Mai 2024: Ein Exkurs in die Praxis von Portugal Inovação Social

Logo von Portugal Inovação Social (Grafik: Portugal Inovação Social)
Logo von Portugal Inovação Social (Grafik: Portugal Inovação Social)


In ganz Europa und darüber hinaus wächst das Interesse an der Frage, wie Soziale Innovationen zielgerichtet unterstützt werden können. Trotz zahlreicher internationaler Analysen der Gelingensbedingungen Sozialer Innovationen blieben zielgerichtete Maßnahmen zur umfassenden Förderung Sozialer Innovationen auf Ebene von Nationalstaaten schließlich lange Zeit noch die Ausnahme. Bei der Suche nach internationalen Beispielen kommen Forschung und Praxis in den letzten Jahren kaum an der staatlichen Agentur Portugal Inovação Social (Übersetzt: Soziale Innovation Portugal) vorbei. Mit der Einrichtung dieser zentralen staatlichen Stelle hat die portugiesische Regierung schon im Jahr 2014 schließlich einen Pionierweg beschritten, um bereits seit 2015 Mittel für Soziale Innovationen bedarfs- und wirkungsorientiert für die Stärkung des nationalen und regionaler Ökosysteme sowie von Initiativen Sozialer Innovation zu verteilen. Dabei hat die Agentur viel Aufmerksamkeit nicht zuletzt dadurch erzeugt, dass sie gleich mehrere innovative Förderinstrumente zum Einsatz bringt, die auf unterschiedliche Entwicklungsstadien von Initiativen zielen und zugleich die Co-Finanzierung durch private Partner:innen forcieren. So bietet Portugal Inovação Social ein Beispiel für einen ganzheitlichen Ansatz zur Förderung Sozialer Innovationen und eines nationalen SI-Ökosystems, der sowohl das Innovationspotenzial und die Innovationskraft aller gesellschaftlichen Sektoren anerkennt und fördert und zugleich auf Impulse für die Weiterentwicklung der Förder- und Finanzierungslandschaft durch Co-Finanzierung setzt.

Das Spotlight Wissenschaft im Mai 2024 bietet Einblicke in die Arbeit der Agentur. Hierzu hat das Team Wissenschaft ein Interview mit Filipe Almeida geführt, der als Präsident von Portugal Inovação Social wertvolle Einblicke in die strategische Förderung Sozialer Innovationen in Portugal liefert. Seine Ausführungen bieten vielzählige Anknüpfungspunkte für Forschung, Praxis, Förderung und Finanzierungsmodelle Sozialer Innovationen. 

Eine Übersetzung des Interviews in deutscher Sprache findet sich hier

Filipe Almeida

“Really supporting social innovation means being agnostic to the nature of the projects you are supporting: accept the diversity of solutions; do not force them into your frameworks. You have to let society speak for itself.”

Filipe Almeida, Präsident von Portugal Inovação Social, in:

“New allies: How governments can unlock the potential of social entrepreneurs for the common good”, the Catalyst 2030 with Ashoka and McKinsey, January 2021

(Foto: Filipe Almeida)

What are the main goals of Portugal Social Innovation?

Portugal Social Innovation is a pioneering Government initiative that mobilizes European funds since 2015 with the main goal of developing the social innovation ecosystem in Portugal, involving entrepreneurs, organizations and investors. To achieve this goal, we’ve created four financing instruments within the EU multiannual financial framework 2014-2020, that address the financial needs and the potential for impact of innovative projects in different stages of their maturity.

Due to the conditions created by Portugal Social Innovation and the active commitment of leading institutions in the country, Portugal has now a broad and dynamic network of new social entrepreneurs and is experiencing a clear modernizing impulse in more traditional social organizations, having become an experimental laboratory for new, multisectoral solutions. Such solutions are often developed in partnership, with high potential for social impact which can and aims also to inspire the evolution of public policies.

What successes has Portugal Social Innovation already achieved and what future challenges do you expect?

We approved 698 applications from 481 organizations, representing around 101 million euros of European funds plus 51 million euros of social investment from 848 investors. Most of the entrepreneurial organizations are associations, charities, cooperatives and foundations, but also a few businesses and even 13 universities. On the investors side, most of them are business organizations, as well as more than half of the Portuguese municipalities. And we’re also financing social innovation incubators across the country.

Portugal was the first EU Member State to use ESF funds to structure a public investment fund, addressing a market failure in access to finance, which provided loan guarantees to social economy entities and co- invested in equity of impact-driven businesses alongside private investors

Future challenges involve the simplification of the financing models using ESF+, deepen outcomes contracting approaches, promote impact measurement and management, create effective mechanisms to transfer social innovation to public policies mobilizing Public Administration, and involve as much as possible Higher Education and Research Centers.

Additionally, there is a difficulty in attracting private capital for social investment in Portugal mainly due to the inadequacy of available financial instruments to accommodate the different risk strategies of (potential) investors. Therefore, it is essential to adopt risk reduction mechanisms to raise more private capital for the social investment ecosystem, which requires more information available on the potential of social investment to generate both impact and financial return.

Can you name three key success factors for the implementation of Portugal Social Innovation in recent years?

Along this experience, we’ve been able to confirm that different financing solutions for different needs (adjusted to the life cycle of the projects), based on blended financing solutions, are an effective way to develop an ecosystem. To achieve the results mentioned, we can highlight three factors:

  1. The Government decision to create a specialized agency with a clear mandate to coordinate the public policy for social innovation and manage the funds to do so was crucial. 
  2. it was critical the creation of an activation team of regional representatives who work daily with entrepreneurs and investors across the different territories, helping to bridge and to build up social innovation projects before submission to our calls. 
  3. it was strategic the partnerships driven and developed by Municipalities and local Governments to foster social innovation across all five continental regions, cofounding high potential projects aligned with the most pressing social challenges.

Who and what are the main drivers of Portugal Social Innovation?

Unrest, curiosity and creativity are the main drivers of Portugal Social Innovation ecosystem which for the last 10 years is actively nurturing a culture of experimentation and logical reasoning for creating positive (measurable) outcomes aiming to solve collective problems, either through corrective or preventive approaches.

The programme imperative for collecting evidence of change rather than only evidence of activity is what has been fostering a stronger culture of innovation and experimentation across the ecosystem, in terms of leadership, workforce, processes (simplification and digitalization) and partnerships, to better (hopefuly) inform future programmes, norms, policies and to tackle present and future challenges. 

This vision aims to grasp opportunities among young generations, thus peer-learning and social innovation education are critical success factors to equip, in particular young generations with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values supporting the delivery of more impactful and sustainable solutions that bring long lasting social changes, leaving no one behind.

Key-milestones in Portugal:

Portuguese Social Investment Taskforce, an independent initiative convened by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation which produced a blueprint for Portugal’s emerging social investment market, setting out a National Strategy for Investment and Social Innovation


Creation of Portugal Social Innovation public initiative responsible to channel ESF funds throughout the multiannual framework programme 2014-2020


Portuguese Social Investment Taskforce, National Strategy for Investment and Social Innovation Progress Report


Set-up of the National Competence Centre for Social Innovation Advisory Committee, an independent group of around 40 leading entities representing the ecosystem (social economy entities, public authorities, private sector and academia) which produced a National Strategy for Social Investment and Social Innovation, named 2030 Agenda for Impact


Creation of Portugal Social Innovation 2030 public initiative responsible to channel ESF+ funds throughout the multiannual framework programme 2021-2027, contributing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, in line with the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights.


What can policy makers, funding bodies and social innovators in Germany learn from Portugal Social Innovation?

We hope that other countries become acquainted with what is needed, from frameworks to operations, tools and mechanisms, to operate a social innovation priority and public policy area, which often deals with an emergent ecosystem defying the status quo of social policies, financing solutions, metrics and investment engagement of stakeholders. 

Portugal can inspire the testing and development of a non-sectorial approach to address inequalities and tackle complex societal problems touching different but complementary policy areas such as social protection, employment, health, justice and education, through the responsible and efficient management and administration of ESF+ funding. 

Such multisector vision requires flexible financing models adapted to the needs and potential of the ecosystem, not only adapted to project promoters, combining also the strategic use of EU funds and philanthropy to mobilise private capital, in particular to ensure long-term impact of the projects and solutions initially tested with public funds. 

Considering the experience accumulated, the needs of the national ecosystem and the international trends, the range of new financing mechanisms promoting social innovation in Portugal, within the scope of the multiannual framework programme 2021-2027, were improved and expanded to five, with an initial ESF+ commitment of 100 million EUROS to be complemented by social investment, namely:

  • Capacity Building for Social Innovation: to support the development of management skills in the organisations and teams implementing social innovations;
  • Partnerships for Social Innovation:  to support the experimentation and scaling of social innovations (direct intervention);
  • Centres for Impact Entrepreneurship: to finance local or regional centres/hubs to boost innovation and social entrepreneurship ecosystems (indirect intervention);
  • Social Impact Bonds: to test innovative solutions in public policy priority areas, with reimbursement to social investors upon achievement of previously contracted outcomes;
  • Social Impact Contracts: to contract specific and measurable social impacts, with previously defined indicators and payment based on public expenditure savings.

Each of the instruments plays a specific role in promoting and boosting social innovation, social entrepreneurship and impact investment. They are generally aligned with the different maturities and impact potential of the projects, but also with three general objectives: create, multiply and impact.

Team Wissenschaft der TU Dortmund

Wer steckt hinter dem Spotlight Wissenschaft?

Das Interview für das Spotlight Mai wurde von dem Team Wissenschaft der TU Dortmund geführt.