At the Peak of Social Change! Learning from Success Stories for Social Innovation

by Franz Skala

Social change towards sustainability can begin with small steps of pioneers who feel the need for it and become active. They establish alternative initiatives to meet basic needs like nutrition, to provide support for testing innovative solutions or to improve the political system. Stories on successful examples were presented by some pioneers.

One of them started, after academic botanical research, as an organic farmer near Vienna. In reaction to low revenue from his vegetables he tried the then new idea of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in “GE(meinsam) LA(ndwirtschaften)-Ochsenherz” (http://www.ochsenherz.at/) and made the budget for the farm in cooperation with consumers as partners. In the first year 200 partners could pick up their vegetables at a market in Vienna. This model can ensure food supply in times of crises.

Another one offers a free basic infrastructure in common rooms, provided by the respective municipality, for cooperation in groups („Community Building“) to implement new ideas and develop technical and social innovations. This Austrian model with focus on improving career chances in more rural regions by supporting the creation of jobs – Open technology laboratory (OTELO, https://otelo.or.at/) – started 2008 in Gmunden and Vöcklabruck. Examples for initiatives at the site Vöcklabruck are a Transition-group and a food coop. Meanwhile OTELOs are active at more than 30 sites.

The Alternative UK, aiming to start a process of co-creating new politics as well as the Citizens Network Watchdog Poland can make important contributions to preserve and improve democracy.

The presented initiatives had in common a strong individual meeting a need in cooperation with a collective as factors of success. They can help to further sustainable transformation, but their broader dissemination in the surrounding faces the obstacle of slow progress in convincing neighbours of the benefits, especially in the above case of CSA. So the success is mainly limited on the “inner circles”, while the important question “How to reach out?” unfortunately remained without answer. To make use of networks was also identified as a very important factor.