Social innovations in rural regions: Launch of EU Horizon 2020 project

Award-winning social enterprises and high-profile research institutes from four EU countries collaborate in the EU Horizon2020 funded project RurInno to foster rural development. Structurally weak rural regions across Europe face similar challenges. Compared to urban centres, such regions suffer from less economic productivity and a lack of qualified jobs. At the same time, less educational and cultural opportunities are provided. As a result, these regions experience out-migration, especially of young, well-qualified people. Without tailored intervention, rural regions are threatened to lose their connection with social and economic developments in Europe. Social enterprises as change agents can break unfavourable routines through social innovations. In intensive interaction the members of the project team create an empirical knowledge base for contextualized future interventions that tap the potentials of social enterprises in disadvantaged rural regions.

“Promoting social innovations is a strategy for counteracting the challenges”, explains RurInno principal investigator Gabriela Christmann, professor and deputy director of the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS), Germany. Social enterprises play an important part in this, supporting social innovations by, for example, coaching young people in the development of entrepreneurial ideas and thus providing development impetus in structurally weak areas. RurInno provides participating social entrepreneurs the opportunity to jointly reflect their strategies and practices freed from the pressure of everyday business. This mutual learning process is facilitated through cross-sectoral study trips and is underpinned by theoretical knowledge provided by researchers. Researchers from the two academic partners IRS and IFI - Institute for Innovation Management, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria, join the social entrepreneurs for participant observation. Likewise, practitioners from four social enterprises – Ballyhoura Development Ltd. (Ireland), NIDA (Poland), Otelo (Austria), Stevia Hellas (Greece) – receive training at the two research institutions. Together, the research team aims at improving knowledge transfer between research and practice, broadening the understanding of the conditions for social innovations in rural regions and enhancing the awareness for social enterprises among politicians and in society.

"Promoting social innovations is a strategy for counteracting the challenges”, explains RurInno principal investigator Gabriela Christmann, professor and deputy director of the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS), Germany. Social enterprises play an important part in this, supporting social innovations by, for example, coaching young people in the development of entrepreneurial ideas and thus providing development impetus in structurally weak areas. RurInno provides participating social entrepreneurs the opportunity to jointly reflect their strategies and practices freed from the pressure of everyday business. This mutual learning process is facilitated through cross-sectoral study trips and is underpinned by theoretical knowledge provided by researchers. Researchers from the two academic partners IRS and IFI - Institute for Innovation Management, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria, join the social entrepreneurs for participant observation. Likewise, practitioners from four social enterprises – Ballyhoura Development Ltd. (Ireland), NIDA (Poland), Otelo (Austria), Stevia Hellas (Greece) – receive training at the two research institutions. Together, the research team aims at improving knowledge transfer between research and practice, broadening the understanding of the conditions for social innovations in rural regions and enhancing the awareness for social enterprises among politicians and in society.

Statements of the Project Partners

"Social innovation requires citizens to spot opportunities behind societal challenges and seize them in an entrepreneurial way. Recently, social innovation has gained momentum, because we face growing societal challenges. The project empowers entrepreneurs and political decision makers to successfully develop and implement social innovations. Our findings contribute to a dynamic economic development within a stable society."

Matthias Fink, professor and director of the Institute for Innovation Management (IFI), Johannes Kepler University Linz/Austria

 

"RurInno provides a strong collaborative platform for Ballyhoura Development to increase our levels of understanding and expertise to enable us to continue to nurture and support citizens and communities capacity to respond innovatively to local social, economic and environmental challenges. The project also enables the strategic and operational challenges confronting rural social innovators to be shared with our research partners and for new ways to support growth and development to emerge.”

Pádraig Casey, CEO Ballyhoura Development Ltd., Ireland

 

"There is a big opportunity for our cooperative to be part of a research project carried out from two of the best research institutions, IRS and IFI. Additionally, we take the chance to collaborate and come closer with other social enterprises across Europe. At the end of the day the dynamic economic and societal development requires that people in rural regions need to be on alert as well, for either making or spotting opportunities and create innovation for the development of their society as a whole, since they are growing in this. The main expectation for this project is the knowledge transfer that could take place among the participants. Explore best and worst practices, enhance our network through the institutes and learn the way to a successful rural development through social entrepreneurship."

Christos Stamatis, Stevia Hellas Coop, Greece

 

"The IRS considers RurInno as a unique opportunity to do excellent research on the potentials of social enterprises for rural development across Europe. RurInno strives to enhance knowledge about social enterprise driven innovation processes and at the same time to utilise the insights to improve the ability of social enterprises to tackle social challenges in rural regions. We will implement the project in a highly collaborative way. Instead of doing research on social entrepreneurs we will do research and training with social entrepreneurs."

Gabriela Christmann, Professor and deputy director of the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Germany

 

v“RurInno explores social innovations and social entrepreneurship in rural regions. As one out of six consortium partners, we strive to benefit from the access to reports and scientific state-of-the-art. This knowledge and the collaboration with partners from across Europe opens up new perspectives and strategies for fostering the potentials of rural regions. With about 21 local open laboratories, OTELO understands its role as a broker between regions and research and strives to make use from the potentials of research partners. The project aims at raising the recognition of social entrepreneurship in rural regions – an essential precondition to transform ideas and strategies into social innovations.”

Martin Hollinetz, OTELO eGen, Austria

 

"The Nidzica Development Foundation „NIDA” supports the foundation and development of small and medium businesses. To the unemployed and to small businesses, we offer loans, guarantees, participation in technical trainings, participation in promotional events and implementation of projects, all within the framework of social commitment of business. Furthermore, we built up own social enterprises like the “Pottery Village” and the “Paradise Garden” in order activate the unemployed from villages both professionally and socially. Participation in the RurInno project enables us to share our experiences in rural social entrepreneurship and likewise to learn from the other partners. We are curious about getting to know ideas and projects that deal with opportunities and challenges of rural regions."

Krisztof Margol, President of the Nidzicka Fundacja Rozwoju NIDA, Poland