EU tech innovators share world-changing ideas at academy

Thirty of the best ideas to transform the lives of disadvantaged people across Europe using technology were explored and developed this week in Madrid.

From 3 to 5 July, the semi-finalists of the 2017 European Social Innovation Competition joined a mentoring academy where they took part in workshops and shared their experiences to move their projects forward.

The theme of this year’s competition, now in its fifth year, is ‘equality rebooted’. Earlier this year, entries were invited from innovators with ideas to help every member of society seize the opportunities of the ‘digital revolution’ – the transformations that technology is bringing to all aspects of people’s lives.

Grzegorz Drozd, policy expert at the European Commission and manager of the competition, explained that new technologies lead to positive changes. But he added: “New technologies are responsible for creating a new type of division between people – between those that have access and ability to use them and those that don’t.”

The competition received more than 800 entries from 40 countries and 12 judges focused on choosing the best – and those with the biggest potential.

Social innovation is rooted in local communities, but it can scale up into other areas of Europe

The semi-finalists (pictured above with mentors and academy co-ordinators) include Parkingspace Invaders from Hungary – an app to find parking spaces for people with disabilities, Mouse4all – a Spanish innovation to help people with motor disabilities use mobile phones or tablets without touching the screen, and Aj Ty v IT Women Tester Academy – a Slovakian initiative to train women in IT.

“Social innovation is rooted in local communities, but it can be transformed into other contexts. It can scale up into other areas of Europe,” said Drozd.

“This competition shows that social innovation makes sense and that it can be a concrete tool to face the challenges of today, and that social innovation creates jobs and growth.”


Madrid: a hotspot for social innovation

Each year the academy is held in a different city. Madrid was chosen as the venue for this year’s academy as it is a “hotspot for social innovation”, said Drozd. Following Spain's financial crisis which began in 2008 and continuing high unemployment, many civil society initiatives have developed to address inequalities and unhappiness with the current political system.

A key aim of the academy is to link into the local ecosystem, Drozd added. The semi-finalists had the opportunity to meet local social innovators and took part in visits to Madrid-based social innovation sites.


Sharing and learning

Semi-finalist Vivian Vos from CollAction in the Netherlands said: “It’s really useful talking to other people and hearing the challenges they have faced and how they have overcome them. It helps to focus our ideas. It’s so inspiring.” Her organisation aims to introduce ‘crowdacting’ – bringing people together to take action in large numbers.

Another semi-finalist, Alice Martin from the New Economics Foundation, is working on an app to help cleaners gain control of their working conditions. She said: “The academy is brilliant. The best thing is learning about the other projects and how similar models to ours exist or are starting to exist in other countries.”

From the 30 semi-finalists, the finalists will be announced on 21 September. Three winners will receive a prize of €50,000 at a ceremony on 26 October in Brussels.


• Follow the competition on Twitter via and #diogochallenge.