About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

How the European Social Innovation Competition is fostering collaborative leadership for today’s biggest challenges


In the midst of July, 30 busy teams of promising entrepreneurs from across Europe cleared their schedule to immerse themselves in the Academy programme of the 2019 European Social Innovation Competition: Challenging Plastic Waste. Developers of alternative materials, education and consumer behaviour specialists, recycling experts and others determined to use social innovation to challenge plastic waste came together in Turin – a city celebrated for its open innovation models supporting social innovation start-ups. During three full days, the 30 Semi-Finalists received lectures, workshops and showcases from experts from all over Europe. Together they worked on improving the quality of their projects and connected with peers to share learning, ideas and find opportunities for collaboration.

By applying the framework of social innovation to the challenge of plastic waste, the Semi-Finalists were able to reflect on their practical impact while simultaneously taking into account what is needed to work on systems change and mindset (frame) change. Recurring questions that came up revolved around collaborative leadership and empowerment. What is a truly holistic approach to challenging plastic waste? How do you navigate through a network of different actors with different and sometimes opposing interests? How can you empower individuals or consumers to challenge plastic waste: what can they do to make a change?

plenary session

During the Academy Giulia Sergi from Ashoka Italy hosted inspiring and hands-on sessions on connecting big visions of systems change to practical ways of thinking about impact and impact measurement. Remko Berkhout from Companions hit a nerve while discussing ways to work through conflict in the complex (local) ecosystems of plastic innovation. Competition Judge and Innovation Manager for the City of Turin Fabrizio Barbiero urged the participants to work together as a group of leaders, rather than just entrepreneurs who want to win the Competition. Storycrafting and pitching coach Matt Boardman led the Semi-Finalists in (re)creating, tweaking and testing their elevator pitch – leaving them confident and inspired after giving all of them individual feedback and applause.

The European Social Innovation Competition has built, adapted and expanded the support programme for Semi-Finalists throughout every year of the Competition. With the three-day residential Academy, access to local one-on-one coaching, a Playbook for Social Innovation and an online learning environment, Semi-Finalists have the opportunity to strengthen their individual projects as well as work on becoming a movement of leaders in innovation. While undoubtedly most (aspiring) entrepreneurs sign up to win in the first place, many have stressed the importance of the support programme that led them through the improvement of their projects and connected them with like-minded peers from all over Europe.

As Jeffrey Walker writes in his piece ‘Solving the World’s Biggest Problems Takes Ensembles, Not Soloists“No single individual, organization, corporation, foundation, or nation can solve the significant problems of the world”. Regarding the wicked issue of challenging plastic waste, it is safe to say there is not one hero or silver bullet that will solve it. While changemakers, innovators or social entrepreneurs have a grand vision but are understandably often focused on delivering and improving their service or product, there is a responsibility for all of us to make sure the change they aspire is sustainable.

Through the support programme of the European Social Innovation Competition, we aim to inspire and fuel collaborative leadership around today’s biggest challenges. Through education, debate and tailor-made coaching, those joining the Competition get supported in becoming a regional engine for innovation with connections to others who they can learn, collaborate and exchange with across Europe.

eusic academy

If you have been inspired please note that Our Playbook for Social Innovation is accessible to everybody. Download it here for advice and tips on starting and developing your own social venture. For updates on the Competition, including the opening of the 2020 edition follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter.

The European Social Innovation Competition, launched in memory of Diogo Vasconcelos, is a competition run by the European Commission, now in its seventh year. The competition is open to applicants from EU member states and countries associated to Horizon 2020. The competition is delivered by a consortium of partners including Nesta, Kennisland, Ashoka, ENoLL and Scholz & Friends.

This blog was originally posted on the European Social Innovation Competition’s website.


Wieteke Vrouwe

As a Social Innovation Advisor with Kennisland, Wieteke engages in the development and testing of innovation strategies and learning programmes.