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Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

Social Innovation is crucial for Europe's Future

Launch event of the Social Innovation Europe Initiative

17 March 2011, Théâtre du Vaudeville, Brussels

Ladies and gentlemen,

When it comes to social innovation, I'm a believer!

I put it at the heart of the Innovation Union Flagship Initiative because I am convinced that innovation must go much wider than research, science and business.

We need it to flourish not just in our laboratories, factories and boardrooms, but also in our schools and community centres, our hospitals and care homes.

Since my first days as Commissioner, I have been very impressed by some of the excellent ideas that I have heard about in the social innovation field. I believe in social innovation because I know what it can do, and I am determined to support social innovators in any way that I can.

Yes, social innovation can help us to meet new and unmet needs in society. But it can do something much bigger, and more exciting than that. Social innovation encourages and applies new ways of thinking that will make our society truly innovative from top to bottom.

That, in the end, is what the Innovation Union is all about. Creating a truly innovative society, where innovation is not limited to an elite, but is embraced by all.

I see a very good fit between the goals of the Innovation Union – to boost growth and jobs and tackle societal challenges – and the goals of social innovators. In short, we are all in the business of making life better for Europeans and people living further afield.

While a lot has been achieved, for me it is clear that we are not yet meeting the full potential of social innovation to make our society better, to deliver better public services more efficiently, and to promote the behavioural changes that we need to tackle certain societal challenges.

For several years the European Commission has been working in partnership with and supporting Third Sector and social economy organisations, and there is no stronger supporter of social innovation than President Barroso himself.

But we are now stepping up several gears, and ensuring a coherent approach across the European Commission – you have seen this clearly yesterday and today with the participation of colleagues from several Commission departments.

In the Innovation Union Flagship, we have made firm commitments to boost social innovation, including of course with the Social Innovation pilot launched by this conference.

One of the overall ambitions of the Innovation Union Flagship is to remove obstacles and bottlenecks at every stage of the "Innovation Chain" from blue-sky research, to technology transfer all the way to new products and services on the market.

This concept is usually applied to R&D and technology, but it works by analogy for social innovation. We must remove any barriers and obstacles to successful social innovation and spread good ideas all the way along the social innovation chain.

And that is where Europe, and in particular the Framework Programme for Research, can help.

I am a very practical person. Social innovators are very practical too. So I think we will understand each other. Just as social innovation can be an excellent way to help address unmet needs in society, so I want the EU's research funding programmes to help address the unmet needs of the social innovation sector.

The Social Sciences and Humanities theme of the 7th Framework Programme - more commonly known as FP7 - already funds a range of collaborative research projects on social innovation. I hope that you will draw on them in your work in the Social Innovation Initiative.

And, as promised in the Innovation Union Flagship, we will launch important new research on public sector and social innovation, in particular through the Social Sciences and Humanities programme. The outcomes of your discussions over the last two days will be extremely useful for developing the orientations of this new research programme.

We want to ensure that the research we fund is relevant and useful, and an excellent way of doing that is to involve the end-users at an early stage in the design of our research strategy. So, we will set up a Social Platform on Innovative Social Services which will allow the relevant stakeholders - researchers, policy makers and civil society - to collaborate on drawing up a European research agenda focusing on health, welfare and education services. This platform will build on our good experience with the platforms we set up on Cities and Social Cohesion, Families and Sustainable Lifestyles.

Research in this field is especially important now that we are faced with increasing and differentiated needs against a backdrop of pressure on public finances. New and complementary approaches can help, often starting on a local scale, whether learning from existing practices in different countries, public sector reform or social innovation involving the public sector. The Social Platform will consider these, and many other issues.

By 2013, we will launch a large-scale mapping of social innovation in Europe, and develop indicators to measure the achievements of social innovation in different countries, regions and localities. We will pay special attention to monitoring and collecting data on the excellent social innovations that continue to spring up in Europe's cities and regions.

Not only will this mapping provide social innovators with valuable data and feedback, it will also help us at the European level to design and implement, with your input, the policies and actions to meet our common goals. And just as importantly, it will help you to network and to exchange best practice, building a European community of social innovation.

Ensuring a good research base for social innovation is of course very important. But I don't want to stop there. Because the Framework Programme is not just about funding research, it is about capacity building. And I want European research and innovation funding to strengthen the capacities of social innovators.

We are already looking at the best ways to support capacity-building within the current FP7 and its possible successor, the Common Strategic Framework for research and innovation funding that was proposed in the Commission's Green Paper last month.

I want our future research and capacity-building actions to be really relevant and helpful to social innovation, to be helpful to you. So, I really hope that you will take part in the Green Paper public consultation and give your views on future funding for research and innovation.

One idea that we could apply from the field of research and technological innovation is tolerating an acceptable level of risk. We won't find the innovative breakthroughs needed if we always play too safe. Similarly, with a little experimentation, trust and creativity, social innovation can produce unexpected answers to problems.

We need good systems of evaluation and assessment to pinpoint those experiments in social innovation that are most practical and workable. And then we need systems to ensure that they can be scaled up and transferred so the maximum number of people can benefit from them.

The new European Innovation Partnerships will also help strengthen the capacity of social innovators. The Partnerships are one of the most ground-breaking proposals in the Innovation Union Flagship: we are planning to launch a limited number of Partnerships in areas where a clear and verifiable goal can be set in tackling a societal challenge.

A key selection criterion is that there should be a significant market potential for EU industry - there are great opportunities to be seized and we want to see EU companies at the forefront in these new markets. The Partnerships will provide a framework for aligning instruments and resources and for bringing together all of the relevant actors around the common societal challenge.

The Member States recently gave us the green light to launch a pilot Partnership on active and healthy ageing. This aims to bring all key actors together around the common and verifiable goal of adding an average of two healthy and active years to the lives of people in Europe.

If we are serious about reaching this goal, we will need an approach that goes beyond purely medical or technological innovation to incorporate the best ideas that social innovators can provide on improving the quality of life of older people.

So I was delighted to see that one of the six workshop sessions at this conference was devoted to social innovation in this area.

I want the Innovation Partnership to draw on the expertise and ingenuity of social innovation actors such as NGOs, charities, associations, foundations – organisations that represent older people and that deliver services to them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

European leaders, economists, scientists and policy makers are all agreed that innovation is the key to a better Europe. And I am convinced that there will be no true Innovation Union without social innovation.

The recent financial crisis and economic recession have left millions of Europeans with feelings of uncertainty and fears for the future. Social innovation involves people, it empowers people, and it contributes to the common good. In uncertain times, it can reassure people that their voices are heard, that their views do matter, and that their actions do make a difference.

That is why social innovation is so important. That is why I am here today. And that is why I am ready to roll my sleeves up and work with you. We are all innovators now!

Thank you.

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