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Social Innovation in the Alps

Apr 18, 2018
Image caption:
© Johannes Gautier

Why social innovation?

Emigration, climate change, mobility or resource consumption – these all challenges to society that require new strategies to permit sustainable development in the Alps. They cannot be solved by technical progress alone; they also require social change.

Crises offer opportunities and are a breeding ground for social innovation. In crises, new routes can be taken, relationships be strengthened and values be redefined. Social innovations include new paths, combinations and forms of social interaction to promote sustainable development, good governance and quality of life in the Alps. They provide solutions that respond to societal needs while at the same time creating new skills and relationships. Networks and structures can be strengthened and the use of social, economic and ecological resources can be optimised.

Impact matters

Social innovation has always existed. Institutions such as kindergartens and trade unions were social innovations at the time of their emergence. What is new is the term as well as the possibilities and perspectives that open up. The fact that social innovation has become such a buzzword, offers opportunities for new financing options, but can also become a problem. The various definitions and explanatory approaches tend to bring the term itself into focus rather than the process and the impact of social innovation.

A mere idea is not an innovation. We can only talk about social innovation when there is a clear effect in and for society. If social innovations are to be helped to appear, it is important to focus on the actors and their actions and to make individual commitment visible. Social innovation absolutely requires a strong, committed civil society.

The Alps as a workshop

The sometimes extreme living conditions, the threat of natural hazards, the strong contrast between the various centres and the periphery, not to mention the pronounced cultural diversity to be found in the Alps, have always demanded a creative and flexible approach to social challenges. With their local, small-scale structures, the Alps can be regarded as a workshop, a kind of development and test laboratory for social innovations. These social innovations in remote rural areas are particularly important, as government services and welfare may sometimes not extend far beyond the boundaries of the centres.


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