Social Innovation in Central & Eastern Europe: Why we should all go back to the Future – but this time with impact


Bistra Kumbaroska and Christina Forster


27 January 2021 was a striking day for us. On that day, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and University of Chicago scientists issued an update to the famous Doomsday Clock, calling it ‘your COVID wake-up call’. The Doomsday Clock uses the imagery of the apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero), to convey threats to humanity and the planet. On 27 January 2021, it moved to 100 seconds to midnight, closer to midnight than ever in its history. ‘It is time for all to take the actions needed to—quite literally—save the world,’ the press release stated.

So, which roads should we, as humanity, take to build back better?

‘Roads!? Where we are going we don’t need roads!’ – said the famous Doc Brown in the movie Back to the Future. We can’t help but wonder how true that might be for the times we live in. The systems in which we operate and live today are flawed in their core design. It is clear that as long as we measure success by GDP, we will never get anywhere further than we are.

In Central & Eastern Europe, where the roots of entrepreneurship lie in strong social culture and system – it has become obvious that old ways will not open new doors. Many countries are still stuck in old patterns. The latest research paper on social economy in Visegrad countries and Western Balkans, conducted by Mladiinfo International and partners captures the progress in all 10 countries, but also the need for deeper systemic transformation. The heritage of socialism is common for Visegrad countries and Western Balkans in historical terms. A weak entrepreneurial culture slows down the growth of social entrepreneurship especially in WB6, but there is huge potential in social capital, which needs to be tapped into in the creation of a sustainable social economy as a main driver of economic and social development in these countries.

Therefore, it needs a snowball effect of small but noticeable examples of a different way of running a business, or a different way of thinking about activism, paves the road to a new, unforeseeable future. Social innovation and entrepreneurship are shifting the paradigm of both corporate and civil society sectors.

The good news is: So many of them are already out there!

Bagel Bejgl in Belgrade is a bagel shop that employs victims of human trafficking, while offering a unique variation of bagels. Mudita in Warsaw develops humane tech products such as mobile phones, that put well-being and mindfulness first – connecting you not to the internet, but to yourself. The global movement of Plastic Precious found its home in Slovakia where the community produces fashion accessories out of plastic waste, and also prototype a new ‘plastic coin’.

These are only a handful of so many examples – however, they all have one thing in common: These new purpose-driven businesses are shaking the world of impact in Central & Eastern Europe. And not only that: They show that it is only through collective action and responsible leadership that we can secure a peaceful and habitable planet for future generations. 

To learn more about social economy trends in Central & Eastern Europe, join ‘Back to the Future with Impact’ – virtual tour across homes of impact, 24 March 2021.

Bistra Kumbaroska, Impact Management & Innovation at Heartbeats Innovation & Communication

Christina Forster, Cofounder & Consultant at Heartbeats Innovation & Communication

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