Experiencing the social innovation ecosystem in Croatia

Presentations were captivating and featured case studies presented by VERN’ and SIL in the SIKE project: Humana Nova, the only social cooperative in Croatia and the makerspace RADIONA (the only such makerspace in Croatia). 

This site visit to Zagreb, Croatia took place from Monday, May 6 through Wednesday, May 8 with 15 project partners came from partner organisations. Since most of them have never been to Croatia, they were very excited to experience first hand the local environment and challenges that the Croatian partners, a private university VERN’ and a nonprofit organisation Social Innovation Lab (SIL) have been going through in promoting and supporting social innovations for many years now.

Every site visit is not only an opportunity for partners to meet and exchange experiences with different local organisations and practitioners involved in social innovation, but also an opportunity to keep updated on the progress of the project. This is why the afternoon of the first day was devoted to the Consortium meeting. Each partner gave a brief report on his/her work package summarising challenges but also tasks and deadlines that need to be completed in the next period.

The next day was full of presentations, discussions and visits to the SIKE Unit that is based in the library at VERN’. To set the scene for the guests, Mirna Karzen, president of SIL held a presentation about the ecosystem in Croatia, focusing on their experiences as the pioneer of social innovation, involved since 2011 in promoting, mapping and trying to influence policies on SI. She also talked about common misunderstandings of SI, and a lack of support (financial and non-financial) by governments in any spheres of social innovation, but also great examples and case studies.

In the afternoon, partners had a chance to hear first hand experiences from social innovators such as the social cooperative Humana Nova and an innovative makerspace RADIONA.

Nataša Jakovac from Humana Nova explained the history of Humana Nova and the current situation. As the only social cooperative in Croatia, Humana Nova is dedicated to finding solutions for social, ecological and economic problems in several ways:

  • Reduction of textile waste
  • Employment of marginalised groups in the labour market
  • Creating positive social impact in the community

Today Humana Nova has sewing manufacture in Cakovec, which converts clean but unusable textile items into new products such as patchwork covers, handbags, slippers, laptop and mobile bags, garments etc., which can be bought in the cooperative’s shops in Cakovec and Koprivnica or in other greenware shops. They have several shops around Croatia.

Marina Petrović from Radiona in a very fun and lively way introduced guests to the hacker or a makerspace based in Zagreb that is actually attracting young girls to come and try coding.

Radiona / Makerspace – Association for Development of ‘do-it-yourself’ Culture has been founded in order to enhance the visibility of makers’ open source culture and self sustainable production, as well as with an aim of connecting all possible fields of art, science and technology (STEAM fields – Science/ Technology/ Engineering/ Art/ Mathematics). The objective is to create new realities of networked and collaborative intermedia and new media practices in line with DIY (do-it-yourself) and DIWO (do-it-with-others) cultures. Radiona.org focuses its activities on education, research processes, artistic projects, curatorial practices, residencies, international and domestic inter-sector collaborations, renewable systems and social awareness related issues…

Each presentation was very engaging and ended in a lively discussion.

The next day was devoted to more exchanges of experiences and site visits. Guests had a chance to hear two more presentations, one from the initiative Fierce Women and the other one from the VERN’ professor of entrepreneurship, Gordana Coric.

Fierce Women was introduced by two of their members. This great social innovation was actually developed as a crowdfunding campaign, supported by the Crowdfunding Academy and later through mentoring processes. Fierce Women is an inspiring card game for every generation that familiarises its players with women’s contributions in the fields of culture, politics, science, feminism, human rights and art. 60 Fierce women, including Judith Butler, Temple Grandin, Frida Kahlo, bell hooks, Kate Bornstein, Naomi Klein, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jo Spence and many more are presented through beautiful illustrations by eight Croatian female artists and illustrators.

Gordana Coric described a very interested social innovation “a Pop-up rural hub“, a project that was developed in partnership between VERN’ and the ACT Group, a Cakovec-based nonprofit organisation. The project will stimulate the development of local rural communities through the launch of socio-innovative sustainable micro-entrepreneurial activities by using local resources to drive the local economy and stop migration from rural to urban areas. A sustainable partnership between higher education institutions and civil society organisations will be developed, and higher education institutions will be encouraged to become an active part of rural development. At the same time, the capacities of civil society organisations and students will be strengthened. They will, through the developed methodology of pop-up rural socio-innovative hubs (a model of socially useful learning), encourage sustainable development activities in selected local communities, in this case the Municipality of Štrigova and the Municipality of Mala Subotica in Međimurje County and on the island of Vis in Split-Dalmatia County.

The project is co-funded by the European Union with the funds of the European Social Fund. After the presentations, there was a brief Advisory Evaluation Committee meeting with members proposing improvements to the communication and implementation of the project activities.

The site visit ended in an unusual tone, with a tour called Invisible Zagreb, led by a former homeless man, Mile Mrvalj. Mile’s captivating story of his four year experience as a homeless person, but also about more than 2000 “invisible” people in Zagreb kept participants fascinated for the last hour and a half of this site visit.

Everybody left happy with a promise to come back to Zagreb and Croatia.

Prepared by:

Mirna Karzen, Social Innovation Laboratory (SIL), Croatia, 21.05.2019.

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