Re-inventing Europe through social innovation: interview with Florian Guillaume, Europe Tomorrow

What is needed to create the Europe of tomorrow? According to the young social entrepreneur Florian Guillaume, Europe needs a “re-enchantment”. It is the desire to facilitate this re-enchantment and contribute to changing the world that has lead Florian, now 29, to co-found Europe Tomorrow: a project that aims at raising awareness on social innovation, creating a network among initiative on the ground and big companies interested in CSR. The New European met Florian during the European Business Summit in Brussels, a yearly meeting of policy makers, businessmen and intellectuals, to know more about Europe Tomorrow and its ideas on social innovation.

What is Europe Tomorrow? How was it born?

We started Europe Tomorrow in 2015 with the aim of creating a network dedicated to understanding, replicating and transmitting social innovation at the EU level. The project was launched two years ago when we decided to travel for a year all around Europe, in order to get to know social innovation initiatives. The journey allowed us to identify 2500 different existing initiatives in 20 countries.

There is a huge variety among the initiatives we identified: some of them are organised by nonprofits, others are grassroots; they can be private, organised by SMEs or by multinational companies; and there are even cases of activities made by the public sector. Particularly successful cases in this regard are the Sharing city project in Amsterdam and the Green City initiative in Copenhagen. In total, we decided to put 300 ideas on our website, where they are classified based on country and typology: they are divided into 12 categories, such as Agriculture, Climate, Democracy and Education.

How has the program evolved after your journey?

After having identified the main initiatives, we have launched the second phase of our project. Our ambition is to bridge sustainable and social innovation initiatives on the ground with what we call “purposeful organisations”: they could be big companies, like L’Oréal, Hitachi or McCain, or public institutions, such as the European Commission.

For instance, we organise knowledge expeditions and transformative experiences, such as “inspirational getaways”, where we bring together the big institutions with the social innovation initiatives. We want to create an ecosystem where new business models with a social impact can breed.

We also create some content, like videos and medias thanks to our collaboration with Pixelisa B Corp certified “branding for good” agency in Paris, NYC and San Francisco that helps us tell the stories of social innovators. Furthermore, we are currently undertaking a study to determine the present and the potential future economic impact of sustainable and social innovation in the EU. The purpose of the study is to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy for 2030 by showing the potential of European changemakers. Our intention is also to encourage the European Commission to draft a strong Social and Sustainable Innovation Act.

Are you limiting yourself to Europe, or are you aiming at expanding to other countries in the world?

Our next step is to map the entire world: we organise travel tours with young entrepreneurs. We are currently creating a global network, ‘Tomorrow’, that goes beyond Europe and embraces the world: for example, we have just established Brasil Tomorrow. More recently, I have been in Guadeloupe, where we are setting up Caribbean Tomorrow.

What is your background?

Even if now we can count on a big list of advisors and collaborators based all around the world, the founding team of Europe Tomorrow consists of myself and my two colleagues, Boris Marcel and Malo Richard. We are three social entrepreneurs, each of us is coming from a very different background. Concerning myself, for instance, seven years ago I started in my home region of Brittany (France) the French branch of Carrotmob: it is a project putting together shops and consumers through “buycotts” in order to achieve a more sustainable and socially responsible retail system. We tried to engage small shops by rewarding their sustainable practices, encouraging them to improve their social impact.

Could you give a personal definition of social innovation?

Social innovation is mainly about creating new narratives. We live in a world that is built around the past narrative that we gave it. Take all the dystopia we are immersed into causing tech alienation, inequality between the richer and the poorer, huge gaps between the most and least prosperous regions: it is a narrative from the past! Once we acknowledge that, we have to think about how to create new utopian narratives to counter the negative ones. I believe it all revolves around the need for heterotopies, a concept presented by French philosopher Michel Foucault, consisting of “a physical localisation of utopia”: thanks to our trip around Europe and the world, we can now prove that heterotopies are real. The next step is to grow them.

To realise that, we need to understand that social innovation is first of all an opportunity for all.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the greatest occasion for our generation, not only socially but also economically: they have an estimated potential worth of 3 trillions per year.

It is therefore very frustrating sometimes to notice how many of the amazing social innovations we saw lack the skills and funding necessary to grow. That lack testifies a larger problem of missing political support. Financial aid is not enough; what many social enterprises need is the possibility to open up to opportunities. Social innovations need to establish a contact between themselves and big corporations. They also need to meet their local and National representatives at a political level more often in order to have an impact, because now they work in silos.

Is there any example of a particularly successful case of social innovation you would like to share?

We have many successful examples of social innovation. One of the most interesting ones the Samsø Island in Denmark, which has become the first 100% self-sustainable island in the world. The island has now succeeded in getting its energy just by sustainable sources. The project started with community involvement 10 years ago: all the island’s 5000 inhabitants became stakeholders of the local energy cooperative. The initial investment was totally repaid after few years and now they have free energy; they have even begun to sell the surplus to the rest of the country. This model is a very successful one for an island; for this reason it could be replicated elsewhere, such as in Guadeloupe.

Another very interesting and timely example is Singa, a citizen movement born in France aiming at creating opportunities for refugees and their host communities to meet and cooperate.


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