SOCIAL INNOVATION: A NEW FRONTIER FOR SOCIAL POLICIES IN EUROPE AND IN LATIN AMERICA

Social innovation can be defined as the development and the implementation of new ideas (products, services and models) that can satisfy social needs, create new social relations and provide better results. It is an answer to the social demands that affect the social interaction process with the scope of improving human welfare. Social innovations are those that not only are good for the society but also improve the capacity of people acting. They are based on the creativity of the citizens, of the civil society organizations, the local community or enterprises. They are an opportunity both for the public sector and for the markets since the products and services satisfy individual and collective aspirations.

In Europe, since the beginning of 2000 the innovation has been determined as a strategic line of the Lisbon European Council and has been linked to the “rising importance of information technologies and the communication of the professional and private sphere”. From that moment on, the concept has been accumulating a strong presence in the policies that foster employment, in topics related to “sustainable development” or in public programs that on “social development”. In each step, the different member states have been invited by European Commission to implement plans that promote innovation at the local, regional or country level.

The welfare system plays an important role in improving the welfare of citizens, for example through the provision of quality care for children, health care, support for job search, educational opportunities and benefits for the elderly. Since European societies face major challenges such as aging society, high unemployment and rising inequalities, urgent action is needed.At the same time the budget for social protection is under pressure. On the other hand, as we mentioned, the modernization of social policy systems is a major focus for the European Commission as part of the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, inclusive and sustainable growth. The Social Investment Package (SIP) of 2013 has emphasized as well-designed social protection can increase their effectiveness and efficiency while maintaining the aim of ensuring more equitable and inclusive societies. The SIP has also shown that there is an added value to policies that include social innovations.

In Latin America, such practices are spreading in many countries. Economic growth in recent decades has contributed to the reduction of poverty and an overall reduction of inequality, but the construction of welfare states is still in a nascent phase and threatened by the latest forecasts of economic stagnation and political crisis. In this context, social innovation can also represent for Latin America a new frontier that contributes to greater efficiency and effectiveness of social policies that could strengthen the construction of more cohesive societies and counter the effects of political crises and economic stagnation. In this, a fundamental role is played by the role that the private and the public sector have assumed in recent years, representing new actors in the system of social protection.

To learn more about social innovation in Europe, we invite you to read the Guide to Social Innovation published by the European Commission that presents the subject and the main instruments that the European Union has launched to promote social innovation. Furthermore it presents practical experiences in some Member States. We also invite you to read the policy document Social innovation -Meeting social needs of Citizens.

On this topic in Latin America, we invite you to read Innovación, políticas públicas locales y cohesión social en América Latina of Javier Esguevillas Ruiz which present the concept of social innovation and its positioning in Latin America, the echo developed in the continent and some concrete experiences.