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Social innovation in Italy: an overview of its origins  

10 Apr, 2024 | News


Italy has a long tradition in social entrepreneurship, in associationism. Moreover, it is a country where the family plays a fundamental role as the first level of welfare and community in its socioeconomic framework. And the role of institutions is not to be overlooked since they support bottom-up dynamics in the Italian context. Here there is the stylistic feature of the dynamics of social innovation in Italy, linked to the strength of the network and the multiplicity of actors. 

Let us see how the need to change approach and tend increasingly towards a social innovation model develops over time.  

Several factors contributed to the relevance of this issue, including the economic crisis of 2008, where a turning point was seen, a reaction to the challenges posed by the historical moment: collaborations increased and a networking approach was adopted. In this context, social enterprises have been crucial because they have built various alliances, particularly with public administrations, and have been able to give continuity to social projects in various sectors, especially in terms of sustainability, urban regeneration and the economic framework.   

The positive impact of these alliances was particularly seen with the Italian Regions which recognised the need for a new holistic approach of public policies towards citizens, focusing both on direct intervention to overcome social gaps and on the innovation of welfare services and administrative processes.   

This approach has evolved over the past 15 years with the creation of new financial and infrastructural support measures for social enterprises and different actors. One of the measures has been the agreements with public institutions to allow social innovation initiatives to access spaces at reduced costs and to delegate activities, and thus the recognition of the need to create territorial and virtual hubs. For instance, ‘Network of Hybrid Spaces’ in Milan promoted collaboration between the municipality and social enterprises, offering public spaces at reduced costs to develop innovative projects.   

In order to secure more resources for social enterprises, several funding measures have been put in place. The Ministry of Economic Development has introduced a subsidised funding measure called ‘Social Economy Enterprise’ to support enterprises operating in the social economy. In addition, the ‘Social Economy Italy’ programme has also supported social, cultural and creative enterprises by offering incentives, which have helped to generate positive effects on the territory from increasing the employment of disadvantaged groups to the inclusion of vulnerable people and the protection of the environment.  

Social innovation in Italy has evolved as a response to contemporary challenges, promoting collaboration, networking and the adoption of integrated approaches to tackle the complexities of modern society.