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Photo: Anne Ravnholt Juelsen


Op-Ed: Sweden and Germany have a national strategy for social innovation. It's time we follow suit

21. Nov 2023

The Danish Parliament must support the development of a national strategy for social innovation and a strong financing structure to which philanthropic funds and investment players can contribute. Otherwise, we’ll never succeed in solving the wicked problems of our time

Long reads

By Sara Gry Striegler, DDC, and Anders Folmer Buhelt, Akademiet for Social Innovation

Society’s significant problems occupy much space in the media, in political debates, and at our dinner tables. Whether we call them wicked problems or not, it gradually becomes clear that some social issues call for entirely different approaches, collaborations, and methods than the ones we are used to.

Our traditional Danish pragmatism, where we cooperate across interests, seems forgotten over the past decades. That kind of cooperation only happens through prioritization and investment.

Although we live in a fantastic society, there are problems that we still need to solve despite decades of trying. It is as if we have forgotten to renew ourselves and keep up with the times – that we have forgotten the basic conversations about what kind of society we want.

We need to do it better when thousands of young people from every age group end up outside the communities. We must do better when people are still left outside the working communities despite a lack of labor. We have citizens who want to be something for someone – and citizens who want someone who is something for them, but we don’t manage to connect them. Then we must do better.

And when more and more people, especially young people, experience loneliness and do not thrive. We must do better.

There is gradual agreement on the need for fundamental changes to preserve our welfare society and not get stuck in wicked problems, as Sigge Winther calls them – the social problems that are complex, tangled, and difficult to get hold of.

He has given us a language for those challenging, complex, and sometimes stubborn problems. It has helped the Academy for Social Innovation to push a readiness and a longing to follow new paths and find new perspectives that can help us to move and influence the big societal problems. And it opens new ways of moving forward – also for our work at DDC. 

At DDC, we believe the future is bright and full of opportunities, but to make it a reality, we must be willing to ask new questions and work differently than we do today – and Sigge has paved the way for asking those further questions.

At DDC, our dedication and promise is to impact and address complex and systemic societal challenges through design and mission-driven innovation. Working closely with foundations, businesses, public institutions, and non-governmental organizations, we are taking steps to address various wicked problems, such as the growing number of young people not thriving, the need for a circular transition of society, and the demographic development

In addition, we work with public organizations to strengthen their skills, mobilize ecosystems, and set directions in various areas of the Danish welfare society.

søren malmose

Photo: Søren Malmose

There is a lack of coherence

Fortunately, many work daily to renew and strengthen our society and shared foundation. Lots of dedicated people who, from every corner and with their knowledge, experience, and dreams, push the wicked problems.

In 2021, the Academy for Social Innovation surveyed social entrepreneurs – people who take action to create social change when they see a problem or an opportunity. That can be by creating new approaches to employment, taking the initiative for a forest school, initiatives that promote the green transition, or something completely different.

The report shows that social entrepreneurs feel alone and lack sparring and exchange of experience, regardless of whether they work in the public system or outside. And there are gaps in the financial infrastructure, which stand in the way of many good initiatives. Not that there is necessarily a lack of money, but that there is a lack of basic understanding of the value of social entrepreneurship and social innovation.

In our work at DDC, we experience a growing acknowledgment, demand, and understanding of social innovation and mission-oriented work in our international partnerships – e.g. our partnership with KS. But in the Danish context, we still need coherence and a more profound interpretation and understanding of the importance of social innovation in our society to truly unfold the potentials in the much needed societal transitions.

Therefore, there is a need to invest in creating an ecosystem for social innovation, where actors from all parts of society can meet and collaborate to develop proposals for the future we want. And which can be a focal point for building capacity and ability for social innovation in all parts of society.

Should Denmark go at the front or the back?

In the EU, the OECD, and the World Economic Forum, social innovation is high on the agenda to solve societal problems and turn future threats into new opportunities. The EU emphasizes in several policies that the green transition is inherently social because it requires joint efforts and a focus on maintaining the cohesion of the shift.

That applies when we have to change our mobility, clothing consumption, and eating habits to sustainable models or when we have to change our culture of replacing broken things with a repair culture. It requires a changed mindset and behavior from all of us.

The countries around us also work systematically with social innovation. If we compare the share of EU funds that different countries spend on social innovation, the figure for Finland is 84 times higher than Denmark. And for Sweden, 100 times more. Sweden has had a national strategy for social innovation for the last ten years, and Germany just got one.

In Portugal, with an investment of 150 million Euros, they have worked to build an ecosystem for social innovation and social investment for the previous ten years. We could go on like this.

But Denmark is still in an excellent position to take the lead and work systematically to deal with social problems in ways where we create know-how that the rest of the world can be inspired by. That requires us to be far more active and strategic than today.

This article was first published in Danish in Altinget. Read it here.

Learn more

Join our free, online talk on December 15, 2023, and learn more about how we work with wicked, complex problems.

The talk will be in English. Sign up here.

Sara Gry Striegler

Director of Social Transition

Phone +45 6110 4778
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