The Power and Potential of People-Centered Innovation

Published Oct-24-13

How people-centered innovation is helping European countries find solutions to some of society's toughest problems.

European Commission, Belgium

The Story:

The Power and Potential of People-Centered Innovation When problems beset society, the clamour for solutions is loud and prolonged. Explanations and resolutions are demanded from politicians and public institutions, yet there is often dissatisfaction with the ideas they put forward and the slow speed with which they enact them.

This is leading to increased attention on working with members of the public to drive change. A 2011 report from the European Union (EU) ‘Empowering people, driving change – social innovation in the European Union’ emphasized the importance of people-centered innovation:

“The long-held belief that economic growth creates employment and wealth that goes on to alleviate poverty has been disproved by recent events, and the time has now come to try new ways of bringing people out of poverty and promoting growth and well-being not only for, but also with citizens.”

New Ways of Thinking

That realization encouraged the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union) to look for new sources of ideas, beyond the usual suspects of governments and institutions. It was a big step for the commission. Working with interested members of the public, social entrepreneurs and developers is a massive departure. The creative environment that social innovators work in is far removed from the rigid European bureaucratic machinery. It is nimbler, unencumbered by rules and precedents and willing to take risks.

In October 2012, the European Commission launched the Social Innovation Competition. Participants were invited to submit ideas for creating new opportunities for more and better jobs. Unemployment in some European countries had reached unprecedented levels in the fallout from the global financial crisis.

More than 600 submissions were received from which thirty semi-finalists were selected to take part in a two day 'Social Innovation Academy' in Amsterdam. Here, they further refined their ideas prior to resubmitting them.

Ten finalists were chosen from this batch to showcase their innovations at the final awards ceremony in Brussels. The culmination of this event was that three ground-breaking solutions were selected and each was awarded €20,000 (Approx. USD $27,000).

The winning ideas were:

• Connecting talented people in business and communities to create jobs for
social benefit. The initiative would help them to form micro-enterprises to
offer affordable, sustainable, small-scale social care and health services.

• An app to improve access to the job market for the economically deprived by
making their skills visible on a wider scale. The app would collect information
about a user’s skills and their economic needs.

• Job share among older and younger employees to help reduce youth
unemployment. This integrated professional network would pair those
approaching retirement with people entering the job market.

Maximizing Impact

José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission said: “The winning ideas show that social innovation has the potential to make a major difference in creating new opportunities for work. New markets can be developed from grass-root ideas. The current economic crisis makes this more important than ever.”

In seeking to combat unemployment, the biggest societal issue facing Europeans today, the commission wants to expand and replicate the ideas across member states so that they have a large impact.

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