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SIE speaks to SocialFare

What is social innovation and how can we support it? Social Innovation Europe (SIE) looks to understand perspectives of social innovation from across Europe in order to develop best practices for the community. We spoke to Laura Orestano (General Director) and Elena Bologna (Social Innovation Architect) from SocialFare, a catalyst and generator of social innovation in Italy, to learn more about their work in the field.

What is SocialFare?

Laura: SocialFare | Centre for Social Innovation is a social enterprise based in Torino (Italy). Since our foundation in 2013, we have focused on challenging inequality through impact innovation. We believe that social equality and social innovation are key to the development of civil society and we concentrate our efforts on new ideas, networks and solutions for social good. With a particular interest in marginalised communities, SocialFare is an incubator and accelerator of pioneering ideas for social innovation where new socioeconomic models are developed and social entrepreneurship initiatives tested. We also strive to share knowledge with other national and international actors who aspire to the same goals.

What is social innovation to you?

Laura: We actually share the definition of social innovation given by the European Commission in 2013. It is the development and implementation of new ideas, in our case new products and services as well. Our services, products and models meet social needs and create new social relationships and collaborations. For us the main objective is again to challenge inequality at all levels, in terms of access to information, growth opportunities, education, health, entrepreneurship, etc.

We also employ social impact innovation in our work, that is to say innovations which concretely help people. We generate an impact that actually improves the standard of life and the well-being of citizens, promoting economic sustainability and the growth of awareness and civic action in the general public and among different communities. It is very important for us to bring the social peripheries to the centre of our action.

Is there public awareness of social innovation or is the movement still an alien concept?

Laura: In Italy there is a growing awareness of what social innovation implies, though it differs a lot from region to region. We travel across Italy with our work and witness social innovations taking place across cities. However not all social innovators realise their actions are socially innovative. Furthermore, there are also those falsely professing they deliver social innovation.

There is certainly a growing need to provide a better definition of both the terms ‘social’ and ‘innovation’ and their resulting implications in terms of the different opportunities that they may bring about.

How do you engage the community in your work?

Laura: We believe that cross-collaboration is crucial to social innovation, for both knowledge production and solution acceleration. In order to trigger civic engagement, we first of all get to know our communities’ social needs by conducting ethnographic research: we observe what’s happening in the field with regards to behaviours, needs, language and so on. From here, we use different engagement methodologies in order to include the identified stakeholders in a co-creation process. Together, we develop potential solutions which factor in considerations such as scalability and sustainability. Then, of course, we test the solution and work to implement and iterate it.

As scalability is such an important issue for SocialFare, do you work closely with other social innovators in Italy or across Europe to share solutions?

Laura: Yes, we work with other social innovators in Italy and with some funding partners who are interested in testing new models of scalability and sustainability. With regard to partnerships, we are observing two different phenomena. On the one hand, there is a great level of curiosity though a lack of in-depth knowledge as to what social entrepreneurship or social innovation imply. On the other hand, we have people and organisations that are ready to invest but only according to their own pre-established models.

How can we strengthen social innovation across Europe?

Laura: Across Europe, we need to spread knowledge and make social innovation accessible. From a basic comprehension to the new concepts and methodologies that are being used in different countries, there needs to be a greater awareness and understanding of social innovation. We believe that something more user-friendly should be implemented, whether it’s a website, a news channel or more events. For example, there could be a social innovation roadshow which tours the country, stopping in different cities to explain in open workshops across squares and streets what social innovation is and collects examples of good practices. Of course an international database of social innovation, such as Social Innovation Europe, is also useful in supporting the dissemination of practices in other countries and providing information on existing research. It is important to note that there are good prototypes that can be ‘exported’ - so to say - from one country to another for social innovation. It is therefore worth encouraging cross-sector collaboration and strengthening awareness of current practices.

Elena: We must involve people in social innovation and provide them with the instruments necessary to understand the concept. Social innovation is spreading across Europe with the support of many European funds and prizes etc. However, many people do not understand the idea behind it so we must invest time and effort in raising awareness of the movement and demonstrating how and why people should get involved. Especially since, as we said at the very beginning, many people already work in the sector and don’t even know it! This is such a pity as I believe Italy could be the greatest country for social innovation if only it was aware of it!

As highlighted in this interview, we need to clearly identify and widely share social innovation practices in order to develop the sector. SIE facilitates grass roots identification on an international scale to support social innovators and build both scalability and sustainability into its practices. SocialFare is a valued member of this community as it devotes its energies to connecting and co-creating social innovations.

We would like to thank Laura Orestano, Elena Bologna and SocialFare for taking the time to speak with us. Should you wish to know more, please visit the SocialFare website or contact Laura at or Elena at

15 May 2014