The 21st century will present radical social and environmental challenges, which governments across the European Union will need to face head-on. This includes providing social services that can protect the livelihoods and rights of their citizens. But successful social initiatives need more than just good ideas in order to grow. “Many innovations have been developed and are tried and tested to have a positive social and environmental impact, but they struggle to scale,” explains Madeleine Clarke, ESCF (European Social Catalyst Fund) project coordinator, and executive director of Genio, an Ireland-based NGO. In light of this, the ESCF was created to provide the financial backing and support for social innovation projects, allowing them to develop plans for scaling up within or across EU Member States. The ESCF pulled together resources from public and private spheres, joining philanthropy with social impact investing to help governments target public spending towards the social projects that would benefit EU citizens most. It was established and co-funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, the Genio Trust, the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the King Baudouin Foundation. The ESCF grants supported initiatives to create comprehensive scaling plans aimed at overcoming pressing social challenges.
Call for innovative social solutions
The ESCF project issued a call across all EU Member States asking for social initiatives to submit proposals. Applicants had to show how their aims were relevant in light of social challenges identified in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the European Pillar of Social Rights. The call drew 120 applications from 22 countries, which were then evaluated by a series of measures including expected impact, scaling capabilities of the project, and quality of the application. The ESCF team selected seven groups to be awarded grants up to EUR 100 000 each to create scaling plans for their projects. Most projects developed growth strategies which stretched beyond national borders, leading to plans for scaling social initiatives across 15 countries. The selected projects included Long Live the Elderly! (LLE), a community-based project helping improve the quality of life for citizens over the age of 80. LLE proved itself effective in reducing the risk of health problems by helping people prepare for old age and maintain a social network. Another project highlighted by Clarke was DUO for a JOB, an initiative that matches young migrant jobseekers with older mentors to help them gain employment. DUO started in Brussels in 2013, and thanks to the ESCF grant is now scaling its operations to Lille, Lyon and Marseille in France and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
The creation of a new European Social Innovation Fund
The success of the ESCF project sparked the setting up of a new call for proposal, included in the Horizon Europe Framework Programme, aimed at upscaling successful social innovations to support the objectives of the five EU Missions. The winning proposal will set up a European Social Innovation Fund to be co-funded by Horizon Europe and other public and private funding sources.
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