How EU employment policy is driving social innovation

The Social Innovation Community has produced its second ‘state of the union’ report, researching and mapping how EU employment policy is driving social innovation throughout Europe. 

The European Commission has recognised a need to address fundamental challenges around work and employment across the European Union. The European Pillar of Social Rights (2017) highlights that the future of the EU depends on its ability to position itself as a promoter of solutions to social challenges, in a context of growing social and economic deprivation in the post-crisis era.

In this context, the importance of social innovation (SI) becomes clear. Social innovation has been broadly defined by the Commission as the development of “new ideas, services and models to better address social issues”, involving both public and private actors (including civil society). In the absence of clear top-down policy ‘solutions’, it is essential for the EU to support experimentation, through both national and transnational projects, so that imaginative answers may develop to the questions around employment and work which loom large over Europe’s future. This report aims to find out how the EU is promoting these solutions.

Through a detailed policy analysis, expert interviews and a comparative study of five cases from across Europe, this report seeks to answer the following questions:

What are the characteristics of EU-supported employment social innovations?

How is the EU driving these innovations?

Employment is a key priority for the EU. The Europe 2020 strategy includes a target to raise the employment rate to ensure 75% of people aged 20-64 are in employment by 2020, alongside related targets on poverty and skills. Europe 2020 and several key employment policy strategies and initiatives make explicit reference to social innovation. They also broadly recognise innovation in both processes and governance as a crucial factor in achieving policy goals. Meanwhile, EU funds are key levers to support the implementation of both strategies and initiatives. Our literature review and expert interviews suggested three EU funds in particular have been important in driving social innovation in employment: European Social Fund (ESF), the Youth Employment Initiative, and the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI).

In order to explore how EU policies and tools are supporting employment social innovation in practice, we identified five case studies that had been funded through at least one of the selected EU policy instruments. These represent a mix of types of innovation and include innovations conceived at transnational, national and regional/local levels. The cases are taken from a variety of European regions, providing geographical spread. In our case studies, we find three examples of programmes that attempt to improve labour market integration for different groups, and, two mechanisms that are both forms of governance innovation in themselves, and support employment social innovation.

The cases we selected were as follows:

  • Garantie Jeunes: A national programme providing vulnerable young NEETs with training, professional experience and financial support. (One part of the Youth Guarantee as implemented in France.)
  • Ohjaamo: A network of almost 40 ‘one-stop shops’, operating nationally across Finland and offering young people a diverse service offer ranging from health, housing and employment under one roof. It was funded by the ESF and acts as an implementing tool of Finland’s Youth Guarantee.
  • HomeLab: A transnational pilot project implemented by partners in Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, focused on the social and labour market integration of marginalised groups (including homeless people and Roma).
  • ESF Department Flanders’ Innovation Funding Mechanism: A funding mechanism that uses part of the total ESF Flanders budget to stimulate and fund very early-stage employment and labour market innovations in the Flanders region.
  • Portugal Social Innovation: A fund designed to grow social impact investment in Portugal, to support social innovation in a range of areas, including employment.