Story of Seoul- a decade of social innovation impact

Seoul has become a leading global example of a city truly designed around its citizens. Seoul City’s citizen-centred policy has touched so many parts of the city, but it is a complex story and it is not easy to tell. SIX has been part of Seoul’s journey from the beginning in 2007 and has contributed to social innovation ecosystem building in Seoul in multiple ways, working closely with local civil society organisations and city government.

SIX begins its long-lasting relationship with the social innovation ecosystem in Seoul, South Korea through our relationship with a like-minded organisation, the Hope Institute led by a human rights lawyer turned community activist, Won Soon Park.

Wonsoon Park is elected Mayor of Seoul in 2011. As the world’s first ‘social innovation Mayor’, this signals a new direction for Seoul City and SIX is called on for support. 

Embedding social innovation across institutes in Seoul, and building  global connections through study visits, secondments and regular exchange. 


The Mayor establishes a global advisory committee in 2016, with support from SIX, providing Mayor Won-Soon Park with global perspectives on the challenges facing Seoul.

SIX shares the Unusual Suspects Festival model with partners in Seoul as a tool to connect the increasing number of social innovation actors in the city who are in danger of working in silos.  


In 2020, after several years of visiting and working in the unique city, SIX and the Global Advisory Committee embarked on a project to document the story of Seoul’s journey to become a people-powered city.


  • 2008-2011

    The beginning

  • 2011-2013

    The turning point

  • 2014-2016

    Global exchange

  • 2016

    Global Advisory

  • 2018-2019

    Connecting silos

  • 2020-2021

    Documenting a legacy


Recovery through social innovation

Over the last 10 years, SIX has built a long-lasting relationship with the social innovation ecosystem in Seoul, South Korea. The journey began with getting to know a civic organisation called the Hope Institute in 2008. We were building a community of like-minded people and organisations around the world then and we were excited to find an organisation that was using the similar approaches and narratives on social innovation in South Korea. 

The understanding of social innovation was closely linked to the idea of democracy and civic empowerment in South Korea. South Korea remained quite a traditional, authoritarian and patriarchal society with not much more than a generation since the end of the military dictatorship. Social innovation was a narrative used to redefine the relationship between the state and its citizens, towards more collaborative ways of working. 

The Hope Institute work to harness the collective power of citizens through various initiatives such as the Social Invention Competition, Complaints Choir and capacity building programmes.

The Hope Institute became one of SIX closest allies in Asia, acting as an anchor organisation in Seoul. The Hope Institute team took an active part in SIX’s annual global Summer Schools, and the SIX team visit Seoul to learn from their activities and share their innovation stories – from Complaint Choirs to citizen competitions – for others to learn from and copy around the world.


The turning point -Seoul becomes a social innovation city

There was a turning point in the social innovation movement in South Korea when Wonsoon Park became the Mayor of Seoul in 2011. There was an enormous opportunity and energy to position Seoul as a ‘social innovation city’ and set an example for the world.

As a global partner, SIX was invited to co-curated a global Summer School in Seoul, with the Seoul Metropolitan Government, signalling a new direction for Seoul on the social innovation world stage.  Alongside parters the Seoul Institute and Hope Institute, we brought together 400 people to explore the role of cities in supporting civic and social innovation. The aim of the event was to galvanise local actors and give energy to the new city administration by showing global examples of social innovation but also to provide the global social innovation community an opportunity to learn from Seoul’s story.


Nurturing social innovation through global exchange

The social innovation narrative in Seoul continued to grow throughout the second term of Mayor Park with a new social innovation department within the city government and establishment of various intermediary organisations such as Social Innovation Park, Youth Hub, Community Support Center and the Social Economy Center. The focus during the first few years were on building social innovation capacity in the civic sector as well as various levels of the city government. 

SIX continued building relationships with the Seoul Metropolitan Government and South Korean civic organisations through a combination of various two-way exchange activities. 

  • Study visits for civil servants – Annually, SIX ran a European study visit programme for Seoul City’s civil servants, in partnership with Spread-i, on topics relating to social innovation and public sector innovation. The programme was aimed at building social innovation capacity of civil servants by taking them on field visits to see and learn from real-life examples. 
  • Secondment programme – SIX hosted Seoul City’s civil servants for secondment placements. The 6-month secondment programme provided civil servants on-the-job experience working at a social innovation organisation to take back the learnings into their work in the city government. 
  • Participation in the annual conference in Seoul – SIX team visited Seoul every year for the annual Future Innovation Forum, which was set up following the global SIX Summer School in 2012. The gathering was an annual touch point for SIX to learn and share Seoul’s social innovation journey with the global community. 


The Mayor establishes a global advisory committee

SIX supported setting up a global advisory committee in 2016, which provided Mayor Won-Soon Park with global perspectives on the challenges facing Seoul.Louise Pulford, SIX CEO, is one of the Advisors and the SIX team helped the Mayor and his team get the most out of the annual meetings by supporting on the design and facilitation of the advisory meeting annually, making connections between the local actors and global advisors between the meetings. Each meeting included visiting local projects and meeting innovators, in advance of a meeting with the Mayor. 


Connecting the social innovation ecosystem in the city

As the scale of social innovation activities and events grew in Seoul, there was an increasing concern that various actors in the social innovation movement stayed disconnected and siloed.

In 2018 and 2019, SIX partnered with C. and Seoul Innovation Park to bring The Unusual Suspects Festival to Seoul to connect different parts of the social innovation ecosystem and bring diversity to the conversations.  


Documenting and sharing the social innovation legacy of Seoul

In 2020, after several years of visiting and working in the unique city, SIX and the members of Seoul Innovation Global Advisory Committee embarked on a project to document the story of Seoul’s journey to become a people-powered city. As we move into a new more turbulent decade globally, we decided it was an appropriate time to document and share this unique and globally co-created story. 

The aim was to inspire and catalyse cities around the world by providing better understanding of the social innovation learnings from Seoul City. Seoul as a people-powered city: from local to global and back again, a collection of case studies and essays reflecting on Seoul’s experiences, was published in 2021.