Policies can do much to support (or to hinder) a flourishing ecosystem for social impact. National strategies may boast a wider reach, but actions on a more local level can often go deeper and be hugely effective in supporting strong communities of innovation.
What regions and cities are pioneering this kind of support for social impact? And how can they learn from each other? Antonella Noya, head of unit of the OECD’s Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities, fills us in.
What can regional governments do for social impact that national ones can’t?
Both national and regional governments play important roles in growing ecosystems for social impact. What matters most is that their respective policies are coherent and consistent.
But regions (and cities) can tailor their policies and programmes more easily than national governments. Recently the Region Örebro County in Sweden adopted its first policy for civil society and social economy — its main objective is to strengthen the participation and influence of civil society and social economy for regional development and growth.
And the proximity of regional (and local or city) governments with people and resources can potentially allow them to better identify problems in their territory and to provide better-tailored solutions by mobilising or partnering with local stakeholders and assets.
An example is Alter’Incub, launched in 2007 in the French Occitanie Region, the result of a partnership between local and national stakeholders and the Region. It’s the first regional incubator in France — it has since been replicated in other French regions — and it has helped create over 40 social enterprises.
“City authorities can be catalysts for innovative policy solutions, especially when they tap into citizens’ tacit knowledge and willingness to participate in local development.”
What role do cities play?
Cities are home to over half the world’s population and confront many of today’s most pressing challenges. City authorities can be catalysts for innovative policy solutions, especially when they tap into citizens’ tacit knowledge and willingness to participate in local development.
Can you share any examples of this?
Turin was ranked second in the 2016 European Capital of Innovation Award for its open innovation models that support start-ups and create new market opportunities for urban innovations. In 2017 the award was granted to Paris: both for its support to start-ups – it hosts the world’s largest start-up campus, Station F — and for projects proposed and implemented by citizens to whom 5% of the city budget is allocated. Cities can also help social initiatives to emerge and thrive by adopting responsible public procurement rules. Barcelona did this back in 2013.
A great example from further afield is the city of Seoul, where much of the activity is coordinated by the Seoul Innovation Bureau, a unit of the Mayor’s Office. [Read a case study here.] The city also built a “Social Innovation Park” where citizens can experiment with ideas for solving social issues.
What are the key things a regional government has to have in place to fully support social impact?
Social impact is everyone’s responsibility. But collective commitment to this often needs to be fostered through political leadership.
Regional (and city) governments need to invest in creating an environment in which a vibrant civil society can exist, where citizens are empowered to take action, where the business community, at different levels, delivers on its social responsibility, where education institutions engage with and support innovative thinking, where social enterprises and social innovators can emerge and thrive, where funders and investors want to put their money where social value can be created. To do all of this, regional and city government needs strong leadership, rooted in a strategic vision for systemic change, and a wide set of relevant integrated policies.
“The OECD’s Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth initiative allows mayors to share strategies for more inclusive cities, access an online platform of good policies and practices, and ensure that local perspectives are shaping national and international agendas.”
How can cities and regions learn better from each other?
Networks such as REVES Network, URBACT, Eurocites and many others are excellent platforms to learn and share.
The OECD also contributes to international exchange of good practices and learning. Our Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth initiative is a global coalition of mayors working to tackle inequalities and advocate for inclusive growth. It allows them to share strategies for more inclusive cities, access an online platform of good policies and practices, and ensure that local perspectives are shaping national and international agendas.
At OECD we are also preparing, in partnership with the European Commission, the Better Entrepreneurship Online Tool for assessing social enterprise ecosystems and learning. The tool can be used individually, but using it as a group and sharing the results of the assessment can generate really thought-provoking discussion. We’re looking forward to cities and regions sharing what they do and getting inspiration from others on how to inject more social innovation and impact in their spaces!
Antonella Noya has 20 years’ experience at the OECD. As head of unit she designs and coordinates work in areas of social economy, social entrepreneurship, innovation and local social inclusion, and has authored numerous publications in these fields. She also represents the OECD at the United Nations and within the European Commission’s Group of Experts on Social Entrepreneurship (GECES).
Photo: Paris, by James Wainscoat on Unsplash