Gdynia, near Gdansk, does not compare to San Francisco or Shanghai as one of the great urban centres of ideas and invention. But last month it was giving both cities a good run for their money when it came to buzz and intellectual energy.
This former fishing village in Poland, now a city of 250,000 people, was chosen to host the first international winter school in social innovation, which attracted 70 experts from all corners of the globe, including Korea, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Australia and the UK. All were seeking new, creative solutions to the increasingly serious social challenges of our times. Some were looking to solve problems relating to health; others were exercised by the problem of wealth (or rather the lack of it). Youth joblessness was a theme, as was ageing. No profit motive was attached or product pitch involved. This was just people offering ingenuity and services.
The passion for social innovation is not new. But, as the success of the event in Gdynia demonstrated, an exponential rise in interest seems to be taking place, partly because of the impact of the internet and partly because government coffers are running empty and some of the bigger challenges appear intractable. Often, successful innovation means the addition of a new ingredient to what is already familiar. The arrival of television, for example, plus long-distance learning, created the Open University. Add cars to older people in need of a regular lunch, and meals on wheels is born. Hospices, charity shops, the Samaritans, the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides are all examples of social innovation that eventually became part of the nation's furniture.
To read the full article, including descriptions of the Water Hackathon, Check You Out!, Hello Sunday Morning, and the Kafka Brigade, please follow the link to the Guardian, where this piece was originally published.