Similar to the rest of Europe, Cyprus has social needs. Social innovation is increasingly understood and challenged as a new concept about how best to meet needs in a sustainable way. Social innovation is happening in the context of sometimes strong social capital, families and communities. There is also an extensive role for government, typical of an island economy or small country. What is dissimilar to most of the other countries in Europe is that Cyprus is still working through difficult internal politics with abnormal influence from external forces. The deadlock to a political solution impedes the ideal conditions for innovation and enterprise. It is also, however, the critical, social, economic and environmental issue that could benefit from social innovation.
Social innovation can make a difference in Cyprus in community, economy and nation building.
Interest in social innovation is emerging in academia, the growing civil society sector and in the business community. Specialists like the Synthesis Centre are shaping some of this learning. There are barriers to overcome for any enterprise aiming to work countrywide. There is both a need and potential for more effective international networks and collaboration to develop innovation, enterprise and investment cultures. The ingenuity of some social innovators is making some aspects of the problem redundant nevertheless by working with and around the issues caused. This does create significant extra costs. Though the prize for social innovation may be influencing the political situation, especially now that there is growing demand for CSOs and business sectors to be more involved, there are needs which exist or may emerge that require attention in any case. With such a large and aging expat population from several countries, how might the country design anything but residential care facilities to that future need?
Strategic sustainable development, including the development of an ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation, is hampered. Social innovation as with other development areas in Cyprus is a chicken and an egg situation. Innovation is needed to help change the situation and the situation prevents innovation from developing as quickly or as systematically as it might.
A political solution will help an eco-system for invention, innovation and investment to develop and network into the wider region. This remains the biggest obvious obstacle. Without it social innovation may need to develop as a kind of benign black market. In either situation there is still the need for a less obvious culture change. This includes locally rethinking and redefining what many consider entrepreneur to mean, catalysing an investment culture and nurturing leadership behaviours to match. Some of this will happen anyway and could be more systematic. For example external funders are already under pressure to achieve more impact with their funding and so some are shifting towards inter-regional and outcomes focused funding. This is positive because they could be more supportive of innovation, alongside the existing project and activity based approaches.
Cypriot social innovation could take a long time, however the imperfect situation means leaps are possible in the chaos. The UNDP hosted a partnership event focused on Cyprus and MENA region this summer, during which social innovation was not only introduced as part of a policy shift, innovations where conceived and funded during the event; a landmark first. Social innovation in Cyprus will be influenced by its unique position in Europe and being close to the middle east and north Africa region. The imperative for fundamental change there is a wave of inspiration. Social innovation networks, because of the talent they attract, are already opening up Cyprus to new thinking and inspirational approaches. This is starting to enable Cypriot experts in some areas of innovation to think about sharing that.
Cyprus is close to the cradle of civilizations, and en route for conquerors and crusaders. There is as much heat from this legacy as there is from the sun. Depending on your point of view the country is a cocktail of cultures and opportunities based on its position or a cauldron of collateral damage from colonialism based on its history. There is however stability and levels of normalcy and so social innovation and investment are relevant and have the potential to inspire a generation as they do elsewhere.
This summary was prepaired by Richard J Catherall of Katarsis Ventures