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Mr. László ANDOR
EU Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Speech at the launch of Social Innovation Europe Initiative
Conference on Social Innovation Europe Initiative
Brussels, 16 March 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
I wish you a warm welcome to this event to launch the Social Innovation for Europe Initiative. I would like to congratulate the consortium for winning the call to set up the pilot initiative and the Commission Services for organising this event. The great number of participants demonstrates that social innovation is a topic that generates a lot of interest.
Many of you here today are social entrepreneurs who deliver services or products to meet social needs.
The European Union and Europeans need you. The values that inspire you are shaping the future. By developing, testing and disseminating new solutions and taking risks, you are helping societies to create growth and jobs, and bolster cohesion and well-being.
The Social Innovation for Europe Initiative, which President Barroso will launch officially tomorrow, marks a step towards a stronger EU policy in this field. It will also raise the visibility of social innovators.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are at a turning point. The EU is a world leader in working to meet social needs and aspirations, create wealth and respect the environment — all at the same time.
But the challenges ahead are great. State budgets are, and will continue to be, under pressure in the wake of the financial and economic crisis. At the same time, we face significant social challenges, both in the short-term, such as high levels of unemployment and poverty, and in the longer-term, like tackling the consequences of Europe's ageing population. This means we have to find new solutions.
The Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth sets ambitious and concrete targets in the areas of employment, research and development, energy and climate change, education, poverty reduction and social exclusion.
We cannot rely on meeting these targets through conventional policies, approaches and tools. To succeed, we need to make the best use of Europe's innovation potential.
We also need to have confidence in the future. We need to make risk-taking worthwhile. We need shared social responsibility. And we need to boost local solutions and consistent global approaches at the same time.
Social innovation is a theme that runs through almost all the Commission's key initiatives underpinning the Europe 2020 Strategy.
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.
Social innovation in the European context helps develop and disseminate good practices and facilitate networking, but it can also help to up-scale and institutionalise successful initiatives.
The Commission has financed social innovation projects, for example, from the EQUAL and PROGRESS programmes to promote the modernisation of Member States’ social policies. In the context of the EQUAL initiative during the 2000-2006 period, around €3bn was spent on innovative and transnational projects, whereas it is estimated that around €2.9bn is being invested by Member States in the current programming period.
Under the PROGRESS programme, about €10.5mio is being spent on social innovation projects in the period 2009-2011, with a stronger emphasis on the evaluation design and arrangements in order to be able to "scale up" successful projects. Several research projects with either direct or indirect focus on social innovation are also being supported.
These projects have created a solid knowledge base to help better understand social innovation, for example, in the areas of inequalities and social exclusion, service innovation and social entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility, societal models and governance dynamics, labour markets and social protection, as well as in the fields of education, life-long learning and territorial innovation models.
Although there is no shortage of innovative ideas and projects, we see that, in some cases, successful innovations have only spread slowly, if at all.
Too often, policy change is not backed up by robust evidence of what does and doesn’t work. Evidence-based social innovation — or social experimentation — can be a powerful tool for testing the kind of structural reforms needed to turn the Europe 2020 vision into reality.
That is why it is so important that the policies we support and the projects we finance bring the expected results. And that they are tested on a small, and later, on a larger scale.
This is precisely where the EU has a key role to play.
The European Union can add value to these processes by facilitating exchange of good practices across national boundaries and supporting social innovations. This could range from providing seed financing via support for experimentation, to assisting mainstreaming and funding of scaling up.
How can we achieve this?
The European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion that I presented last December included a 'European initiative on social innovation' for 2011. It also identified the key actions to develop an evidence-based approach to social reform.
The Social Innovation initiative under the Platform includes a number of actions, such as
The aim is to boost Member States' efforts to innovate and modernise social policy by providing the best European expertise on methods for designing, implementing and evaluating innovations, and ensuring that knowledge is disseminated more effectively.
Properly considered reforms are essential if social services and benefits are to be more effective and more efficient. They have to be if they are to continue to fulfil their vital role in maintaining social cohesion.
To be successful, first, we need to engage and support those who are the most involved in implementing social innovation. We need to promote a fresh partnership approach between the European institutions, the Member States and stakeholders at EU, national, regional and local level.
Supporting the efforts of national, regional and local authorities remains central to EU action — because they are often at the forefront of policy implementation and have a proven record of innovation.
Second, we need to embrace the potential of social economy and facilitate its development.
Social enterprises can provide novel solutions to emerging social needs and challenges that neither State nor market can meet.
Moreover, social enterprises account already today for 10% of all EU businesses and employ over 11 million paid employees. But there are still legal and practical obstacles to their development, including the issue of a level playing field for commercial competition.
As we announced in the Innovation Union flagship initiative, a Social Innovation Pilot will be launched to provide expertise and a network facility for social entrepreneurs and the public and third sectors.
Business should be involved in building more inclusive societies, for example through corporate social responsibility.
This may mean taking social considerations into account for public procurement, but also encouraging more strongly the employment of people from disadvantaged groups and managing diversity better.
And we should not neglect volunteering. Some 100 million people across the Union contribute to the community by giving up their time, making their talents available or contributing financially.
This year is European Year of Volunteering. And if the Commission’s proposal is endorsed, next year will be designated European Year of Active Ageing and 2012 will be an opportunity to emphasise the contribution of older volunteers.
Third, the "European initiative on social innovation' will also pool a range of European funds to promote evidence-based social innovation and reforms, mainly through the European Social Fund, the PROGRESS programme, the PROGRESS Microfinance Facility as well as from other instruments.
This Initiative does not require additional resources at this stage, but clearly points towards a new emphasis on social innovation, policy experimentation, transnational learning and cooperation under the ESF current programming period and the ESF post 2013.
Ladies and gentlemen,
2011 will be an important year to define how social innovation can help find new dynamism in our policy making. I want to see social innovation become an integral part of social policies and schemes, helping us to be more responsive to emerging social needs.