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One hundred years ago in his seminal book 'Theory of economic development', Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter enunciated what is still considered to be the basics of innovation theory. More recently, in 1990, the Centre for Social Innovation (Zentrum für Soziale Innovation, ZSI) was founded.

Since 2005, a private foundation (Unruhe Privatstiftung) has awarded the Social Innovation Prize “SozialMarie”, attracting up to 300 applications from Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia every year. Each year on the 1st of May, three main awards (divided into € 15,000, € 10,000 and € 5,000) as well as twelve “1,000-Euro awards“ are distributed with extensive media coverage. Despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that Austria has been a follower of innovation for a long time, social innovation has not become a key issue in national policy debate until recently.

Nevertheless, many innovations have been introduced to stimulate social development throughout the 20th century. Beginning with social legislation following the First World War, and as a result of the system of social partnership (a major social innovation in itself) which had been informally established and consistently built upon after the Second World War, Austria has created social innovations at a time when this term did not yet exist, and when even the term “innovation” was hardly used as a principle to guide management operations. Up to the end of the 1970s Austria worked to develop a consolidated social system. This system nowadays is exposed to mounting stress, especially from 1990 onwards, yet the necessity for developing and implementing social innovations in response to this stress did not make significant early inroads.

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