Research and innovation are driving productivity growth and thus economic development. It is widely recognised that research and innovation do not only have economic impact but also social impact. Research and innovation are associated with the process of 'creative destruction' that can lead to social instabilities (unemployment, poverty, social exclusion) and global challenges (climate change, energy efficiency, pollution). As a result, modern economic growth must go together with societal progress. Social innovation and impact are ways to reconcile these two forces, bringing economic growth and social value at the same time.

Social innovations are 'innovative responses to unsolved social problems and needs, which have not been successfully tackled by the State or the market. Social innovation is needed because many social challenges are resistant to conventional approaches to solving them. They require novel approaches, inventive actors and new forms of co-operation among them, thus bringing together different kinds of expertise, skills and tangible and intangible assets. Social innovation’s major aim is therefore to tackle complex social challenges by providing innovative solutions' (OECD, 2011).

Some Interreg Europe projects are already promoting the effective delivery of social innovation policies that have social impact. ECORIS3 focuses on policies and measures to support local and regional innovation ecosystems. ECORIS3, for instance, features social innovation good practices that ranges from developing an entrepreneurial culture for students with Donostia Innovation League in San Sebastián (Spain), to promoting greater citizen’s engagement with the Co-creation model of the University of Helsinki in Finland. Interreg Europe project PASSPARTOOL aims to develop key tools to assess and improve soft innovation policies, namely related to social, organisational, institutional, and open innovation. Interreg Europe project DIALOG focuses on promoting citizen’s engagement in defining research and innovation policies to foster social impact. 

The Metropolitan City of Turin, an innovation ecosystem based on social impact  

The Metropolitan City of Turin, a dynamic industrial and innovation ecosystem, aims to a transition towards an economy with social impact. Torino Social Impact is a public-private initiative led by the Municipality of Turin and launched in November 2017 by quadruple helix stakeholders: companies, institutions, financial operators, charities, foundation and third sector enterprises. They signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to share ideas, experiences, projects and resources to promote social impact activities

Torino Social Impact has the mission to promote economic dynamism and social value at the same time. It works on the basis of three principles:

  • Intentionality – To act with the aim of generating social value.
  • Additionality – To operate in sectors that are excluded by market mechanisms.
  • Measurability – To apply ex-ante evaluation methods and ex post measurement tools. 

Torino Social Impact provides supports for ecosystem-building and identity promotion. In ecosystem-building, the initiative supports companies to find services, skills, impact finance tools, and innovative projects to pursue social impact activities. In identity promotion, the initiative aims to enhance visibility of the Metropolitan City of Turin to position it as a “social impact city” and attract investments. 

Torino Social Impact supports different projects such as: 

  • Observatory of New Forms of Social Entrepreneurship to develop a taxonomy of social entrepreneurship activities on a metropolitan scale.
  • Social Impact Start-up Acceleration that is an entrepreneurial acceleration program for start-ups with social impact.
  • Torino Social Stock Exchange that aims to create a regulated and organised market for financial securities in which transactions are based on both the financial value and the value of the measured social impact.
  • Tech4Good that is a competence hub to support the application of technological solutions enabling social impact.
  • University course on social impact evaluation that is a course on Social Impact Evaluation at the University of Turin.
  • Social Procurement promotes procurement for public and private companies to support the growth of social impact enterprises.
  • Competence Centre for Impact Measurement to foster impact evaluation culture and practices, through guidance, technical support, training, and continuing education, aligned with proven methodologies.

Interview with Claudia Fassero, Metropolitan City of Turin

Arnault Morisson (Policy Learning Platform): How does Torino Social Impact engage with the civil society? 

Claudia Fassero: It creates linkages among civil society, public and private actors while involving them in a dynamic ecosystem that collaborates on creating services, opportunities, and events. 

Arnault Morisson: How did Torino Social Impact responded to the COVID-19 crisis? 

Claudia Fassero: TSI supported the creation of collaborative solutions to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. For instance, TSI created a webpage for actors to find support and respond to the COVID-19 crisis  while  strenghtening the ecosystem’s resilience. TSI also activated a platform to better understand what is happening on the ground to design tools to increase the reaction capacity of our ecosystem.

Arnault Morisson: What recommendations would you give to policymakers trying to set-up similar initiatives in their regions? 

Claudia Fassero: It is important to invest in capacity-building and competencies for the persons in charge of the initiative. Moreover, it not only requires administrative and institutional capacities to design and implement the activities but also soft skills such as flexibility, openness to new ideas, and attention to the ecosystem’s needs to design new programs.

Torino Social Impact illustrates the importance to empower private sector actors in contributing to social innovation initiatives. In Turin, the joint public-private leadership is at the heart of the industrial and innovation ecosystem’s transition into an entrepreneurial ecosystem with social impact. Torino Social Impact offers a path forward for regional policymakers and practitioners to promote initiatives stirring social innovation within an existing entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Read online the good practice Torino Social Impact

Read online more about Interreg Europe project ECORIS3

Image credit: Photo by Mike Chai from Pexels