Social innovation in Croatia was an unknown concept outside the academic community until 2011, when Social Innovation Laboratory was established and started to work in the Western Balkans. It has also been quite slow to be recognized on a policy level but progress has been made. Most innovations identified in Croatia are in the phase of implementation and are thriving and competing. While one sixth of these innovations do have potential for global value, the majority is of national or local relevance, which is a step forward for a post conflict developing country like Croatia.
High unemployment is certainly one of the biggest challenges in Croatia, with youth unemployment rates around 49% and average unemployment rates around 17% (EU's third-highest unemployment rates). Other key challenges being addressed include education, renewable energy sources, environment protection, improving social inclusion of marginalized groups, and poverty reduction.
Social innovation is time and context specific. That means it can mean different things in different context. What might not seem innovative in one country, may be ground breaking in another. The political and cultural background is important to understand. There are also a wide variety of organisations involved in this field, each have different perspectives. So, the purpose of this page is to demonstrate a variety of views on what social innovation means to different kinds of organisations in Croatia.
The voices from Croatia:
In 2011, Mirna Karzen from Social Innovation Lab provided a brief summary on what social innovation looked like in Croatia. The summary highlighted the key challenges with social innovation in Croatia:
"First of all, the general environment is yet not stimulating enough to enable the appropriate development and mapping of social innovation. This is due to the lack of evidence based policy making knowledge and practice, lack of consistent and coherent, innovative policy making practices that will create optimal conditions for open dialogue on pressing policy issues with key actors on all levels, including national and local governments, civil society organizations and private sector, as well as lack of adequate and broadly understood mechanisms, tools and innovative solutions that will put the accelerated process of adopting the principles of democratic governance and the European Acquis into practice.
[...] there is also the lack of active, cross-border partnerships and networks that promote innovative, community-based solutions, share of experiences and best practices. Also, community leaders often do not per see themselves as social innovators and do not promote those practices. For all these reasons, the greatest challenge will be in defining socio-economic challenges, creating a baseline for mapping social innovation and then defining methods for promoting those practices to broader public in order to make it more clear to various groups and broader public."
Read more on the obstacles, along with the history and growth of Croatia here.
In 2016, Mirna Karzen from Social Innovation Lab, provided an update on the previous contribution, firstly noting the improvements made since 2011:
"This situation has positively changed in the period 2013-2014 when the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds and the Ministry of Labour and Pension Reform, boosted by Social Innovation Lab’s continuing efforts to increase awareness on the importance of social innovation, accepted the EC’s recommendations and included social innovation into the Partnership Programme and the Operating Programme on Human Resource Development, (OPHRD 2014-2020). There was also an increase of activities and initiatives on social innovation and social entrepreneurship, accompanied by both national and (mostly) European competitions on social innovation."
It expands onto the key players of social innovation, emphasising the role that Social Innovation Lab itself plays:
"When it comes to Social Innovation Networks, a very important network is led by the Social Innovation Laboratory and consists of partners based in 7 countries from the Western Balkans. There are groups of civil society representatives organized around social entrepreneurship, which in the long run might further evolve into social innovation networks. There are sector-specific networks (employment, education, social inclusion, local governance etc.), but these are tangentially connected with social innovation and have not fully come to see it as a central part of their overall approaches. These networks consist mostly of the civil society representatives and their role is to share the experience and initiate joint collaboration between and among the involved countries."
The contribution also explores the key challenges that are being addressed: high unemployment, education, renewable energy sources, environment protection, improving social inclusion of marginalized groups and poverty reduction. Some examples are:
- Renewable energy sources and environmental protection
Croatia has many initiatives that address this issue, however, most would not be considered socially innovative. One example of social innovation that addresses this challenge is the first energy independent school in the world, ‘Ostrog’. This school uses a solar PV system, energy efficient lighting (reducing energy consumption by 60%), educates its students and others about energy efficiency and includes them in taking care of the botanical garden that surrounds the school.
- Inclusion of marginalized groups
In the Strategy for the fight against poverty and social exclusion in Republic of Croatia (2014 – 2020), the analysis of Croatia’s context covers all three stands of active inclusion – adequate income support, labor market activation and access to enabling services. A good example of social innovation that addresses this challenge is a social cooperative “Taste of home”, which is run by refugees, migrants and volunteers. This is a program that helps refugees and migrants earn a living, better integrate socially and become settled in Croatia.
Read more examples in the full contribution here.
It is important to mention that due to a recent change in government (November 2015) where an ultra-conservative theocratic coalition has emerged that has already indicated its intent to reduce the role of civil society, the potential for innovative practices and policy development at risk. It is too early to know for sure but updates on this profile will be provided accordingly.