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Social innovation has a rather brief history in Hungary. Primarily, social innovation is envoked in relation to market production, focussing on the capacity of enterprises to employ a labour force, to diversify the skills of that labour force, and to increase mobility within the national economy.

In Hungary, the terms: social economy, social entrepreneurship, social services and social innovation aren’t clearly distinguished within public policies. Social innovations and social entrepreneurship are strongly interlinked, having a complementary and an important role to play in tackling major societal challenges in Hungary, which are: poverty and social exclusion, aging population, youth unemployment and too early exit of 55+ year old, discrimination against Roma and homelessness.

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 Hungary.

The voices of Hungary:

In 2011, Brigitta Jaksa and Barbara Eros from Demnet shared their perspective on the social innovation scene in Hungary. They provided a brief history on how social innovation developed in the country: 

"The late 1980s unveiled a great need for social innovation, which had been supressed by the planned/centralized socialist economy; Hungary’s entire system of social services had to be reinvented at once, following the transition in 1990. Social innovation was regarded as part of the answer to the "arrested development” in social service provision, tackling social problems arising from marginalization and unemployment. However, there is still little research on innovation; the necessary conditions, catalysing factors and methods for mitigating unwanted results still remain under-theorized.

Fostering social innovation through social enterprises was a new idea in Hungary, and Ashoka contributed immensely to the promotion of social innovation in this way when established itself in the region in 1994. The concept of innovation was reinterpreted so as to focus on what is innovative in the region, allowing innovators to make the necessary contextual adaptations to make their innovations sustainable. The "blurry” definition of innovation was intended to keep the concept open-ended and to work against standardization, because the market was so underdeveloped. NESsT further strengthened the focus on sustainability of social enterprises with the view of maximizing social impact. Due to the fact that the field of social innovation is still very small, Ashoka and NESsT work with overlapping large groups of social innovators."

In 2011, Judith Hamburg from Corvinus University also provided a perspective on what social innovation looked like in Hungary, particularly from a legal standpoint:

"[...]there is a law, also referred to as framework legislation on innovation, which aims at increasing competitiveness, application of research results and innovation. There are several laws and decrees relating to social services, organisations entitled to offer social services and so forth. The term “social enterprise” exists in legal and common language, but it is not used very commonly. The functioning of social enterprises is governed by the laws on social services, hence it is hard to draw a line or move away from the traditional state and local authority dominated structure of providing social services and civil society organisations that often have a broader sphere of activity than only providing those services that citizens in difficult social situations are entitled to receive on a legal basis."

It continues to note the programmes established to support innovation: 

  • The National Innovation Office deals with innovation connected to research, scientific / technological innovation. Innovation is supported mainly in the field of science, research, support to micro, small and medium enterprises, environmental protection, green movement, and intellectual property.
  • Within the framework of the European Regional Development Fund, European Social Funds and the Cohesion Fund, two operational programmes, namely the Social Infrastructure Operational Programme and the Social Renewal Operational Programme support development of the social sector. Furthermore, there is a fund supporting civil society, mostly supporting the functioning of civil society organisations financially. 

In 2016, Aleksandra Kowalska of AEIDL provided an update on the state of social innovation in Hungary, explaining an increased interest in social innovation by public institutions:

"There is a visible support for social innovations within public programmes and policy initiatives by incorporating some measures and definitions established on the EU level, i.e. within Social Business Initiative. Public institutions show interest in pursuing social innovations within the following three areas: supporting organisations engaged in work integration activities and social inclusion of disadvantaged groups, securing innovative and alternative financing (non-state) in the social economy sector and adopting the policy framework coherent to EU policy and investment fund strategies regarding social business and innovation."

It continues to highlight the active role played by young people:

"Moreover, civil society can be regarded as very active in Hungary. Particularly young people are active in this field, volunteering is a well-known concept. Many non-profit organisations finance themselves from the 1% tax donations that tax payers can donate to organisations on a yearly basis. Some organisations fight for only one cause, but typically one organisation is active in several fields, ranging from donations and food to very poor people to support to victims of natural disasters abroad. Organisations that concentrate on one issue usually fight for Roma rights and better integration of the Roma minority into Hungarian society, improvement of the situation of disabled people and children.

There are also several unconventional civil society movements organised by young people that can hardly be grouped into any category and often do not even have a registered organisation in their background and use the internet, Facebook and Twitter to promote their goals. As an example, one could mention the Critical Mass movement that is successfully fighting for bike lanes and respect for bikers in traffic, or the Bike Kitchen, where volunteers repair donated bikes and provide them to orphanages and other social institutions."

Finally, it suggests that " the next step for social economy entities in Hungary is to prove (both to the public sector and broader society) the added value and innovativeness of its action is to work on social impact measurement methods [...] and to continue with discovering alternative financing models to pursue social innovations principles and for public sector is to pursue the legislative work, which would contribute to creation of common understanding and visibility of the social sector and social innovations. 

To read all of the contributions in more detail, click here.

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