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Exploring Social Innovation

ESIA Partners gain exciting insights during a study visit to Germany

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Gruppenbild am Dortmunder Hafen © Dortmunder Hafen AG

Which social innovation fits with the local situation, which financing instruments exist, and how can the impact of social innovation be grasped? As part of the EU-funded (ESF+, EaSI) project “European Social Innovation Alliance” (ESIA) the consortium partners leaped at the chance to experience real-life approaches to social innovation in the cities of Dortmund and Berlin and thereby learned about support structures and measurement of social innovation.

20 partners from Scotland, Denmark, Estonia, Poland and other parts of Germany visited the Social Research Center (SFS) at TU Dortmund University and Social Impact gGmbH. Dortmund set the starting point of the 3-day tour throughout Germany: First part of the program was a visit to the “Nordstadt”, the Northern quarters of Dortmund. In a one-hour guided walk around Blücherpark, led by Dr. Rick Hölsgens (SFS) and perfected by best sunny weather, the partners learned about the project iResilience. Right away, the group visited the Port of Dortmund. The Port of Dortmund authority’s chairwoman Bettina Brennenstuhl welcomed the ESIA partners, who then joined the commercial and technical head for a tour through the “Speicherstraße”, a street right next to the port, where a series of socially innovative projects made it to the planning board. The visitors were most excited to learn about the different ways to approach financial support and to push projects forward, from tendering to municipal and private support and local businesses’ investments. During the tour, the ESIA partners raised many questions, also reflecting the diverse experiences made within their different home countries.

Afterwards, the SFS team invited the partners over to the institute in Dortmund-Eving. Two workshops composed the afternoon session. Dr. Markus Freiburg (FASE, Financing Agency for Social Entrepreneurship) gave interesting insights into the topic of “social finance” and, alongside a series of good practices, elucidated the breadth of business models and financing options for social ventures. The eventful afternoon ended with an interactive workshop on “impact measurement”. Dr. Judith Terstriep (Institute for Work and Technology, IAT) and Thomas Steiner (PHINEO) highlighted both theoretical and practical facets on prerequisites and approaches to measure impact of social innovation. Actively involving the participants, they discussed a set of possible impact indicators.

During the common dinner in the city center of Dortmund, the partners compared their home countries’ regional and local projects with those in the Dortmund “Nordstadt”, followed up on topics from the workshops and discussed current issues of research and teaching within the different EU countries. After the eventful first day, the group looked even more forward to the further upcoming visits at the national competence centers for social innovation in Poland and Denmark.

On the second day of the study visit, the partners had the chance to get to know social innovation in Dortmund from the bird's-eye view at the PROJEKTOR facility located in the city center. Dr. Arne Elias, head of the city of Dortmund Social Innovation Center, in his presentation highlighted central social innovation projects in Dortmund and showed how urgent challenges are addressed by the public administration. Following the presentation, the partners discussed approaches to supporting local social innovation and asked about public sector support structures. The discussants, furthermore, raised questions on how the Social Innovation Center handles failed projects and how they scale the successful ones. The group had a warm and sunny farewell at the Dortmund central station and left to prolong the country visit in Berlin.

Project page of the european social innovation alliance
Website of the european social innovation alliance