Introduction to social innovation by Leonard Cohen
There is a widely known song from Leonard Cohen, his “Anthem”, whose hook allegedly refers to a parable told by Jack Kornfield:
A young man who had lost his leg came to a Buddhist monastery, and he was extremely angry at life, always drawing pictures of cracked vases and damaged things, because he felt damaged. Over time, he found inner peace, and changed his outlook, but still drew broken vases. His master asked him one day: “Why do you still draw a crack in the vases you draw, are you not whole?” And he replied: “yes, and so are the vases. The crack is how the light gets in.”
And how does this song, how does this parable relate to social innovation? That was the challenge Robert Lukesch, SIMRA partner from ÖAR GmbH took up at the International Workshop on “Social Innovation in Public Policies” organised by the Secretariat of Social Coordination of the Brazilian Presidency (Brasilia, 7-9 March 2018).
On the 2nd and 3rd of March, SIMRA’s team from the University of Padova participated in the 12th edition of the conference “Fragile rural areas”, held in Rovigo, Italy. This years’ theme was “Abnormal Exchanges. The nested markets for rural fragile areas”.
“Nested” markets are, according to Jan Douwe van der Ploeg’s definition, markets that have less to do with globalised systems of exchange, and more with exchanges in real meeting places. Van der Ploeg has long studied the phenomenon, coining the concept of “nested” markets, and was invited to give the opening speech at the conference. He emphasised the multi-level nature of such exchanges, pointing out that “nested” markets are markets animated by ethical and social values, related to the quality of products, human relationships, the development of the territory and environmental protection. In his view, nested markets are a segment of a larger market that emerges from economic as well as social and political motives, and presents peculiarities such as unique infrastructure, with an aim to transform the global system. The way in which he characterises “nested” markets closely relates to the topics at the core of SIMRA.
The 21st of March is the official first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. The day of the equinox, in which plants start to blossom and sprout as warm air begins to invade our latitudes. Not only this, this day is also celebrated throughout the world as the International Day of Forests, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and trees for biodiversity and the livelihood of human communities around the globe.
Trees and forested areas cover one third of the Earth’s land, playing a key role in enhancing plant and animal diversity and in regulating carbon fluxes, mitigating the impact of anthropogenic climate changes. Additionally, forests are crucial resources for sustaining communities around the world. Water, flood prevention, fruits, leaves, branches, and wood are only a few of the key ecosystem services that they entail. Lastly, forests are of increasing importance for urban areas, providing a cooling green infrastructure in which citizens benefit from recreational activities and healthy lifestyles.
In rural areas, forests are a prominent feature of the landscape, especially when demographic changes increase spontaneous afforestation in former farmlands. For these reasons, forests are often the source of innovative projects aiming to alleviate social, environmental, and economic burdens of rural communities.
SIMRA database collected several examples of forest-based social innovations, spanning agroforestry schemes in Guadalupe, community woodlands in the UK or central Europe, to fire prevention groups in Spain and Portugal. Here is a selection of these forest initiatives:
Baba Residence (baba – grandmother in Bulgarian) is an initiative bringing together urban youth and elderly people in low-density and remote villages in Bulgaria. Participants spend one month living and learning in a mountain village, with the purpose to create a meeting point between the entrepreneurial spirit of young people and traditional culture of elderly people from the Rhodopes mountains in Bulgaria.
Women, as innovators, participants or beneficiaries, are playing a very relevant role in most of the social innovations collected by SIMRA. From the development of productive cooperatives in Egypt or Turkey to pooling and sharing their knowledge and expertise in the UK or Bulgaria, or setting up schemes to tackle societal issues like waste management in Lebanon or unemployment in Spain and Estonia, women are developing projects that enhance the well-being in their local communities.
Here there is a small selection of examples from our database in which women are protagonists of the social innovations developed in marginalised rural areas across Europe and the Mediterranean: