“SIparte”, here we go! The Innovation Action in northern Italy has been launched

The opening

Do you live around Belluno, Alpago or Feltre (in the Province of Belluno, Northern Italy) and have an idea or desire to start an innovative business/entrepreneurial activity?

This invitation brought about 60 local people from all sectors – politicians, students, farmers, architects, volunteers, cooperatives and associations among others-, to the inaugural meeting held in Belluno on May 8th.

Figure 2. Sign-up sheets and brochures of SIMRA and Etifor. Belluno, 8th May 2018. Photo by Kamini Vicentini.
Figure 2. Sign-up sheets and brochures of SIMRA and Etifor. Belluno, 8th May 2018. Photo by Kamini Vicentini.

During the opening meeting of the Innovation Action, the Local Action Group (LAG) Prealpi e Dolomiti, the University of Padova and Etifor, introduced the program by contextualising it within the geographical area of Prealpi and Dolomiti, providing a brief overview of the present situation, its characteristics and trends. The director of the LAG discussed how the topic of youth entrepreneurship was relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically linking the program to SDG n. 8 (decent work and economic growth).

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People, places, cracks and light

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

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).

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Welcome spring! Welcome forests!

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:

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The day I adopted an olive tree

This article is also available in Spanish here// Este artículo está disponible en castellano aquí.

Carmen, the olive tree I have adopted. (Photo: Apadrina un olivo)
Carmen, the olive tree I have adopted. (Photo: Apadrina un olivo)

A year ago this week, I adopted an olive tree. I called it Carmen, after my grandmother. Whenever I want to know about my tree I just need to open an app that I have installed on my mobile phone. I can see pictures of it and whether it has been pruned, or what the local weather’s like, etc.… Once a year I receive two bottles of delicious olive oil. But what I love most, is that for only 50€ per year I am helping to employ people at risk of exclusion, I am helping young people to have a future in their village so they don’t have to migrate to the city, and I am preventing the closure of a local school in a village that, like so many others in inner Spain, have had to face the monsters of depopulation, ageing and loneliness. All at the same time as I am helping to recover hundred-year old olive trees and local traditions and conserve landscapes, care for the land, and support environmental, social and economic sustainability.

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Still wondering what social innovation in rural areas looks like? Check out our new brochure!

Cet article est disponible en français ici.

This new SIMRA brochure aims at showcasing the diversity of social innovations in rural areas of Europe and the Mediterranean regions. A sneak peek of what you will find in this brochure includes revitalisation plans of a UNESCO site in Slovakia, a renewable energy community trust in the UK, sustainable fishers delivering boxes of seafood to your doorstep in Greece, or a public-private partnership to support dairy producers in Tunisia!

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Defining and understanding social innovation for marginalised rural areas

The SIMRA Work Package tackling Theoretical and operational approaches to social innovation (WP2) is pleased to share with you the outcomes of Deliverables 2.1 and 2.2.

Social innovation (SI) has rapidly expanded in the debates and agenda of the research and policy communities over the last decade, with considerable expectations of its potential for addressing urgent societal challenges. A key question addressed is why communities in some marginalised rural areas (MRAs) respond to societal problems whereas others collapse?

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Connecting the “guardians” of remote rural territories

We were ‘the crazy ones’… And now the town has recovered the passion for the olive groves”, said Alberto Alfonso (Apadrina un olivo). In just five years of crowdfunding, 4,000old olive trees and an olive mill have been recovered in the small town of Oliete (Aragón, Spain). By creating emotional, gastronomic and technological links between owners of abandoned groves and donors, a sustainable initiative is revitalising the town’s landscape and contributing to labour opportunities with handicapped people.

guardianes2Another initiative to maintain an active rural landscape and its associated economic opportunities is land banking, which facilitates access to the land. “We aim to provide opportunities to interested new farmers, by guaranteeing landowners a solid project and commitment with organic farming”, said Jordi Martí (Terrafranca). In Matarranya, the land bank is promoted by the administration through a wildfire prevention strategy. Vicent Ferri (Victoria Laporta Foundation), instead, described how a private foundation works to upgrade Mediterranean forest biodiversity, making it sustainable through a portfolio of products and services. These initiatives are framed within the concept of land stewardship, incipiently spreading along Aragon’s territory. Through collaborative agreements, agro-forestry landowners and civil society entities engage in the management of the natural heritage.

These testimonies opened the first local workshop of the SIMRA project in Mora de Rubielos (Teruel, Spain), organised by EFIMED jointly with Gúdar-Javalambre county. The event, “Guardians of the Territory. Social Innovation in Rural Areas”, saw invited speakers managing successful Social Innovations from other rural territories transmitting inspiration and enthusiasm to the local audience. Shifting to the Gúdar-Javalambre context, the afternoon session focused on local entities, with group work to determine the interest and feasible opportunities that could be channelled through the SIMRA innovation action. “I don’t want to hear ‘it could be done…’. I want to hear ‘I could do…’”, expressed Aurelio (Asoc. Tres de Copas) inciting participants to be proactive.

Land banking and trail recovery were suggested, aiming to tackle the abandonment of agricultural and forestry parcels, improve access to land, recover the patrimony of irrigation infrastructure, reduce wildfire exposure and support the use of traditional varieties. While the technical aspects were largely shared, the big challenge now is on people. In a rural context of traditional suspicion, defeatism and strong attachment to private land property, these initiatives can only be realised if there are opportunities for landowners and new farmers to build commitment and trust relations. This is actually what the SIMRA Innovation Actions pursue. EFIMED will support the launch and/or consolidation of a social innovation in this field in Gúdar-Javalambre, acting as observer, facilitator and analyst.

Further insights (in Spanish) are available on the project twitter: https://twitter.com/simra_eu and presentations on the project website: http://www.simra-h2020.eu/index.php/next-events/

elena_gorriz Elena Górriz (EFIMED)

Some pictures:

Representatives from the Comarca Gúdar-Javalambre
Representatives from the Comarca Gúdar-Javalambre
guardianes 1
Elena Górriz (EFIMED and SIMRA project)
Jorge Abril
Jorge Abril from Asociación Desarrollo Maestrazgo and Red Aragonesa de Custodia del Territorio
Sira Plana and Alberto Alfonso from Apadrina un olivo
Sira Plana and Alberto Alfonso from Apadrina un olivo
Jordi Marti from Terrafranca
Jordi Marti from Terrafranca
Olga Ric from Comarca Matarraña
Olga Ric from Comarca Matarraña
Vicent Ferri from Fundación Victoria Laporta
Vicent Ferri from Fundación Victoria Laporta
David Cayuela from Birding Teruel
David Cayuela from Birding Teruel
Javier Marín from Mijares Vivo
Javier Marín from Mijares Vivo
tres de copas
Aurelio Salvador, Asociación Tres de Copas
Montañas de manzanera
Pedro J. Piqueras from  Asociación Montañas de Manzanera
Luis del Romero, Recartografías
Enrique Asín, La Carroncha
Enrique Asín, La Carroncha



guardianes6 guardianes5 guardianes3

Social capital and social innovation at the 28th EAEPE conference (Manchester, November 2016)

The 28th annual conference of the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE) was hosted in Manchester on the theme “Industrialisation, socio-economic transformation and institutions”. EAEPE was founded in 1988 with an aim to promote evolutionary, dynamic and realistic approaches to economic theory and policy by bringing together the ideas of various disciplines and scholarly traditions (http://eaepe.org/). SIMRA partners Elena Pisani and Catie Burlando, University of Padova, participated in the session “What can ruralisation do for industrialisation and vice versa?”, which was organised by Asimina Christoforou, University of Athens Economics and Business.

The objective of the panel was to investigate the role of rural development and its relationship to industrialisation. There has been much debate about the place of rural areas in regional development. Typically, conceptions of the rural are associated with places of tradition rather than modernity, of agriculture rather than industry, of nature rather than culture, of changelessness rather than dynamism, of passivity rather than innovativeness. Thus, academics, administrators and policy-makers suggest that development in these areas can only be promoted via the sterile reproduction of the strategies and goals of urban areas and industrial sectors.

However, with this panel we argued that rural areas are increasingly seen as progressive sources of new economic dynamism, not only of technical but also of social innovation, and of alternative ways of working and living that support sustainable development and the quality of life. Various economic sectors beyond agriculture are emerging, including rural tourism, manufacturing, information and communication technology, cottage industry, environmental and recreational services, sectors which are often connected to the emergence of socially innovative ideas in contests of rural marginalisation. The valorisation of local resources, including physical, financial, natural, cultural and social capital, emanates from investments and bottom-up initiatives, which are not undertaken solely by individual farmers, but also by new networks and partnerships among various stakeholders in both public and private spheres and in new multi-level governance structures. These networks and governance structures take heed of local needs, identities and values and of interrelationships with other rural and urban areas which are the basis of social innovation. Emphasis is given to the creation of new social institutions and governance structures for the mobilisation of local actors and the co-determination of the means and ends to development. Norms and networks of reciprocity, trust and cooperation, often identified as social capital, constitute a crucial building block in the creation of new institutions, especially in areas where individuals find it hard to collaborate due to diverse and conflicting interests and needs.

In the panel, we took the argument further by stressing that this alternative conception of “ruralisation” can potentially offer insight on ways to promote regeneration, recovery and sustainable development in the industrialisation process and overcome the shortcomings of the capitalist system, like consumerism, the over-exploitation of natural resources, unhealthy foods and products, the under-valuation of leisure, socialisation and creativity. For example, by pursuing objectives and means for collective action and a quality of life in rural areas, via alternative organisational structures, like public-private partnerships, social entrepreneurship and multi-level governance, we open industrial actors to considerations of environmental preservation, common resource management, food security and health issues. Thus, ruralisation and industrialisation interact and enable actors to come up with new ways of production, consumption, investment and redistribution that combat the problems of de-industrialisation, restore social welfare and promote social innovation.

SIMRA’s partner Elena Pisani during the conference

In the present panel, we discussed the implications of European Union policies on regional and rural development for the ruralisation-industrialisation nexus, highlighting the role of governance in promoting social innovation, and the LEADER Approach as one of the European policies which could support neo-endogenous development. The presentations combined qualitative and qualitative analyses to suggest ways to assess the social dynamics of the development process and to improve the effectiveness of these projects.  Catie Burlando presented a multi-authored paper on “Identifying Governance Options for Social Innovation: A Preliminary Analytical Framework”,[1] which highlighted how Social innovation (SI) and related new governance mechanisms are acquiring at the European level a role of paramount importance as determinants of sustainable growth and development. While there can be a reciprocal flow of ideas, resources and models between rural/natural and urban/industrialized spaces and networks about governance and SI options, what governance is, how it is structured and what are its mechanisms of functioning are often not clearly explained. Moreover, these analyses are often not detailed enough to isolate and extract the key factor/s of governance that can allow for innovations and, more specifically, for social innovation. A structured analytical framework that allows us to describe, analyse and compare network governance systems in different regions and contexts and potential effects on social innovation (and vice versa) does not exist yet. The paper thus presented a proposal for a preliminary path toward the construction of an analytical framework specifically focused on those governance elements that are likely to support social innovation. The preliminary framework was a first step toward the objective of SIMRA’s to develop approaches and tools for the evaluation of social innovation and its impacts in marginalised rural areas, a task led by the University of Padova team.

The LEADER programme aims at local development of rural areas, is linked to the neo-endogenous approach and relies on social capital. It was showcased in two presentations for its potential to support social capital and build the collective networks, partnerships and governance structures that enhance local development, the quality of life and the emerge of social innovation.

Asimina Christoforou presented “The Endogenous Approach and Social Capital in EU Policies for Rural and Regional Development: The Case of LEADER”, a paper co-authored with Elena Pisani. On the hand, the neo-endogenous approach is inextricably related to social capital which provides the norms and networks of cooperation, reciprocity and trust for bringing together local actors to organise collectively, re-build partnerships, and share common goals and identities. On the other hand, in EU regional and rural development policies, the LEADER programme is a striking example of the implementation of the neo-endogenous approach and the social capital concept. Initiated in the 1990s, LEADER is seen as an alternative “approach” or a “laboratory” whereby local stakeholders and rural communities learn how to exploit their own capabilities by mobilising and organising collectively, by changing behaviours, creating shared identities and beliefs, and establishing new local and multi-level governance structures.

Thus, aspects of social capital should be considered as separate measures and objectives to be pursued alongside conventional socio-economic indicators like income, employment and competitiveness. However,   by analyzing various case studies, policy documents and ex-post evaluation reports, the authors found that funding and decision-making bodies at all levels have not explicitly and formally addressed and assessed the role of social dynamics and specifically of social capital in promoting rural development via LEADER. Policy-makers and evaluators have not taken full account of the contextual and multi-dimensional aspects of social capital in the various stages of the project, from design to implementation and evaluation. Factors like power relations, state-society embeddedness and the institutional environment still receive limited attention. This can impair our understanding of the core processes of development and compromise the evaluation and effectiveness of these projects.

To highlight these factors, alternative concepts and indicators that originally combined the understudied work of Bourdieu with the classic work of Woolcock, Uphoff, Krishna, and Narayan were proposed, inspired by a series of studies conducted in the rural areas of Greece and Italy that suggest alternative ways of understanding and measuring social capital. Since its inception, LEADER has had considerable appeal in Southern Europe due to underdevelopment often associated with low levels of social capital. It is seen as a way to enhance development by reshaping local organisations and networks, creating confidence and trust, and changing social values and governance institutions. As the authors concluded, these studies show that if we are to seize the opportunities offered by these projects, we must further assess the role of contextual and multi-dimensional factors, like centralised governance structures and clientelistic relations, which seem to characterise regions in the South and impede participation and development.

Elena Pisani concluded the session by presenting a paper co-authored with Catherine Laidin on “How Do We Evaluate the Project Networks in the EU-funded LEADER-CLLD across Europe? A Proposed Method Based on Social Network Analysis”. The presentation proposed and applied a method to evaluate the networks of projects implemented by different actors financed by Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) through the Local Action Groups (LAGs) of the EU-LEADER initiative. The method uses indexes and graphs of Social Network Analysis (SNA) and proposes the Decomposed Density Indexes (DDIs), which detail the classical density index in relation to specific types of interactions among members, partners and beneficiaries of projects. The DDIs allow measuring the extent rural development initiatives have effectively supported the local development strategies. The indexes have been applied in a longitudinal study in Italy and in a cross-sectional study in France. For further information on the panel session, please contact the organiser Asimina Christoforou asimina.christoforou@gmail.com.

[1] Laura Secco, Catie Burlando, Nathalia Formenton Cardoso, Riccardo Da Re, Mauro Masiero, Davide Pettenella: Identifying Governance Options for Social Innovation: A Preliminary Analytical Framework.


Asimina Christoforou
Elena Pisani
Laura Secco
Catie Burlando