We need social innovation in three ways. Our society needs innovation in its social support systems in order to fulfil today’s needs – and also to comply with standards set by international law. We need social service providers to innovate so that they can respond to new and emerging needs of clients and prepare their structures for future challenges. And finally, we can try to integrate social considerations into processes of change in society and the economy, so that they become truly sustainable.
Europe has achieved a high standard of social security. The idea that all humans and all citizens should have equal rights and opportunities has a long tradition. It is a matter of consensus that these principles belong to the core of our European identity and vision of society.
The basic demands of the European Union on the responsibilities of the state to ensure equality and inclusion have triggered some fundamental improvements in the perception and handling of social equality in Austria. However, the agencies that operate in this area face extraordinary challenges, not least because of general demographic trends. In the search for new approaches to solving these problems, studying practices and experiences in other European countries can be a rich source of useful new ideas.
Modern social support can be delivered best on a local and regional basis, in the communities where the clients are at home. This is where they have their normal social context; it is where social services can work out, on an individual basis, just what help someone needs in order to lead a satisfying life as a participant in society. In many countries, conventional provision has involved taking people away from their communities and placing them in large residential institutions. This imposes an enormous social and human cost by segregating people from society, and it is also economically inefficient. Mobile, regional, individual services not only lead to a vastly better quality of life but also use resources more efficiently.
When spaces and buildings and information channels are made accessible, everyone benefits: this allows people to participate in social life and enables some people to be less dependent on help. At the same time, the social sector is emerging as a significant generator of employment: this is particularly relevant in more remote rural areas, because services are needed wherever people live.
Organizations and businesses that provide social services are experiencing a phase of increasing regulation and stricter quality standards, though the subsidies they receive have not risen at the same rate. This puts a premium on delivering exactly the support needed to individual clients with maximum efficiency. Thematic and organizational cooperation between different organizations helps to exploit synergies and make better use of resources.
Modern enterprises know that the most sustainable innovations are the ones that successfully incorporate social factors. This is true both for products and for organizational measures.