Getting a bigger picture

On 3rd June 2016 the RurInno consortium held their second project meeting at the Institute for Innovation Management (IFI) at the Johannes-Kepler University Linz, Austria. One purpose of the meeting was to reflect the first phase of the project in which researchers from IRS and IFI conducted exploratory research in each of the four RurInno partner enterprises. For the social enterpreneurs this provided a welcome opportunity to learn more about the partner’s activities and get a bigger picture of the roles of social enterprises in rural regions in Europe.

Matthias Fink from the IFI and Ralph Richter from the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS) in Germany showed in their presentation that the four social enterprises respond in different ways to the challenges that rural regions are facing today in the EU. While the Austrian cooperative Otelo offers young people in rural regions open spaces for experimenting and self-realisation, Ballyhoura Development (Ireland) empowers people with skills trainings and start-up support, Stevia Hellas (Greece) develops methods for the cultivation of the alternative sugar plant Stevia to the benefit of small farmers and NIDA (Poland) provides enterprise support and educational work. “At first glance”, Ralph Richter (IRS) states, “the diversity of activities might complicate comparisons between the four case studies. However, the four social enterprises and cooperatives share an important characteristic: Each of them strongly focuses on improving the social and economic situation in rural communities rather than only seeking to increase financial profit and corporate growth.”

The participants of the project meeting getting a bigger picture of social entrepreneurs in rural regions in Europe.

The researchers emphasized that they do not intend to evaluate the enterprises but to reflect what they have experienced and learned. John Hassett (Ballyhoura Development) replied that he finds the reflection of the own enterprise and region helpful because “it puts it in a bigger picture”. Martin Hollinetz (Otelo) agreed. He appreciates to start with a reflection process and he wishs to take it as a springboard for the development of ideas about up-scaling and about grabbing innovations that come from rural regions.

Further topics of the project meeting were the communication and dissemination strategies. In order to enhance the perception of the project and the social entrepreneurship approach the twelve attendees discussed the online strategy as well as possibilities for promotional activities in the respective rural regions. Matthias Fink (IFI) introduced a book project at the renowned English-American publishing house Routledge that will disseminate the project results to researchers and experts in the field of regional business development.

The RurInno project meeting marks also the start of the next project phase. Until the end of July, five social entrepreneurs from four social ventures across Europe – Ballyhoura Development in Ireland, NIDA in Poland, Otelo in Austria and Stevia Hellas in Greece – spent two training months at the Institute for Innovation Management (IFI) in Linz, Austria. The so called “innovation secondment” provides workshops, lectures and field trips as well as mutual learning sessions and the production of case descriptions. The RurInno project receives funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 programme. It is part of the Marie-Sklodowska-Curie/RISE action that fosters innovations by the international exchange of researchers and practitioners. The RurInno project brings together two research institutes and four social enterprises that are engaged in social innovations in rural regions. RurInno started in February 2016 and lasts until March 2018.