Social Innovation in Nordic Countries

نوآوری اجتماعی در کشورهای نوردیک

نوآوری اجتماعی در کشورهای نوردیک

The Nordic region, comprising the countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, is often considered a marginal point characterized by harsh climates, a history of violence and rule by a single leader. But from the 1890s onwards, the region developed economically and socially. Despite the similarity of its “welfare system” to other market-oriented democracies, the Nordic model has its own unique characteristics.

In this article, the origin of social innovation in the Nordic countries and its specific characteristics are discussed. Also, its role over time and how it changes is examined. In particular, we address whether social innovation occurs because of or against the strength of existing systems, and what lessons can be learned from this for new policy development. It should be noted that, primarily, our focus will be on Sweden, the largest Nordic country.

Social developments in the Nordic countries
In the past, in the Nordic countries, a few people had a lot of power and control and everything was run by these people, but now these countries rely on one big unified government. Major changes in this system occurred when class divisions became less strict and the number of independent farmers increased. In these countries, the income gap is less compared to other regions and people have more useful cooperation in the society.

In Sweden, measures were taken to allocate most power to local groups while ensuring that the government was accountable. These changes date back to the 17th century. Also, huge changes were made in the field of education and infrastructure in Sweden, such as electricity and railways. In the late 19th century, new ideas and businesses emerged, and social innovation was recognized as a way to solve problems and improve life for all. Some of the early examples of this path included charitable organizations in Sweden and the “Mothers’ Box” in Finland.

In the 60s, people resisted the traditional and old ways. New social innovation, such as Frishut and the alternative city in Sweden or Kristiania in Copenhagen, have emerged with the aim of empowering the needy. Later, more changes took place in the field of education, environment, and health, which were not very compatible with the prevailing laws of the government. Of course, with the passage of time, some of these ideas were integrated with government policies.

In the field of employment, the responsibility for rights and working conditions was transferred from the government to businesses and unions. In Denmark, this has led to more flexible labor markets. In Finland, the government and businesses are testing a scheme for a fixed citizen’s wage. In Sweden, large unions are also looking for solutions to deal with fundamental changes in the labor market.

The growth of social innovation in the Nordic countries
Nowadays, people have new ways to solve problems or improve services that are not working well due to the advancements in technology. These facilities include the use of the Internet and communication tools that have brought about positive changes in the society through the promotion of communication and networks. Also, some programs certify how products or companies have an environmental impact and promote environmentally friendly choices. These programs encourage some people to change their habits, including how they use energy or use vehicles.

Also, there are actions that promote multiculturalism and bring people from different cultures closer together; For example, Teman and Dilma workshops. In the field of health, patients can have the most control over their medical records through online access to their information. In education, platforms like Matcentrum and Grandfather provide extra help to students outside of the school environment, while regular schools do not provide enough support to the student. All these innovations are effective in the daily life of many people.

In small towns, these innovations often help local businesses, including high-tech small businesses. In large cities and around universities, as seen in “smart city” projects, social innovation often uses modern technologies such as interactive tools. Some notable examples in the Nordic region are water management in Gothenburg and Aarhus, port projects in Copenhagen and Stockholm, and the Polar City in Ulu, Finland.

The success of these social innovations largely depends on the response of large public institutions to them. In Finland, initiatives such as Mother’s Box and the Karelia project have brought about positive changes in health and education through public sector support. In Sweden, Futurum has developed innovations in ion shopping such as self-dialysis and Ester to increase patient participation. Iceland also used social innovation with biophilia to encourage creativity and cultural learning.

However, not all social innovations are immediately supported by policies and in some cases they face a lot of resistance before they finally succeed. For example, the success of Norway’s Olveus project, which addressed the issue of overfishing, occurred despite challenges posed by existing policies. The North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) also initially struggled but eventually brought international cooperation to curb overfishing. These examples show that even when policies do not initially support social innovations, these types of innovations can have a positive impact.

Balance between the government and people’s participation to achieve sustainable development
The Nordic framework for social innovation is based on establishing a balance between the governing state and the people who act to meet their own needs. People often benefit from ideas outside the usual government structures.

Is the high rate of social innovation due to good government policies? Although this process started in a system with a strong government, the Nordic countries emphasized from the beginning the distribution of power and the participation of the people. Social innovations were initially focused on combating poverty and helping to uplift society, and began their work as part of conventional institutions. In fact, social innovation was first created in fields such as education, environment, health, etc., as a way to compensate for the shortcomings of effective institutions. But over time, modern tools such as technology and social networks will bring social innovation to its peak in areas that need improvement.

To achieve the maximum potential of social innovations, it is necessary that institutions accept them and support their activity and growth. However, policy makers should not try to control everything. Instead, they should create favorable conditions for people’s participation. At other times, social innovation should be allowed to occur without the intervention of individuals and fill gaps in society.

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