Establishing a social innovation exchange


SIX is born at a conference in Beijing when the Young Foundation (UK), Cisco (Australia/Europe), Kaos Pilots (Denmark), Leping Foundation (China), and Mondragon Corporation (Basque Country) responded to Geoff Mulgan’s invitation to discuss forming a network of organisations who are trying to find new ways to tackle society’s most complex social challenges.


A new kind of network
At the time, there was little written about social innovation. Social enterprise dominated discussions, and conferences on social change were focussed on celebrating ‘heroes’ and ideas. In some ways, SIX was a reaction to this – we wanted to create a collective, non hierarchical network of peers who shared methods and tools.


SIX finds its home at the Young Foundation in East London.
Shorty after the Beijing meeting, SIX is established and finds its home at the Young Foundation in East London. The founding organisations stay involved as core partners and set the direction for the first activities.


The following values drove the work of SIX in our first years as an independent organisation

  1. Value social impact (rather than ideas)
  2. Celebrate solutions (more than heroes)
  3. Engage honestly (more than just inform)
  4. Inspire through action (not just words)
  5. Connect as peers (not in a hierarchy)
  6. Committed to openness (and welcome the unexpected)


SIX’s first goal was to find examples, link like-minded organisations and people around the world, and get social innovation onto the public agenda.



The first global gathering


SIX Summer School in San Sebastián, Basque Country
SIX hosts its first social innovation gathering, SIX Summer School: Scaling Up Social Innovation, in San Sebastian, Spain, that goes on to become SIX’s flagship event for the next 9 years.


Allies across the pond
SIX forms a sisterhood with Canada’s newly-created Social Innovation Generation (SiG). Learn more about how our relationship evolved for the next 10 years.


Navigating the global financial crisis in Europe


SIX plays a key role linking the social innovation narrative with Europe’s recovery plan as it manoeuvres through the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis.

SIX Chair, Diogo Vasconcelos, is influential in expanding European innovation policies to include ‘social’ innovation, which becomes instrumental in positioning SIX in Europe. See SIX’s work in Europe.

SIX’s workshop for President Barosso helps the European Commission better understand how to support social innovation in Europe.



Supporting recovery through innovation
In partnership with TESE and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, SIX hosts a Summer School in Lisbon. ‘Recovery through innovation’, brings the global social innovation community together to discuss social innovation’s role in times of crisis.



“The financial and economic crisis makes social innovation even more important to foster sustainable growth, secure jobs and boost competitiveness.” – Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, January 2009

The movement gains momentum globally


President Obama establishes the Office for Social Innovation and across the world, dozens of social innovation centres and prizes are started.

As the movement gathers momentum, SIX, recognising the need to bring emerging SI leaders together to accelerate and drive social innovation, partners with Cisco to create a global discussion platform using Cisco TelePresence, ground-breaking immersive in-person video conference platform.


Connecting the global network to build a knowledge base
We also launch the global TelePresence series,  in partnership with Cisco. At the time, zoom did not exist, and Skype’s capability was limited. So, we invited groups of people from up to 6 cities at a time to come to their local Cisco office and join a global roundtable discussion. The first discussions address the early social impact bond experiments and other new financial instruments, the creation of experimental spaces, and how social innovation can contribute to climate issues.

Theses conversations enable understanding of social innovation beyond geographical and cultural boundaries before social media revolutionises how we communicate.



The Open Book of Social Innovation is launched
SIX is instrumental in the publication and dissemination of the first collection of social innovation tools and methods, the Open Book of Social Innovation. Drawing on 500 cases from across SIX networks and beyond, it’s one of the first attempts to systematically understand the process of social innovation.



Developing a relationship with Asia
SIX hosts the SIX and the City Summer School in Singapore, kicking off a long and productive relationship with the region. Learn more about the Singapore Summer School here and about our work in Asia.



Applying social innovation to a societal challenge – Innovation and opportunity in an ageing society
Our first thematic event  was organised at a time when many governments were starting to create new funds that supported the incubation, development and spread of more effective models that tackle the challenges associated with an ageing society. As well as drawing on research on ageing, the event also brought together new research surveying how different methods – of finance, design, commissioning and scaling – that could be used in fields like this.


A new social contract


The nature of citizenship comes under scrutiny in response to huge geo-political shifts, including the eruption of civil unrest in North Africa. As people across the globe question the social contract and role of citizens in shaping their societies, SIX begins to collaborate with newly-elected mayor of Seoul, Park Wonsoon, to deliver on his pledge to make social innovation an integral part of the city’s agenda to shift power back to citizens. Learn more about SIX’s decade long partnership to embed social innovation in Seoul here.


Co-creating democracy in Amsterdam
SIX initiates its long-relationship with partner Kennisland co-hosting Co-creating Democracy: Citizen Participation in the 21st Century. The event brings people across Europe together to discuss the growing interest in co-creating societal and citizen engagement. To learn more about SIX’s work in Europe, see here.

Celebrating the visionary Diogo Vasconcelow


Just a few months after the Co-creating democracy event, our first Chair Diogo Vasconcelos passes away suddenly. After all his important work to get social included in mainstream innovation discussions in Europe and beyond, his passing triggers some big questions for our work, and the whole global social innovation community. How can we continue to drive the social innovation agenda in his name?

At a European level, the Diogo prize is launched, the first social innovation prize at a European level.


Defining our role as a field builder
The field has gathered momentum across Europe and Asia, questions about what’s missing and how to accelerate the movement remain, despite advances made over the last few years. What social innovation should look like in 2015? Since Diogo passed away in the summer, SIX hosts the Winter School in Gdynia, Poland, to explore these questions and forge new connections.


Expanding our regional presence


SIX Asia launches with an event in Hong Kong that brings social innovators and civil servants together to harness increasing social innovation activity in the region. Following the event, the government launched a new Social Innovation Fund, enabling more innovators in Hong Kong to access finance and support. Learn more about SIX’s long-term partnerships with Hong Kong and Seoul.


Learn more about social innovation activity in Asia from SIX Board member, Ada Wong:

Managing social innovation’s growing pains
As the social innovation field begins to generate more attention, support and financial backing, many of the organisations connected to SIX start to exhibit ‘growing pains’. SIX responds by hosting SIX Summer School at The Australian Centre for Social Innovation in Adelaide, offering the global SI community the opportunity to discuss the issues impacting their ability to grow and sustain innovation.




Stepping up to the social innovation plate


As the social innovation movement gathers momentum, SIX spins out of the Young Foundation and establishes itself as a fully independent organisation with support from Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and 8 Global Council partners.

Supporting the Colombian government to grow the ecosystem

SIX works with the Colombian government to explore and define the role of its social innovation office. Read the report here.


Helping Seoul City legitimise its social innovation agenda

SIX hosts the SIX Summer School: Reshaping Cities and Making Them Thrive, to celebrate the launch of a new social innovation agenda in Seoul City. The event leads to the establishment of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee.

Social frontiers and the next edge of research

SIX collaborates with Nesta, GCU and various EU funded research consortiums to host Social Frontiers, an event to develop more robust empirical and theoretical foundations for social innovation. By bringing networks, organisations and individuals together, existing knowledge gaps could be addressed and growth maintained. Geoff Mulgan on setting a future research agenda below:

Linking grassroots and systems change


Connecting unusual suspects

SIX and Collaborate host the Unusual Suspects Festival in London to challenge sectoral silos and link social innovation practitioners with people running social innovation projects in the public sector.

Linking social innovation and international development

SIX launches the Africa series with Hivos, connecting large international development organisations to innovative methods, thinking and practice, so they can rethink working practices and better prepare for future challenges.

Shifting cultures to change systems

SIX hosts its Summer School in Vancouver, an urban leader in innovation and sustainability, to identify the invisible cultural barriers that hamper change and prevent new ideas, structures, teams and techniques succeeding.


Connecting research and practice 

SI LIVE took place in November 2014 in Lisbon, Portugal at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. It was a two-day that brought together over 160 leading social innovators, academics and practitioners from over 20 countries to discuss and explore the future agenda for social innovation, how best to incubate and scale social innovations, and how the EU can help to strengthen and develop the field of social innovation in Europe.

Growing the scope – new sectors, countries and approaches


Challenging philanthropy

SIX launches its annual Funders Node retreat in Canada, bringing the most innovative, brave and ground breaking funders and foundations together to reflect and collaborate. Learn more about our Funders node programme.

Creating a network of Latin American universities

As interest in social innovation grows, SIX works with universities across Latin America to establish a place for social innovation in the sector. Learn more about LASIN. 


Exploring new thinking on citizenship in India

SIX hosts the SIX Summer School: The Connected Urban Life in Mumbai to explore how India’s emerging civic consciousness impacts new thinking on cities, citizens, and the networks they weave together with their governments and institutions.

SIX and Hivos partner to expose their network across Africa to social innovation.

The objective of this two year collaboration was to help develop and strengthen a community of social innovators in Africa, ensure that the global field and narrative of social innovation is informed and shaped by the African perspective and better help Hivos staff internally to understand what innovation looks like by co-creating events in Nairobi, Harare and Johannesburg.

Embedding social innovation in different sectors and issues

SIX hosts the Unusual Suspects Festival in Glasgow, a city, that is creative, inventive and innovative, but which also faces some of the biggest and most chronic social challenges in the whole of the UK.

Responding to a divided world


SIX changes its approach in the face of global events. The UK vote to leave the EU, Donald Trump’s election as US president, and the European migrant crisis, signal a more polarised political landscape. Divisiveness, enabled and entrenched by social media platforms, marks a widening gap in society, both economically and in terms of narratives around the most vulnerable. Less cohesive communities unsettle SIX and prompt an existential crisis.

Navigating the complex impact of immigration in Europe

Through the SIE project, SIX hosts a two-day gathering for policymakers, foundations, academics, social entrepreneurs, and local communities in Syracuse, Sicily. Showcasing innovative projects with the potential to contribute improving the long term, sustainable integration of migrants in communities across Europe, the event offers solutions for managing the unprecedented number of migrants entering EU Member States and the complex challenges and questions about the cultural fabric of European societies that mass immigration raises.



Innovation in Polarised Societies – Bogotá, Colombia

SIX works with Somos Más to host the Summer School 2016 in Colombia. Taking place the day after the Colombian population voted to reject a historic peace agreement between FARC militants and the government, the event focusses on the potential of social innovation in transforming divided societies.


Exploring social innovation’s potential in post-conflict societies

SIX hosts the Unusual Suspects Festival in Northern Ireland, The potential of social innovation in post-conflict communities is explored through local examples showcasing the variety of approaches used to build trust, openness and dialogue across communities.


To read more insights on social innovation in post conflict societies, visit our themes page


Launching SIC, the network of networks for Europe

SIX works with a consortium of 11 partners from NGOs, think tanks and universities across Europe, on the three-year Social Innovation Community (SIC) project to connect, strengthen and grow existing SI activity clusters. Designed to advance the social innovation movement in Europe, and built on SIX network building activities and the previous research programmes, the landmark project is funded by the Horizon 2020 programme to being public sector innovation, digital social innovation, intermediaries, social economy actors and others together.



Setting the course for a better future


A growing sense that societies around the world are becoming more divisive and divided, and an uncertain global climate, require innovation in how we work and live together. They also require new forms of collaboration across established sectors and cultures to generate further examples of social innovation creating large-scale, deep and systemic change, along with the investment to support it.

To address this, SIX conceives and convenes the SIX Wayfinder. Hosted by Nesta and supported by the UNDP, Social Innovation Generation, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, and the JW McConnell Family Foundation, the event brings together one hundred and sixty leaders from more than thirty four countries . With diverse backgrounds ranging from government to design, international development, and entrepreneurship, attendees work together to set the SI agenda for the next ten years.

Providing a space for grief and hope

SIX hosts the Unusual Suspects Festival in London with eight hundred people taking part in nineteen events across three days. In the wake of the EU referendum, a General Election and the Grenfell tower disaster, a palpable sense of frustration and powerlessness permeates the city. The event creates space to talk about what matters to ordinary people, discusses change and power within the capital, spotlights stories of hope and resilience, and promotes the idea that there is more that connects us as human beings, than divides us, even in the darkest of times.

“Now, we mustn’t be complacent. We have to come together and think how we can set stretching goals for the next 10 years, which really makes this movement and its tools commensurate with the difficult challenges that we face ahead. ” – Geoff Mulgan

Embedding social innovation across sectors and regions


At the invitation of Zorlu Holdings, SIX hosts SIX Wayfinder Turkey to explore the regional ecosystem and the challenges still faced by the social innovation field. With the support of local, regional and international partners, the event focuses on two key issues from 2017’s event in London: how to become truly multi-sector and integrate corporates, government and philanthropic social innovation, and how to create platforms that enable and enrich social innovation ecosystems in different parts of the world.

Connecting practitioners across a city

SIX partners with C. and Seoul Innovation Park to host the Unusual Suspects Festival in Seoul City, as part of its long-term partnership to build a social innovation ecosystem in the city. As the scale of activities and events grows across Seoul, so does concern that the actors and organisations implementing them stayed disconnected, so the event brings different parts of the social innovation ecosystem together and fosters diverse conversations.

Examining the role of universities in social innovation

SIX runs the BRICKS project, SEASIN and LASIN, and hosts the second edition of SI Live in Kuala Lumpur .

SIX Funders Node goes to Australia

SIX hosts the first Funders’ Node retreat in Australia in partnership with the Fay Fuller Foundation. The retreat pairs ten Australian and New Zealand funders with ten funders from around the world to discuss how funders apply rigour to risk-taking to deliver greater impact. Building on previous programmes of work on funding systems change, the event kicks off a programme of work explicitly learning from ANZ funders.


Influencing the future of European policy


SIX, as part of the Social Innovation Community (SIC), a consortium of twelve partners, leads the establishment of a series of pan-European support networks for social innovation initiatives. At the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, SIC presents Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, with The Lisbon Declaration, a set of ten policy ideas promoting social innovation in the EU, shaped by over three hundred and fifty people from nineteen EU countries.

Forging a new way for Business

Supported by the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund, SIX works with the Hong Kong Social Entrepreneurship Forum, Ernst & Young and InnoFoco Limited to understand businesses’ motivations when creating shared value. The project focuses on defining the concept of ‘business for good’, and recommends methodologies for wider promotion of it to support businesses under pressure to reinvent themselves and identify new engines of growth against a backdrop of technological advancement, increasingly crowded marketplaces, a rise in populism and a widening gap between the have and have-nots.

Harnessing the power of our young people

The power of young people’s activism around the world, including Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future, inspires SIX to develop the Global Innovation Academy to harness the passion and potential of young people challenging power systems and disrupting the status quo in pursuits of a brighter collective future. The programme grows next-generation social innovation leaders by developing the skills to navigate an uncertain future, providing tools, fostering peer relationships and building the confidence to act together.


“Innovation today is about purpose, about doing something that can fulfil you as a human being,” – Commissioner Moedas. “In the European Union, we are going to put more money into social innovation, not because it’s trendy, but because we believe that the future of innovation is about social innovation.”

Revolutionising connections in extraordinary times


The global COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to find radically different ways to organise our world. In reality, few organisations behave differently, doing the same as always, just online, and ‘Zoom fatigue’ soon sets in.

The Wayfinder Symphony

SIX realises something radically different is required and transforms its SIX Wayfinder World conference into a unique, two-day, online event.

In collaboration with six artist-composers, a harpist in Canada, a filmmaker in Singapore, a jazz singer and tap dancer in the UK, a composer in Greece, a poet and musician in Poland and a painter in the UK, SIX devises a metaphorical symphony in four movements that explore the shape of social innovation in urgent times. By creating different sensory experiences, including sound, sight and taste, online, the event connects people who cannot be physically close and sparks the different approaches and thinking required. The resulting artefacts help attendees grasp meaning and shape action, representing a global moment that will live on.


Honouring Seoul City’s social innovation legacy

SIX collaborates with Seoul City’s Global Social Innovation Advisory Group on the Seoul Legacy Project, following the death of Mayor Wonsoon Park. The project tells the story of Seoul’s journey towards becoming a people-powered city, compiling essays, case studies and stories of the city’s model for other cities to learn and take inspiration from.


Mapping philanthropic responses to COVID 19

SIX develops a global scan of innovative ways philanthropic organisations around the world are pivoting to support grantees and communities in countries and regions around the world, gripped by COVID-19. The report examines the global picture of philanthropic responses to the pandemic and its effects across time and space, focussing on the value of responses, their beneficiaries, their longevity and their impact on funders’ future operations. Further details can be found via the Funders Node.


Facing national impact of COVID-19 through social innovation

COVID-19 brings unprecedented health and economic shocks and many national governments close their borders leaving local- and regional-level organisations at the frontline of crisis management and recovery. SIX adapts its approach and offering, and joins the European Social Innovation Alliance, working as a transnational learning partner with Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland and the UK. One of six consortia selected to set up national competence centres and drive social innovation locally, regionally, nationally and transnationally, the European Social Innovation Alliance cultivates networks, builds capacities and synergies, spotlights efficiencies and develops tools and methods essential to social innovation growth across the EU.

Delivering valuable connections online

In response to funders missing it’s retreats during the pandemic, SIX designs an online event to prioritise the deep, ongoing connections that so many virtual conferences struggle to deliver. The programme consists of eight weekly, hour-long sessions for a handpicked cohort of philanthropic leaders and is so successful the model is continued even when in-person events become possible again.

Forging global innovation partnerships to build the field of expertise SIX works with organisations as a global innovation partner to align visions and build capacity in social innovation. As funders and governments focus on national interests due to the catastrophic impact of COVID-19, SIX recognises an urgent need for global field-building work so learnings from different contexts can be leveraged for the benefit of more communities.