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.

The global field of social innovation is gathering momentum. There is now an Office for Social Innovation in the US, the UK Government recently appointed an Advisor to the Prime Minister on Social Innovation and the European Commission has already made significant investments in both research and practical projects which aim to support and enable social innovation. All over the world there are organisations and institutions incorporating social innovation into strategies to combat societal problems such as ageing and poverty, for example the Centro de Innovation Social in Colombia.

Yet despite thriving practitioner networks and a real commitment from policymakers and foundations to support social innovation, empirical and theoretical knowledge of social innovation remains uneven. Even though there are many organisations working in this field, much more could be done to bring these networks, organisations and individuals together.

The first Social Frontiers Research Conference took place at Glasgow Caledonian University London campus in Shoreditch, East London on the 14 and 15 of November 2013. Over the two days, Social Frontiers brought together 120 individuals from across the world with the aim of strengthening the community of social innovation researchers. The conference itself was organised through a collaboration of Nesta, TEPSIE (The Young Foundation), The Rockefeller Foundation and Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). The conference also had support from the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), DESIS Network and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford.

The aim of Social Frontiers, was to build and strengthen the community of social innovation researchers. By bringing together a multiplicity of voices and perspectives on social innovation we wanted to strengthen and extend existing networks, share learning, promote collaboration, identify gaps in knowledge and work together to build a common research agenda for the next decade. Our goal for Social Frontiers was to begin to develop a more robust empirical and theoretical foundation for social innovation, understood as the generation, experimentation and application of new practices for addressing societal challenges.

We’ve put together a collection of different resources related to the conference here but we’ll update it regularly with blogs from participants, a video of the conference and videos of the keynote speakers and more.

Keynote speeches

Frances Westley on 'The History of Social Innovation'

Geoff Mulgan on 'Setting a future research agenda for social innovation'

Marianna Mazzucato on 'The Entrepreneurial State'

Roberto Magabeira Unger in conversation with Geoff Mulgan on 'The task of the social movement'

Event Partners

Glasgow Caledonian University

Glasgow Caledonian University is committed to entrepreneurialism and innovation to improve society and aims to transform the lives of the poorest through innovative research examining the relationship between society and business. Currently GCU promotes social innovation activities and programmes with it networks in business, civil society, government and the education sector and through a number of activities hosting international conferences that actively promote social innovation.


TEPSIE is a research collaboration between six European institutions aimed at understanding the Theoretical, Empirical and Policy foundations for developing the field of Social Innovation in Europe (TEPSIE). The project explores the barriers to innovation, as well as the structures and resources that are required to support social innovation at the European level. The aim is to identify what works in terms of measuring and scaling innovation, engaging citizens and using online networks to maximum effect in order to assist policy makers, researchers and practitioners working in the field of social innovation. To find out more about social innovation research in Europe please visit:www.siresearch.eu

The DESIS Network

A network of design labs, based in design schools and design-oriented universities, actively involved in promoting and supporting sustainable change.

The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation aims to achieve equitable growth by expanding opportunity for more people in more places worldwide, and to build resilience by helping them prepare for, withstand, and emerge stronger from acute shocks and chronic stresses.

Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford

The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship is a leading global entity for the advancement of social entrepreneurship. We foster innovative social transformation through education, research, and collaboration.

Social Innovation Exchange (SIX)

The Social Innovation Exchange (SIX) is a global network of people using innovation to address social problems. SIX connects, inspires and supports social innovators to improve their impact and foster collaboration.

Read the Social Frontiers papers: