Greek Crisis and Social Innovation: An alternative approach to social problems

13.11.2012 Blog

While in some European countries social innovation flourishes contributing to the creation of new jobs and the sustainable development of local economies and societies, in Greece, the concept of social economy and social innovation is less developed. The absence of a relative institutional framework has not allowed the further development of the sector. In particular, the first national law on Social Economy and Social Entrepreneurship was passed in 2011 (Law 4019/2011).

Today, there is a great need for Greece to reinforce its social economy. The high rates of unemployment, the austerity measures, and the reductions in wages, pensions and social services have created the need for the enhancement of social economy and social innovation that can offer alternative solutions to the Greek society.

It is not accidental that especially now we observe the emergence of several social innovation initiatives such as the “networks without intermediaries”, “social clinics”, “time banks”, “exchange networks”, etc. Towards this end, we also witness that during the last two years civil society movements have been developed and have thus been very active in inspiring and encouraging the new generation of Greeks to think differently, to create innovative enterprises, to be part of the solution and to contribute to a new start for Greece. Such movements are the initiatives “Reload Greece” developed by a group of Greek students and recent graduates who live in London and “We are all Greeks”. All these initiatives are regarded as a reaction to the Greek crisis whereby the need for innovative and ambitious approaches that can revitalize, in essence, the society and economy, is recognized.

In a global context, social innovations have proven to be models of success in times of crisis, in uncertain financial conditions and in unstable environments in general. Exceptional examples are the Shorebank in USA, the ASA project in Brazil, the Grameen Bank etc. which succeed to improve life conditions by providing incentives to much of the world's population.

World history has shown that a crisis can act as a precursor of social change. According to several studies the current financial crisis can fuel social innovations which can act as “agents of change” and rebuilders of economy and society.  However, this is not enough. It is thus essential that specific policies are put in place reinforcing in this way the social economy and fostering the development of social innovations. At European level and within the framework of Europe 2020 strategy, social issues are being brought to the fore. The European Commission introduced the Social Innovation initiative aiming to promote well-being and growth in the European Union. At this point, it is essential to highlight the fact that social innovation can act as an alternative approach which can provide solutions and offer a way forward in coping with the societal challenges as well as the financial and institutional crisis that Greece is facing. There is a great need thus for the adaptation and implementation of relative supportive mechanisms that will foster the implementation of social innovation initiatives and approaches.