Monday 09

Social Innovation Factory

Posted by the Athena Institute on 09 Nov 2015

Our society faces complex, and often border-transcending, problems, such as an aging society and climate change. Governmental bodies, be they local, regional or global, try to tackle these issues via funding of large scale research projects and legislation. But they are not the only ones working on change and solutions; social movements, civil society and cooperatives strive to solve social issues in a creative way. But the current global crisis and austerity in government funding do not aid such initiatives.

Figure 1: Logo Social Innovation Factory

The Social Innovation Factory in Flanders, Belgium, supports those who develop social innovations and start social enterprises, while trying to make these initiatives as self-sustaining or profitable as possible. Through such support and by actively discussing the possibilities and impact of social innovation with many societal actors, they hope to establish a true social innovation culture in Flanders.

So, what does the Social Innovation Factory do?

First, you have an idea for a social innovation. Although you are convinced of its brilliance and that the innovation probably will sell itself, you need some help in bringing the concept to life. During an intake meeting at the Social Innovation Factory your idea will be discussed and both possibilities and uncertainties of the innovation are explored. Is the intended social impact clear enough, or does it contribute to solving a societal need? Will you be able to provide for an income? How much will it cost to develop the product? Could you improve your concept in any way? Which partners should you involve and how? After clarifying your possibilities and needs, the Social Innovation Factory will search for possible partners in their network that could help you strengthening your concept. They will help finding financiers and bring you in contact with people experienced in setting up a social innovation.

Short film about the Social Innovation Factory

Sharing knowledge and building expertise: a peer-to-peer network

The Social Innovation Factory can thus be seen as an accelerator of social innovation, by supporting the social enterprises and entrepreneurs and the social innovation itself, both financially and non-financially. Anyone with an innovative idea tackling a societal challenge can ask the Social Innovation Factory's assistance in strengthening and operationalising their idea. And all they expect in return, is your knowledge and expertise to help others in realising their innovation. By sharing knowledge and skills with others, a peer-to-peer network is established. The Social Innovation Factory holds a central position in this peer-to-peer network by actively facilitating (cross-sectoral) learning processes and managing cooperation between civil society, academics, governments and businesses.

Figure 2: Good initiatives can originate anywhere

The Social Innovation Factory: make it happen!

The Social Innovation Factory is a beautiful example of making a difference by supporting creative social innovations through building networks. By putting highly driven people with diverse expertise fields together and facilitating dialogue between such creative minds, the organisation manages to accelerate social innovation in a constructive and inspiring manner. It also proves that responsible research and innovation does not contradict the ambition of making profit or running a company; these go well hand in hand and even stimulate progress and co-operation!

For more information about the approach of the Social Innovation Factory you can read their publication.

Pim Klaassen, Michelle Rijnen

Pim Klaassen and Michelle Rijnen work on RRI Tools at the Athena Institute in Amsterdam, the RRI Tools Hub coordinator for Netherlands.

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