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Portugal faces numerous pressures in society with more than 18.2% of the population living below the national poverty line before social transfers, and 35% of young people are unemployed, which underlines the imperative need for social innovation. Thus, despite the severe crisis that the country is undergoing, the Portuguese social economy is benefiting from an unprecedented development.

Social Innovation in Portugal is characterised by a number of up and coming projects. They are characterised by many exchanges and collaborations and a large variety of actors (public institutions, associations, companies, foundations, patrons, educators etc). It is striking to see that the Portuguese social innovation structures are constantly changing. In 2013, the Portuguese Parliament voted a Basic Law for Social Economy, opening new horizons to a sector that had been long waiting change.


Social innovation is time and context specific, which means it can mean different things in different contexts. 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 organizations involved in this field and each one has different perspectives. So, the purpose of this page is to demonstrate a variety of views on what social innovation means to different kinds of organizations in Portugal.

The voices from Portugal:

In 2011, Sair da Casca provided an overview of what social innovation in Portugal looked like at the time:

The social economy represents approximately 5.6% of the Portuguese GDP and employs over 270,000 people. This sector has ingrained roots in Portugal due to entities like the misericórdias, cooperatives, mutuals, community groups, trusts and foundations that have been delivering organised actions to address some of the most prominent social issues of the Portuguese society.

It notes the key elements of social innovation in Portugal:

  1. promoting social entrepreneurship
  2. building a favourable legal framework for social organisations
  3. improving the role of the business sector
  4. creating awareness and sharing best practices
  5. working towards more cohesion in the social sector
  6. financing social impact
  7. mobilising for social innovation
  8. building a knowledge base for future action

It also highlighted a few successful organizations, aimed at the acceleration of social innovation in Portugal:

  • Impulso Positivo: one of the main platforms for information about social innovation in Portugal.
  • Entrajuda: an organization that supports other social organizations in their day-to-day management, in order to improve their performance and social impact.
  • PORDATA: a database of statistical information about Portugal on a broad range of areas.
  • Action tank: an organization, which fosters the creation of social and inclusive business models among its members.
  • IES: an association, which identifies, supports and trains social entrepreneurs.

Read the full summary to learn more about the innovative ways Portugal is tackling key social issues. 

In 2015, Europe Tomorrow wrote a summary on their findings in Portugal, during their tour across Europe aimed at identifying social innovations in each country in various sectors. They firstly highlight the progress being made in the field:

In 2010, the sector included 50 000 organisations (associations, cooperatives, foundations and mutual funds) and represented 200 000 jobs. Five years later, some 70 000 organisations created more than 270 000 jobs. It is striking to see that the Portuguese social innovation structures are constantly changing. They are characterised by many exchanges and collaborations and a large variety of actors (public institutions, associations, companies, foundations, patrons, educators etc).

A particularly promising recent development for the social sector, was the enactment of the ‘Basic Law for Social Economy’ in 2013 by the Portuguese Parliament, which “enables to clarify different entities’ legal regimes, to consolidate their networks and their governances while giving them strong financial tools. A specific tax status is also assigned to them.

A few successful initiatives were selected to exemplify the wide range of innovative organizations in Portugal: 

  • Mundo a Sorrir: an organization dedicated to equality in access to health care.
  • Startup Pirates: a one-week program, which enables aspiring entrepreneurs to develop key business skills.
  • ENCONTRAR + SE: an institution dedicated to the development of solutions regarding the rehabilitation of people with severe mental illnesses.
  • LEQUE: an organization, which aims to improve the quality of life of people with special needs.
  • Noocity: an organization, which promotes the production of food in your home.

Read their full summary for more details on the social innovation network in Portugal.