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Investing in social transformation: European perspectives

Eugene Eteris, BC, Riga, 25.09.2017.Print version
European Investment Bank “patronises” social innovation since 2012; the EIB’s Institute arranges competition among European researchers with the primary purpose of generating social, ethical or/and environmental impact. Fifteen finalists’ projects were assessed in Riga and revealed great potentials of untapped social innovation now being available in the EU and around the world.

The EU development model is oriented towards so-called “social social market economy”; hence, numerous European projects are geared specifically for research and innovations with social impact in mind. Quite notable, in the business sphere this trend in innovations has already acquired a specific term - social entrepreneurs and/or social innovators.

The European Investment Bank’s Institutions in Riga (21.09.2017) and the European Commission in Brussels (26.10. 2017) are showing their “orientations” towards innovative approaches to the European “social agenda”.  

EIB’s Institute social innovation competition

Social Innovation Tournament (SIT) was established in 2012 by the EIB’s Institute. Held every year in a different country, it rewards and sponsors European entrepreneurs whose primary purpose is to generate a social, ethical or environmental impact.


Presented projects in Riga have been typically related to health and aging issues, to combating unemployment, to activating inclusion and reducing marginalisation of disadvantaged communities while promoting access to training and education. SIT finalists constituted a growing community of social entrepreneurs from 21 different countries; finalists have been chosen from over 100 projects which have already shown potential contribution to social innovation.  


For the sixth time in 2017, competition/tournament took place on 21 September in Riga, Latvia, in cooperation with the Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia, and the Latvian Ministry of Welfare. Previous five tournaments occurred in Luxembourg, Budapest, Madrid, Milano and Ljubljana. See:


Latvian minister for welfare, Janis Reirs, underlined that the EIB Social Innovation Tournament had been a good opportunity for the public to get acquainted with outstanding examples of social entrepreneurship from different countries. Latvia has approved the concept of development opportunities for social entrepreneurship; the Social Enterprise Law will be passed soon, and the Welfare Ministry has started to implement a support programme for potential social enterprises. Latvian government promised to take necessary steps in promoting social entrepreneurship, providing opportunities for new initiatives addressing social problems and for the development of social innovations in the future.



President of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer mentioned that the tournaments are about Europe’s best social innovators, and that the 15 finalists’ projects in Riga reveal the great potential of untapped social innovations have something in common: their innovative approaches are meeting social needs, increase social exclusion and create environmental impact, he added.


President of the Jury, Elena Casolari underlined that the projects’ pragmatic entrepreneurs have shown quality and professionalism in creating solutions by significant and very sizeable social and environmental impact. The jury also including José Tomás Frade (former EIB staff member), Hans Wahl (INSEAD), Olivier de Guerre (PhiTrust), Kaat Peeters (Sociale Innovatiefabriek), Edgars Ivanovs (Riga Powerhouse), Rob Wilmot (Crowdcity) and Madara Ūlande (Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia). 


Winners of the EIB’s Social Innovation Tournament-2017

The sixth time competition in 2017 has shown again the trend to solve health, aging and inclusion issues. Thus, Complex Disease Detector won the first prize in the general category. By using person’s usual medical data (incl. ECG & demographic data) and applying artificial intelligent (AI) technology the project offers a decision-support tool to doctors and helps them detect quicker heart diseases. The solution helps patients in discovering their heart disease’s problems, even if they have no obvious symptoms.   


ColorADD language solution won the second prize: it is a unique language that allows a color-blind person to identify colors. It is estimated that 350 million people worldwide are color-blind.  

The FreeBird Club project (Ireland) and Walk With Path (the UK) shared the first prize in the special category on ageing. These two companies have also won a voucher to receive subsequent advice from EY Transaction Advisory Services in Brussels.

The FreeBird Club is a travel-based social network for older adults. Operating as a peer-to-peer social travel and home-stay club, it offers a whole new way of travelling for older adults, a potential new source of income for hosts, and a fun and accessible way to meet new people and enjoy companionship in later life. “Walk With Path” is a healthcare company aiming to improve mobility and reduce the risk of falls for a range of individuals, including the elderly and people with chronic diseases.

In addition, three projects – GIVMED (Greece), (Austria) and ULTRASPECIALISTI (Italy) – won a voucher to receive subsequent mentoring services to help take their projects forward.


The EIB Institute is also partnering with INSEAD Business School in offering two finalists, Discovering hands® (Germany) and MagikMe (Hungary),  the opportunity to attend the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship programme.


For the first time in 2017 the EIB Institute takes an initiative to finance the residency at the IRIS Social Incubator (Incubadora Regional de Inovacao Social) for up to two members of the selected projects for a period of three-six months.  AdoptGrandParents (Spain) and Arborea (UK) were the two lucky winners. IRIS is a Regional Social Innovation Incubator fostering regional development through social innovation, recently launched by the EIB Institute and PortusPark.

The next Social Innovation Tournament will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the call for projects starting in February 2018. In 2018, the Special Category Prizes will go to projects focusing on sustainable development with special emphasis on circular economy.  

European Commission: in tandem with the EIB

Another even with the idea of rewarding social entrepreneurs is taking place in a month’s time in Brussels. The European Commission announced ten finalists in the EU 2017 European Social Innovation Competition. Finalists were selected from a shortlist of 30 semi-finalists, out of almost 800 entries from more than 40 countries.


Out of ten finalists, there will be selected 3 winners (with prizes of €50,000 each to develop their ideas) at the EU’s Awards Ceremony in Brussels (26.10.2017). Main research spheres are quite different from the EIB’s tournament; they are mostly connected to digital employment projects and skills development, as well as to orient entrepreneurship towards problems in disadvantaged groups.   


Following the activities of the Social Innovation Academy in Madrid this summer, all 30 semi-finalists have spent the last few months working with an individual coach to develop their business plans.


This year’s competition, organised by the European Commission is called Equality Rebooted” and is aimed at finding and funding social innovators that seized opportunities offered by the 4th industrial revolution, i.e. digital transformation and technological change.


The jury have critically evaluated each business plan and selected the 10 strongest entries. One of the jury’s members of the 2017 competition and vice president Europe Techsoup, Anna Sienicka underlined that the jury appreciated the diversity and scope of all the shortlisted projects this year. The competition’s participants, she said: “proved that social innovation would help to make people in Europe more equal and fit for the future”.


She added that all 10 finalists are fantastic examples of the types of tools, services and models that enable people, regardless of their specific context and environment, to seize the opportunities of the digital revolution. These projects will inspire others to put their own ideas into action, and also catalyse new ways of addressing inequality for governments and communities in the EU member states.


The 2017 Awards Ceremony is taking place on 26 October in Brussels, when 10 Finalists will pitch their ideas on stage. Latest updates on the competition and the news about the European Social Innovation Competition can be seen at: [email protected]  

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