Social innovation is rather a new concept in Serbia, not widely understood and lacking an accepted definition. Similar to the rest of the region, the country is considered to be lagging behind more developed nations regarding this field. The most pressing social needs currently in Serbia are those concerning the issues of widespread poverty, rising unemployment, regional disparities and social exclusion of vulnerable groups. The situation is hampered further by high rates of corruption and inefficient public administration so the tackling of these issues by traditional approaches seems to be largely ineffective and unsustainable.
Hence it's mostly CSOs that have created initiatives that could be viewed as socially innovative. Yet third sector's prevalent dependency on grants and lack of social investment prevent most of these organizations from advancing the concept. The most noticed aspect of social innovation is the rise of social entrepreneurship, with some 1,600 social enterprises starting up since the concept was introduced a decade ago, addressing social problems through business models.
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 Serbia.
The voices of Serbia:
In 2011, Nedeljko Kovacic of Smart Kolektiv provided us with a snapshot of how social innovation in Serbia looked like at the time. With a history of conflicts and war, and many aspects of society diminished as a result, he emphasised that the general environment in Serbia is not enabling enough for the development of social innovation:
Beside lacking financial support and a more favorable legal framework social entrepreneurship is also in the process of being defined – there is an impression that the concept is not entirely understood even among policy makers though there is a general awareness of its importance. Social entrepreneurs themselves often lack knowledge and experience in the field and there is a significant need for specialized financial and managerial expertise, especially in the third sector.
Considering the state of national economy the issue of finance is primarily critical for social innovation. Serbia is undergoing a difficult transition to market economy so the key challenge is to create stable and favorable preconditions for economic growth. Global financial crisis has had a very negative effect and the process of recovery is slow so the current economic situation poses a major constrain on any policy on the development of social innovation.
His full contribution expands on this as well as looks at how government has attempted to support social innovation.
In 2014, Neven Marinovic, Director of Smart Kolektiv, expanded on his colleague's contribution via a video interview, where he focused the discussion around the younger demographic and highlighted two important statistics:
More than 50% of young people in Serbia are currently unemployed
67% of young people in Serbia want to work for the State
He notes the lack of entrepreneurial culture and mindset amongst the younger generation. As shown above, most prefer to work within the public sector and this is due to the stability and sense of security it provides. Serbia is also experiencing a "brain drain" where many young people choose to study abroad and then ultimately live and work abroad, as they can not find the same opportunities within Serbia. These two routes navigate away from a climate of social innovation within the country.
Watch to hear more on this issue.