Global goals and global challenges: connecting social innovation research in Argentina and the UK

Tom Montgomery and Francesca Caló, researchers from the Yunus Centre of Social Business and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University, travelled to Argentina for an international workshop exploring the role of Social Innovation in the social and solidarity-based economy in both countries.

This workshop, held between 19th and 21st March 2018 at the National University of Quilmes in greater Buenos Aires was aimed at generating a space for debate to share knowledge, experiences and best practices around the role of social innovation in the social economy and its potential developmental impact in both Argentina and the UK. During three intense days of discussion, panels, and design thinking, more than 250 researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and students explored the theory and practice around social innovation, social economy and social solidarity, alongside the processes defining them.

A consistent theme emerging from a number of contributors was understanding the intersection of social innovation and the solidarity-based economy with policymaking, as well as strong emphasis being placed on research methodology and the incubation of social innovation processes. The Argentinian social economy sector has developed rapidly driven by popular initiative and more recently with some degree of governmental support. Following the launch of Argentina’s presidency of the G20 under the banner of “Building Consensus for Fair and Sustainable Development”, the workshop could not have been more timely. During the three days, policymakers alongside academics and representatives of organisations presented future plans to foster social innovation and to engage in a process of developing and enhancing social and solidary-based economy in Argentina. In Argentina, as in UK, social innovation is currently being explored as a tool to promote health and wellbeing either directly through social enterprises working in the field of health and social care, or indirectly through providing decent work and tackling poverty, objectives which align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The role of social innovation in achieving such objectives was fostered by Yunus Centre researchers Tom Montgomery and Francesca Caló whose presentations provided an overview of the potential role of universities and specifically pioneering research to develop and enhance social innovation and the social economy. Each of these presentations were followed by a Q&A session which sparked discussion and debate relating social innovation to some of the key societal challenges in both Argentina and the UK around health inequalities, poverty and contemporary labour markets. The presentations from Argentinian universities outlined the role that academics and universities can play in supporting the development of social innovation. Colleagues from the National University of Quilmes highlighted best practices of social innovation and elaborated upon the incubation processes, relaying the diverse experiences of community empowerment alongside the more institutional experiences developed by colleagues from the National University of Moreno. Finally, students alongside practitioners, researchers and policymakers were involved in a design thinking process to debate the very meaning of social innovation and its future role in social and solidarity-based economy.

In the context of greater public support for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda, this workshop on social innovation marked the beginning of a conversation between a range of Argentinian and UK stakeholders seeking to alleviate poverty, promote good health and wellbeing and decent work as well as sustainable economic growth. The workshop was led by Alberta Bottini, National University of Quilmes and Dr Olga Biosca, Glasgow Caledonian University, and received funding from the Higher Education Links British Council Argentina programme.

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