Numerous inspiring social innovations for cities that meet city problems with new approaches are popping up all around the world. Cities are facing a rising number of challenges and are on the pursuit of resolving them by resorting to radical changes. In this blog post we present 8 inspiring examples of social innovations for cities that rock the boat by brining significant social impact. 


City Governance 

Social innovation is an opportunity for cities to empower their citizens, by creating new opportunities, promoting social inclusion and generally addressing the various existing social needs. Cities are changing their governance systems and try to include citizens, NGOs and other stakeholders in the problem-solving process. For instance, in Detroit most of the major arising issues are tackled by philanthropic and non-profit organizations that stepped in to come to the rescue. The social innovation here is understood as the co-producing local policies and new working methods within the administration, in which citizens play a key role. Changes in city governance can significantly increase the capacity of cities to innovate and produce more efficient solutions.  


Youth Employment 

Youth unemployment has been a policy concern that pressured cities for decades. Several cities have tried inspiring tactics to address this issue. For instance, Educate! based in Rwanda aids young entrepreneurs in creating socially responsible business ideas that have a positive influence on their communities. Other noteworthy example is the Youth employment UK organisation that supports young people’s progress with mentoring, networking and campaigning. Such social innovations for cities can have tremendous effects by accelerating local economies and improving youth well-being. 


Sharing city 

Today, consumption is becoming increasingly based on collaboration such as sharing, exchanging and lending goods instead of owning them. Websites such as Airbnb make it easier to rent out unused residential places, or Oszkár helps car drivers to be found by others who go to the same destination. Even office space can now be consumed collaboratively (aka coworking spaces), providing users with much greater choice and control in picking the most appropriate work environments on an as-needed basis. Co-housing and co-living are also manifestations of the sharing economy where (typically) young entrepreneurs live and work together in communes.’[i] 


Urban farming 

To feed all the 7,2 billion people who will be urban residents in 2050, the complete global food system needs to be rethought. Think moving farms up to roofs of buildings or using walls to grow gardens, or using soil-less, hydroponic systems to grow food right on the consumer’s doorstep. Such systems can feed nutrients straight to the roots, using up to 10 times less water than traditional means. Not to mention bringing more nature into cities as another positive effect of vertical urban farming.’[i] Agriculture Consulting is an inspiring example of urban farming and agriculture that supports citizens in developing such activities. 


Ready to print buildings 

A new home from sketch in 24 hours? Today, with 3D printing it is possible. For instance, Icon, a construction tech company who is a pioneer in this field, just partnered up with a Silicon Valley-based non-profit organisation to create 3D-printed homes in 24 hours for people in poverty for roughly $4,000 in rural El-Salvador.’[i] That’s what we call a truly disruptive social innovation for cities! Another interesting example would be apis cor that is the 1st company to develop a mobile construction 3D printer capable of printing whole buildings completely on site. The future of housing is here, isn’t it? 


Open Data Systems 

Governments have the power to encourage flourishing social innovations for cities. But how? Caroline Anstey (Global Head οf UBS & Society) states that « when I was at the World Bank I led the move to open up all of the Bank’s data to the public and that encouraged governments to do the same. So, for example, the Kenyan Government followed suit and that spawned an enormous growth in tech hubs where start-ups used that data for all sorts of applications such as financial inclusion, more efficient healthcare and effective schooling. An open data system can spur innovation and is an absolutely crucial step for governments looking to address social challenges.»[ii] Open Data Systems are helping cities to meet the demands of their citizens and accelerate growth. 


Promoting social inclusion through technology 

Globalization is here to stay. People coming from different backgrounds, customs and cultures are living and interacting with one another daily. Yet, co-existing is not as easy as it seems. Language barriers without a doubt create difficulties on the population’s adaptation. Governments are struggling to address this social challenge, which can have long-term negative implications and the isolation of some groups. Yet, how could the language barriers be crossed? Well, ‘Google’s Translate App now can use our camera to translate words and even long text in real time. This feature is particularly useful when we travel in a country where we do not speak the language. For instant translations to become a reality we only need to download the app and select the language from which and to which we need the translation. Opening the little camera icon and pointing it to the text that need to be translated, we get the translation on our screen real-time.’[i] A great way to promote integration!  


Transport & Mobility 

World is changing in a fast pace and cities find difficulties in empowering the increasingly urban population with multi-modal transport solutions. Transport solutions that would bring ease to the people and would be cost-effective at the same time. Hitachi and its Social Innovation Business is an inspiring example of social innovation for cities. Their mission is to «help people travel in greater safety and comfort between cities, Hitachi offers advanced solutions for railway rolling stock design and manufacture, operations management, monitoring and control, information services, and maintenance, as well as road and airport management and control. » Cities would ‘suffocate’ if would have to tackle societal challenges on their own. Thus, having companies nurturing the same social initiatives can bring major social impact across the globe. Another example: driveless cars. We used to see them in sci-fi movies. ‘Nowadays autonomous car technology is becoming a reality. Fully-driverless technology is still under testing phase, nevertheless, partially automated cars have been around for many years already – just think about BMW7’s automated parking feature. The Google Car is probably one of the most famous autonomous vehicles, equipped with a wide range of sensors to interact with the world around. Now obviously self-driving cars need better and more connected infrastructure, but the lack of human interaction with the car represents an even larger and more significant challenge for the technology to be a real solution for the future of mobility.’[i] 


Learn more at Social Innovation Academy

Are you familiar with the above social innovations for cities? In Social Innovation Academy we strive to bring forward social innovation and highlight its value for societies and their citizens. We seek to improve the competences of teams behind social innovation ideas and initiatives that could bring essential social impact. The Social Innovation Academy  will be the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation.  While the European authorities, leading academics, policy experts, business people and activists agree that social innovation is the key to better future, it is extremely difficult for professionals to obtain high quality training on what social innovation offers and, more importantly, how it can be done in practice. Social Innovation Academy will aim to change this situation in Europe and beyond. If you are interested in keeping up with this project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our Friends, apply to become a member of our Global Advisory Board or follow us on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here! 


i   Anita Fuzi (2018, June 05). 8 disruptive urban innovations that change the way we live, work, eat and move in cities. (Article). Retrieved from:
ii  Ashoka (2016, July 13). Banking On Social Innovation: An Interview With Caroline Anstey, Global Head of UBS And Society. (Article). Retrieved from:
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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