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In France, social innovation is closely linked with three other fields of intervention:

  • the social and solidarity-based economy (économie sociale et solidaire or ESS) as the umbrella for all interventions;
  • social entrepreneurship: social enterprises are businesses set up for a social, societal or environmental purpose and not aiming at profit maximisation. They seek to involve their stakeholders in their governance;
  • social impact: Any organisation set up for a social purpose seeks to generate a positive social impact. Assessing the social impact plays a crucial role in the social and solidarity-based economy and the enterprises of which it consists.

The above reflects a vision of social innovation in France which is oriented towards an entrepreneurial approach, in contrast to other current definitions and practices in other countries – including other social innovations in the voluntary sector – within social movements whose aim is not to set up businesses but to support citizen projects. Although such a citizen movement also exists in France, it is still not well established in the social innovation field.


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 France.

The voices from France:

In 2011, Stefane Vincent from La 27e Region provided a snapshot of social innovation in France at that time. He pinpointed the four main challenges and obstacles facing social innovators

  • The traditional sector is getting older, and there will be many retirements before 2020.
  • There is a huge disparity in wages between this sector and traditional sectors.
  • Different values co-exist within the same sector.
  • Vocabulary around social innovation

Click here to read more on these challenges as well as learn some key figures behind the social and solidarity economy.

In late 2014, Groupe SOS and AEIDL collaborated to share their insight on social innovation in France.

The very definition that social innovation “meets social needs” clearly positions its mission as one of transforming society, against a background of increasing impoverishment, limits to the use of fossil fuels for energy, the digital divide, the decline of public services in rural areas, an ageing population, the isolation of the elderly, the growing demand for organic food, etc. 

Spending cuts in the public sector, the overall drop in private investment and the decline in purchasing power are leading the French population to seek solutions via various types of social innovation:

  • Decline in consumption and purchasing power
  • Decline in private funding
  • Decline in public funding and cuts in social policies despite the crisis tending to increase social inequalities
  • Desire to develop a sustainable and responsible economy
  • Taking environmental requirements into account

Though social innovation can involve any type of organisation, independent of its status or its business sector, this form of innovation is emerging in particular within organisations belonging to the social and solidarity-based economy. In 2013, the number of employees working in the social economy continued to rise. The highest rises were to be found in foundations and cooperatives.

Click here to read their full contribution, which includes a detailed history, who is supporting social innovation and a look at key projects. A version is also available in French.