The symposium “Intermediaries in the countryside: Social Enterprises as Drivers of Social Innovation in Rural Europe” was held on 7th and 8th December 2017 at the Adam Mickiewicz University Poznan in Poland. The attendees from across Europe experienced an event that brought together perspectives from research and practice. While the first day of the symposium was dedicated to social enterprise practitioners and their perspectives on rural development and the trainings provided in the corresponding RurInno project, the second day focused on the state of research regarding social enterprises and innovation in rural Europe. The symposium was led by the overall question of how rural social enterprises foster social innovation and contribute to rural change. Starting point of the discussion were the outcomes and findings of the EU funded research and training project RurInno.
The European Union has launched numerous funding programmes to support small and medium-sized businesses including social enterprises. There are, however, big challenges for the entrepreneurs to benefit from these funding opportunities due to obligations to pre-finance parts of the expenses, due to a lack of compatibility of funding structures and entrepreneurial goals and procedures and due to knowledge deficits on funding opportunities. On November 30, 2017, a workshop jointly organized by the IRS-led EU project „RurInno“, „Brandenburg Invest“ (the business development agency of the Federal State of Brandenburg) and Enterprise Europe Network Berlin Brandenburg addressed these challenges .
For two years the RurInno research and training project investigated how social enterprises in rural Europe foster social innovation and rural development. The Final Symposium takes place December 7 and 8, 2017, at Adam-Mickiewicz University (Poznan, Poland) and provides a participative forum to share and discuss the acquired knowledge and experiences with academics and practitioners who do research and operate in the field of social entrepreneurship, social innovation and rural development.
The RurInno project is part of research cluster on social innovation from a spatial perspective at the IRS. In six projects the researchers focus on different aspects, regions and scales to gain comprehensive and in-depth insights into the topic. Based on two of these projects –RurInno being one and the core-budget funded lead project “Innovations in Rural Municipalities. Conditions, Actors and Processes of Creative Community Development” being the other – the IRS held a transfer event on June 7, 2017. During the event, embedded in the IRS series “Brandenburg Regional Talk”, researchers engaged in dialogue with practitioners from the federal state of Brandenburg to discuss recent developments, conditions and experiences in connection with new ideas for rural regions on regional and local levels.
There is a need on various governance levels to meet the challenges that structurally weak rural regions face. In addition to local and regional actors, representatives at national and European levels have to address specific problems like the lack of specialized workers, social exclusion, poverty, financial limitations and crumbling infrastructure. The RurInno researchers and practitioners discussed the possible impact of social entrepreneurs in this regard with representatives of regional and rural policy making organisations on the European level on the occasion of the Policy Round Table on “Social Entrepreneurship as Driver of Change in Marginalised Rural Europe” on May 23, 2017, in Brussels.
Social entrepreneurship increasingly drives social innovation addressing social challenges in marginalised rural regions. Because social entrepreneurs are seen as promising new players with a capacity to tackle social problems, policies that effectively support social entre-preneurship counteracting challenges in rural Europe are very much needed. This Policy Round Table is based on the findings of the EU H2020 funded research and training project RurInno that investigates the activities and ecosystems of social enterprises in rural Austria, Greece, Ireland, and Poland. It aims at strengthening the awareness of the social entrepreneurship approach in European, national and regional decision making bodies and stimulating the commitment of European, national and regional decision making bodies in order to establish supporting environments for social enterprises and social innovations in rural regions.
Catherine Smyth (Ballyhoura Development) presented an overview of the RurInno project and the structure of the project at an event hosted by Marie Curie Sklodowska Actions Ireland (MSCA), in Dublin on 10th May. The event was well attended by a wide range of civil society organisations, with the RurInno project presented as an example of a successful consortium and project collaboration under the Research & Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) funding stream.
With the secondments of IFI and IRS researchers in Central Greece, the empirical phase of the RurInno project is drawing to a close. Intensive weeks full of observations, inspiring meetings and interviews lay behind the three researchers
Stevia Hellas, RurInno beneficiary from Central Greece, has been awarded the start-up of the year 2017 in Greece! Stevia Hellas won the first price in the category “Industry – Manufacturing –Processing” among numerous nominated enterprises.
The RurInno project seeks to investigate innovative enterprises in rural regions in Europe that tackle persistent structural weaknesses. But what differentiates an innovative project from a non-innovative social initiative? Although boundaries might be blurry between these attributes, an innovative approach is commonly characterised by combining existing solutions in a creative way or by applying them onto a new field of action. During a communication secondment at Ballyhoura Development CLG. in southern Ireland, IRS communication officer Jan Zwilling got to know a project that is a prototype for what the creative combination of ideas applied to new fields actually means.
Following our interview partners, the indifference and passivity of many people is the biggest challenge for rural development in North-East Poland. As a legacy of the life determining state farms in the communist era until today, many people are rather waiting for help from the administration than to take initiative themselves. Social economy organisations like the NIDA Development Foundation fight against this unloved heritage by fostering self-employment and social entrepreneurship, delivering an English teaching programme, providing scholarships for talented and disadvantaged pupils and creating positive role models.
At 21st February 2017 RurInno researcher Ralph Richter (IRS) held a lecture at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn/Poland. On invitation of Prof. Joanna Ostrouch-Kamińska he presented the approach of the RurInno project and discussed intermediated results of the research stay in Poland.
Martin Hollinetz (OTELO eGen) is going to present the idea of open technology labs in rural communities at the conference “The Transformative Power of Makers” (“Die Transformative Kraft der Macher”). Martin will also talk about the “Network of Innovation Culture”. The conference will take place on Wednesday 1st March 2017 in the premises of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin.
RurInno researchers Matthias Fink, Johannes Gartner and Ralph Richter held a keynote at the policy transfer conference devoted to social entrepreneurship and social innovation in Olsztyn/Poland. The conference was organised by the Marshal of the Voivodship Warmian-Masurian in North East Poland.
On Monday, 9th January 2017, the RurInno consortium came together to its mid-term preparatory meeting in Nidzica/Poland. The agenda of the one-day meeting was packed with topics. While the morning session focused on the project work implemented in the past seven months, the afternoon session served to plan future project activities like the mid-term review and the policy round table.
Local public authorities are widely absent in delivering core services to communities in rural Ireland. This is one of the striking observations we made during the research secondment in the rural mid-west of Ireland in November and December 2016. Political representation and administration are concentrated in cities like Limerick, Cork and Galway. Rural communities are remote controlled by authorities located in these urban centers. Social enterprises like Ballyhoura Development fill the gap that public authorities left in the rural hinterland.
The RurInno project conducts research in four rural regions in the European Union, each represented by a social enterprise which aims at finding new solutions to specific challenges of its region. In Upper Austria it’s the Otelo eGen that brings together a sensibility for the structural deficits and innovative ideas how to deal with them. To address the out-migration of young, skilled workers and the local economies’ struggle for modernization they engage in learning spaces, technology education and consulting among numerous other initiatives. By those means, Otelo attempts to facilitate a “brain gain” in the region and to support communities that provide an anchoring for those who feel the urge to seek a future in the metropolitan centres. But this story does not end there; Otelo is an innovative cooperative model in its own right striving for a good, balanced life for its employed members. This is the whole story.
Facilitating brain gain rather than preventing brain drain! This is the short formula resulting from the RurInno research secondment taking place in September and October 2016. Ralph Richter and Jan Zwilling, two researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (Germany) came to Upper Austria in order to investigate how the cooperative OTELO develops, implements and communicates innovative solutions for the challenges rural communities are faced with.
The RurInno project was presented at the leading conference for social innovation research taking place at the Glasgow Caledonian University from 5th to 7th September 2016. Our team member Ralph Richter (IRS) introduced the RurInno research project, gave impressions of the research activities and presented first findings.
In June and July 2016 the RurInno project team came together at the Institute for Innovation Research, Johannes Kepler Universität Linz (Austria) for the first set of joint secondments. It was an intensive time of collaborative work, site visits, theoretical inputs and interpersonal exchange. The Practitioners from the social enterprises and the scientist from the academic institutes especially focused on knowledge exchange, capacity building and the first steps towards the case studies.
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.
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.