Innovate conference in San Sebastian

On 18th of February, Fomento San Sebastian organized the Innovative conference on Social Innovation for cities: challenges and opportunities. Reuniting experts in social innovation from across Europe, Kursaal Congress Center was the host of an engaging 6 hour conference with two main talks followed by two round tables. Local organizations (Tabakalera, Sinnergiak and Deusto Push) shared their tables with innovators from UK, Scotland or Ireland.

innovate banner

I found myself among the participants of this impeccably organized conference, my first since my recent move to San Sebastian. After the ceremonial greeting in Basque, Spanish and English, the conference was opened by Iñigo Olaizola’s overview of social innovation in San Sebastian. What stuck out to me was the pro activity of Fomento to put to good use the existing knowledge and expertise latent in the city, recognizing its highs and lows and forming 3 strategies for San Sebastian to become a “smart city”.

Chris Durkin, expert on social innovation from the University of Northampton (and for me the co-writer of one of my recommended course literature: “Social Entrepreneurship – a Skills Approach“) was the first international guest to take the word, presenting, among others, a new concept of University with social entrepreneurship at its core with a few interesting perks to say the least. Keeping his skills oriented perspective for which he is known, Durkin stressed the need for open learning spaces where people from different domains with matching skills can connect and experiment to find local solutions for local problems.

Colin Combe was the second guest speaker at the conference, representing Glasgow Caledonian University. Everyone took their pen (or mobile) out to write down the website of the Social Innovation Network that Combe is currently putting in place. He caught my attention in particular with the mention of their first E-Journal (coming out this spring) and, nicely enough, his presentation was ended with a picture of him with Nobel peace prize winner and social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunis.

During the coffee break, I had the opportunity to change a few ideas with Iñigo Olaizola about Fomento’s view of social innovation in San Sebastian and managed to make Chris Durkin blush as I guess he probably did not meet too many Romanians studying his book. A few ideas and contacts changed later, we were all back in the conference room for the second part of the conference.

Overall, Fernando Mendez-Navia moderated two round tables with different examples of social innovation, in the field of creativity and arts, as well as from businesses or local universities. In terms of spaces for social innovation, I was glad to learn about Hirikilabs and their work so far from Josian Llorente, who I later stalked down to make sure we could share knowledge and thoughts. Impact Arts‘ representative Lynne Carr also talked about the Craft Cafe initiative where the elderly learn and practice artistic skills while Angie Smalis from Patterns Dance Collective shared an emotional event that illustrated the social importance of dance. The second round table’s discussions were dominated by questions towards Sinnergiak and their Urban Social Innovation Index presentation, engaging the public into understanding the importance of evaluation, scaling and measuring impact when discussing social innovation.

Overall, it was an engaging conference with good networking opportunities. I left Kursaal’s warmth towards San Sebastian’s too-common heavy rain, wondering about the other over 100 people that signed up and/or attended the conference, their interest in social innovation and their take-aways from the conference. I couldn’t help thinking that the real innovation force of the city was sitting on the other side of the microphones, with headphones for (English-Spanish) translation, frenetically taking notes and gathering inspiration and positive energy.

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