in Gdansk, Poland

The 2015 European Social Innovation Competition has launched, with €50 000 in prize money for the top three projects. Based around the theme 'New Ways to Grow' the competition aims to support individuals and organisations with entrepreneurial, game changing ideas for social innovation projects.


Crazy but viable ideas


Whereas in the previous years the contest focused above all on employment opportunities, particularly for the people from marginalised groups, now its theme is “new ways to grow”.


As the organisers of the competition admit on its website “The EU requires growth that sustains not only financial value, but also social progress for citizens, government and enterprises alike. However, current models of growth are no longer deemed fit for a society where scarcity is the new reality and where too many people are left behind. New collaborations and alternative ways to grow are needed for sustainable value and an inclusive society, in Europe today”.


This year’s competition was launched in Gdansk, Poland, on 23rd March. The contest was inaugurated by Kerstin Jorna, Director of the Intellectual Property Directorate European Commission. Jorna said that nowadays there were such challenges which can only be tackled through joint efforts undertaken by governments, municipal authorities, the EU, universities and European citizens and that collaboration of various stakeholders brings about the most effective social innovations. She also pointed out that social innovators often feel isolated in their environment, in their communities and that by noticing and appreciating them and creating a network that supports them the competition stands a chance of changing this situation.


Xavier le Mounier, responsible for the competition, announced that he would be looking for ideas that are “crazy” but at the same time they are economically viable and able to have the largest possible positive impact.


Increasing positive impact  

The competition is open to everyone (individuals or legal entities except public administrations) resident in EU Member States and countries participating in the Horizon 2020 programme. Ideas are sought from all sources and sectors, and all types of organisations including for-profit, non-for-profit, or private companies. The deadline for sending applications is 8th May.   


Amongst all submitted applications the jury will select semi-finalists who will take part in the innovation academy to be held in Vienna in September 2015. During this three-day meeting their ideas will be further developed and refined with the help of experts and the meeting’s participants. The jury will then select the three best ideas and award them prizes of 50,000 euros each during a ceremony in Brussels in November. The fourth prize, the impact prize, will be awarded to the project which has achieved most results amongst the above-mentioned 2015 semi-finalist.


In the first year of the competition the organisers received 600 applications, last year it was over 1,200 and this year they are expecting a lot more. The winners of the first two competitions presented their projects in Gdansk. The Belgian Urban Farm Lease (UFL) is an organisation which teaches the unemployed and other marginalised people to run urban farms or gardens, supply healthy food and make a living out of this. UFL tests ideas which are meant to increase the effectiveness of urban farming.

The winner of the first European Social Innovation Competition was the Italian project “From waste to wow!” submitted by the Italian social enterprise QUID. QUID employs mostly women from disadvantaged groups and recycles slightly damaged textile which cannot be used for Italian top brands into limited designer collections, thus providing jobs to disadvantaged women.


A different vision of economy


Alongside the presentations of the competition’s winners from the previous years several panels were held where issues linked to social innovation and its importance in Poland, Europe and in the world were discussed.  


Sacha van Tongeen from the Dutch company FairPhone, which produces socially and environmentally responsible smartphones, said that her company cannot and does not want to compete with large companies on the market. She hopes, however, that FairPhone will provide inspiration to them and “put them to shame”, thus contributing to increasing ethical standards in the electronics industry.  

Daan Weddepohl from Peerby, the organisation which provides opportunities for sharing tools, equipment and other resources, pointed out that the very idea of shared economy dates back to the beginnings of humanity, nowadays it can however be put it into practice on a large scale thanks to modern communications technologies. Thanks to the Internet and telecommunications we can borrow a hammer not only from our immediate neighbour but from hundreds or thousands of people located either in the vicinity or further away.


Adele Blackboroug from Social Enterprise Trust, which offers business support to social enterprises and helps them achieve the effect of scale, said that big business is more and more often interested in co-operation with social enterprises but it does not know how to manage it. On the other hand, non-for-profits and social enterprises turn to business mainly for funds, being unaware that they have both something to offer and that they can gain much more than just money. That is why it is so important to have institutions which will build bridges between these two worlds.


Justyna Swat from WikiHouse, continuing the subject of co-operation between business and social enterprises, drew attention to the fact that non-for-profits often have experience in establishing horizontal, flexible structures and this is something that business could learn from them.


Sasha van Tongeen added that the public sector is also important for development. FairPhone evolved from a research project which was funded by the Dutch government. Thanks to this, even though it is now a company, it will serve people, not business.


Not computers but ideas!


Paweł Orlowski, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Development, pointed out that social innovations and social entrepreneurship are more and more often finding their way into public policies. He also underlined the need to have such projects as the international Social Entrepreneurship Network, in which the ministry was the leader, as networks where representatives from various European countries share their knowledge and experience and exchange best practices. He reminded that the operational programme Knowledge Education Development, co-financed by the European Social Fund, has over 270 million PLN to test and implement social innovations.


Przemysław Kusmierek represented business as the president of the company migam which creates applications that help people with impaired hearing communicate. Kusmierek pointed to tools for crowd-funding, among other solutions, as new forms to raise funds which open up the financial market also to small enterprises which are not exclusively profit-oriented.


Michał Guć, the vice-president of the town of Gdynia, emphasised that the best catalyst for social entrepreneurship is scarcity. Therefore social innovations should be locally embedded as they must stem from local needs. He added that the best ideas are often not easily transferrable because the local context varies. However, it is essential to stop thinking about social innovations in terms of large investments and the use of advanced technologies. Social innovations require a shift in the way of thinking, not computers.


More information on the competition’s website.


Translated from: Krzysztof Cibor, Ruszył europejski konkurs na innowacje społeczne,