Workshop Report: The Future of Social Innovation in Interreg 2021-2027

As a networking initiative for social innovation Interreg projects, #socialinterreg worked for the past two years to bring fellow projects together, discuss the needs of existing projects, generate ideas for future ones, and run workshops and events. Moreover, #socialinterreg ultimately developed a position paper on the future of social innovation in Interreg out of this exchange. On 29 June 2021, the #socialinterreg initiative hosted its final workshop: “The Future of Social Innovation in Interreg 2021-2027”.

#Socialinterreg originated from the project SEMPRE – Social Empowerment in Rural Areas, an Interreg Baltic Sea Region project focusing on marginalised groups and co-creation of social services. Its extension project SEMPRE Accelerators is just about to end. At the beginning of the SEMPRE journey, we, as SEMPRE partnership, felt alone in the field. Back then, social innovation did not seem like a prioritised topic in the Baltic Sea Region Programme, which mainly focused on technological innovation. Since there was neither a platform nor any kind of cluster project, we decided to build the #socialinterreg initiative. Eventually, #socialinterreg started in 2019 thanks to the funding of the German Ministry of the Interior under its funding programme for support of transnational cooperation. What began two years ago as a workshop with five participants, now turned into a lively exchange format that attracts 70, 80, or even more participants to its workshops. While the 29 June workshop formally concluded #socialinterreg, our network should continue – as you may read in this workshop report.

Social Innovation at the crossroads of funding periods

Social Innovation is a cross-cutting method that can be used to tackle a variety of challenges and topics. This variety of topics was mirrored in four thematic roundtables: Migration & Integration, Female Entrepreneurship, Age-friendly Environments and Social Entrepreneurship. At each roundtable, the workshop explored how existing projects applied social innovation, what aspects would be relevant for future projects, and in how far funding programmes could better serve the needs of social innovation projects in the future.

  • At the Migration & Integration roundtable, Arrival Regions (Interreg Central Europe) showed how the successful integration of migrants can have positive spin-off effects on regions with shrinking populations and what implications this has on policymaking. Enter To Transform (Interreg North-West Europe) presented its concept of Entrepreneurial Hubs for refugees and how it supports the entrepreneurship capacity of this group. SEE ME IN (Interreg Central Europe) has a similar focus as it aims to improve the framework conditions for immigrant enterprises in the region.
  • The roundtable on Female Entrepreneurship showcased three projects: FEM4FOREST (Interreg Danube) aims to increase women’s involvement in the forest sector. W-POWER (Interreg Northern Periphery & Arctic) empowers women entrepreneurs while focusing on the specific situation in sparsely populated rural regions. WOMEN IN BUSINESS (Interreg Danube) targets young women entrepreneurs in the region. The project establishes four Women Entrepreneurship Centers as one of several measures to improve the framework conditions for young women entrepreneurs.
  • The third roundtable brought together three projects targeting Age-friendly Environments: BaltSe@nior 2.0 (Interreg Baltic Sea Region) works on age-friendly furniture design, focusing on publicly accessible spaces such as museums, city halls or restaurants. TAAFE (Interreg Alpine Space) revolves around age-friendly environments, covering various priorities and domains ranging from social participation to outdoor spaces and buildings. GreenSAM (Interreg Baltic Sea Region) is about age-friendly mobility, including public transport, bicycle sharing and public space design. Social innovation mostly means participatory and co-creative design approaches for all three projects, be it for age-friendly public space or furniture design.
  • Another roundtable discussed Social Entrepreneurship. +RESILIENT (Interreg Mediterranean) aims to strengthen the social economy by improving the capacities of socially responsible SMEs and inducing policy change. DelFin (Interreg Central Europe) promotes social entrepreneurship in rural regions, many of which face ageing populations, outward migrations or unemployment. D-Care Labs (Interreg Danube) works at the nexus of home care innovation and entrepreneurship. The project enables social service providers, product developers and social start-ups to develop and deliver better offers for their clients.

Paper: Interreg needs Social Innovation needs Interreg

The #socialinterreg position paper will be published shortly on this website. At the workshop, Hauke Siemen introduced key findings of the paper.

While in the current funding period (2014-2020) almost no programme objective is labelled with the term “social innovation”, social innovation projects still contributed to a range of objectives in the different programmes. This includes, for example, “capacity building for social innovation”, “job creation”, “territorial cohesion”, or “better and more efficient public and social services”, to name but a few.

For most of these projects, the transnational dimension was crucial for success:

  • Transnational projects provided an opportunity to experiment and try out-of-the-box approaches.
  • Transnational cooperation in social innovation can help to make the public and welfare sector more open to innovation.
  • Moreover, such projects contribute to the professionalisation of smaller organisations or enterprises.
  • Transnational projects can be decisive to create a critical mass for social innovation.
  • They provide a platform for mutual learning (e.g. helping each other in developing social innovation strategies and funding schemes).

Social innovation projects have proven their value in the 2014-2020 period. For the upcoming funding period, social innovation seems to be a topic just as much as previously. Compared to the previous funding period, programmes interpret social innovation as a means rather than an end. It is often invoked as a method in connection with the European Green Deal (e.g. in connection with topics such as farm2fork, circular economy or climate change mitigation). Territorial cohesion remains an important topic (Territorial Agenda), with just transformation as a key objective. Finally, it seems that the effects of Covid-19 have affected programming (e.g. regarding the focus on resilience). Based on surveys and extensive discussions with representatives of social innovation projects and programmes, #socialinterreg formulated three messages for future programmes and three messages for future projects.

For Programmes:

  • Lower the thresholds for participation! This is essential, especially for smaller NGOs, for whom pre- and co-financing are difficult. Allowing smaller projects and micro projects could also help.
  • Allow and accept open processes with uncertain results! Be flexible, accept results that deviate from the original plan. Allow for more qualitative and long-term evaluation rather than narrow indicators.
  • Foster exchange between projects and programme areas! can continue to be a platform.

For Projects:

  • Be more and less ambitious at the same time! Don’t make projects too complex; focus on critical issues. In these issues, strive to achieve great results.
  • Work cross-sectorally! Bring together the established welfare sector, the public sector and the social entrepreneurship scene. Combine social topics with “green” themes.
  • Bring about organisational change! Start with your own organisations, don’t forget about your colleagues as a target group.

How will Interreg programmes (and ESF+) support transnational cooperation on social innovation in 2021-2027?

Four Interreg Programmes (Alpine Space, Baltic Sea Region, North-West Europe and Mediterranean) as well as ESF+ (European Social Fund) provided insights from the programming process and the expected role for social innovation in the respective future (2021-2027) programmes.

While the Interreg Alpine Space Programme does not have a specific objective dedicated to social innovation, it is reflected as a horizontal topic in different priorities and specific objectives (for example, Priority 3 on “Innovation and digitalisation supporting a green Alpine region”). The Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme mirrors social innovation mostly in the future Priority 1 (“Innovative Societies”). Here, the Specific Objective “Resilient economies and communities” invokes social innovation as a method to strengthen cohesion. It understands resilience not just from an economic but also from a societal perspective. Moreover, the Specific Objective “Responsive public services” calls for social innovation as one method that may contribute to delivering less bureaucratic and more cost-efficient public services. In Interreg North-West Europe, social innovation is mirrored in Priority 5 (“Just and inclusive North-West Europe”). Expected example results include solutions that benefit local communities, employability and inclusive business models, to name but a few. For Interreg Mediterranean, social innovation is a cross-cutting approach. For example, social entrepreneurship is mirrored in Specific Objective I (“Enhancing research and innovation capacities and the uptake of advanced technologies”). Moreover, the programme draft also mentions the social dimension of circular economy (Specific Objective VI), just transition (related to climate change adaption, Specific Objective IV), as well as links between environmental protection, sustainable development and citizens health (Specific Objective VII). The European Social Fund (ESF+) offers funding for transnational cooperation on social innovation in the 2021-2027 funding period. For ESF+, transnational piloting projects are intended specifically for scaling up innovative ideas and solutions.

For details about the different programmes and how they accommodate social innovation in the 2021-2027 funding period, please refer to the individual presentations below.

Social Innovation Nexus

As the German federal funding for #socialinterreg ends, the Social Innovation Nexus has been introduced at the workshop as a follow-up of #socialinterreg. The Social Innovation Nexus will be an informal exchange platform for social innovation and transnational cooperation. It continues the networking efforts of #socialinterreg, but will be independent of project funding – and thus not limited or restricted by project durations. The Social Innovation Nexus will unite three pillars.

  • Thematic Sessions: Bi-monthly lunch talks dedicated to a specific topic
  • Practical Sessions: Working group meetings for shared methodological challenges of transnational social innovation projects
  • Informal exchange

The Social Innovation Nexus will be launched in autumn 2021 – stay tuned!


Date: 29 June 2021 from 09.30-12.30 CET
Agenda: (PDF)


Migration & Integration:

Female Entrepreneurship:

Age-friendly Environments:

Social Entrepreneurship:

Funding Programmes: