The world faces many challenges today, ranging from health crises and climate change, to political and social turmoil and overpopulation, critical issues that require the knowledge and resources that institutions of higher education can provide to support societal change and foster social innovation. 

According to a discussion paper from UNDP’s Global Centre for Public Service Excellence, social innovations are “new solutions (products, services, models, markets, processes etc.) that simultaneously meet a social need more effectively than existing solutions and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources.”

VERN University, a UNAI member institution in Croatia, is a partner of the Social Innovation through Knowledge Exchange (SIKE) project, whose aim is to demonstrate the potential of universities and colleges to impact social change in a direct and meaningful way. This is done by developing new tools for sharing knowledge that embrace social innovation, encourage social entrepreneurship and offer more effective support to local communities.

The SIKE project supports social innovation through knowledge exchange by forging alliances between stakeholders from business, local governments, civil society organizations and community groups and through SIKE Units that develop and adapt knowledge exchange tools and processes to the needs of social innovators. In addition, the project supports social entrepreneurial skills within the university by offering social innovation incubation facilities.

It also connects social entrepreneurs and community groups with the knowledge base of the university, and offers resources and expertise to evaluate and demonstrate the value of social innovation to policymakers. The project provides in-depth needs analysis and monitoring of case studies, in addition to supporting the journey of innovators through the social innovation process. The project also offers skills training and capacity development through online tools, trainings, and workshops. 

“Social innovations are an effective way to contribute and create new values, driving the economy and competitiveness of society, which makes this project extra special for us,” explained Tea Gagro Held, Project Manager at VERN University. “As social innovators often have creative ideas but lack knowledge and skills in business development, this is where support through projects like this come in and can lend real value to innovators,” Prof. Marija Slijepčević added. 

Social innovation is integral to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As highlighted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, “given the explicit focus on addressing unmet human needs through new social practices and institutions, social innovation is likely to address aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals that emphasize inclusion and greater equity, especially in areas such as education, health, work and poverty reduction.”