In 2008, a small group of people met on a beach in San Sebastian Spain, to discuss the emerging field of social innovation and its future direction. They met at a time when there was little understanding of the concept of social innovation, and even less knowledge of how it worked. Any critical analysis of the methods was absent. There was, however, an increasing interest in the idea, with a handful of publications available and a few conferences planned. A community was created, the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), to provide a platform for people around the world to communicate and share resources.
3 years later, in November 2011, in the entrepreneurial post industrial City of Gydina in Northern Poland, the picture looks somewhat different. Across borders and across continents, hundreds of innovators are generating solutions to society’s most entrenched problems – they are better equipped with a shared understanding, a growing analysis of what works, and increasing funding or political support. Institutions, new and old, are moving to embrace ideas, new methods and processes for social innovation. There are dozens of new centres for social innovation all over the world, in China, Australia, Canada and across Europe. Businesses are beginning to recognize and support social innovation. Governments, from Washington to Brussels, are establishing dedicated offices, with the European Commission paying particular notice to social innovation through the Europe 2020 strategy, investment in the Social Innovation Europe, and efforts to broaden the concept of innovation to include social innovation.
Despite these advances, the field of social innovation still lacks the maturity to tackle the complex challenges society today presents us with. The world in 2011 has changed and following the global financial crisis, our priorities are different. In the coming years, the world's population aged 60 is set to triple; youth unemployment across the world is drastically increasing, and is likely to climb further which could lead to a ‘lost generation’; access to healthcare is unequal and costly. Alongside a backdrop of tight fiscal squeezes, we have no choice but to prioritise innovation - we need to continue to build an infrastructure that enables the best ideas to flourish, grow, and spread, effectively and quickly. An additional spur for action came in July this year, when one of the forefathers of social innovation, Diogo Vasconcelos, suddenly and tragically died. As Diogo would say, we have made significant progress but there is a lot of work for us still to do. In Gdynia representatives from the global community of social innovation came together to ensure that we do not miss this opportunity.