There are moments that are forever etched in our life story. It is not always our moments of glory, but the deeds of others that impress us. I remember the day I went to the opera in the Gulbenkian auditorium to listen to improbable young people singing Mozart, a project of the Leiria Prison for the social inclusion of inmates through the staging of an opera, together with prison guards, family and friends. At the end, I was allowed to go behind the scenes to thank the actors.
There are many other social innovation projects that I keep in my memory: Cantinho de Estudo in Gaia (a painted wall, a chair, a desk for children who do not have it at home), Speak that facilitates the integration of migrants and refugees, Rádio Miúdos, the house that Just a Change has renewed in Campanhã, Lota Digital that brings the small and medium-sized ship owners closer to the consumers, Avó Veio Trabalhar for active aging, Ekui for inclusive learning, JN Todos for citizenship, Centro de Apoio à Saúde Oral so we can all smile with confidence.
I know by name many of the social entrepreneurs who work on them with little money, but innumerable dreams, less in search of profit and more of the impact.
There are presently 581 social innovation projects funded throughout the territory and covering very diverse areas, from employment to digital skills, from citizenship to environment and health.
The social innovation ecosystem goes far beyond these projects. It also involves 24 incubators and has the support of many other institutions, foundations (the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was the first of many), Misericórdias (the Santa Casa de Lisboa, with Casa do Impacto), cooperatives, higher education institutions, municipalities (especially the Metropolitan Area of Porto), associations and companies, which are allied as entrepreneurs and as investors.
The Portugal Inovação Social initiative – a pioneer in building a national ecosystem using European Funds – allowed it to be developed, mobilizing public and private resources, and entrepreneurs capable of proposing and developing new responses, which can later be adopted as public policies. The recent approval by the European Commission of a project to set up a National Competences Centre for Social Innovation is an important reinforcement of this initiative.
Of course, all this work does not waive or replace broad-spectrum interventions, such as the solidarity complement for the elderly or the InCode program for digital skills. However, it allows the detection of interstitial problems, experimenting and replicating new solutions, mobilising for that other partners.
As seen during the pandemic, we need innovation to respond to the old problems that have become more visible and to the new ones that have emerged from these circumstances. The social challenges that arise from the digital and green transitions, in addition to the others we already had, such as persistent inequalities, also require much more creativity, in initiatives and methods, so that no one is left behind.
Social innovation is therefore a vital part of the action plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights. I am proud to see that Portugal has been a pioneer, recognised in the EU as an example to follow. I hope it stays that way in the future. All the best to our social innovators.