The cases of innovations presented here cover three areas of policy: income support and professional reintegration; early child care and education; and housing. A few elements emerge as relevant in all cases considered.
A first major issue at stake appears to be the amount of available resources as opposed to increasing and changing needs, a trade-off that the economic crisis and consequent austerity plans have sharpened. Social innovation also stems from the need to use scant resources differently, and/or not to abdicate to reflection around welfare issues because of the lack of resources. In the FWA case (section 2.1) an innovative feature has been the aim to implement a circular use of available capital. In the M12 case (section 2.2), on one side one observes the successful attempt of the municipal administration to unblock the use of available funds frozen by the rules of the stability pact, and to also put to good use meagre residual funds, to implement small-scale projects. On the other hand, it has aimed at initiatives that were low-cost from the economic point of view, but that promoted participation and public debate in view of a rethinking of the approach to, and a reorganisation of, the services’ system.
A second element is in fact about participation and empowerment. In the FWA micro-credit project this is a major element, in that recipients are helped to overcome a transitory difficult moment mobilising also their own resources and being responsible of their personal project. In M12 the empowerment element is understood as inherent in the wide involvement of citizenship in the participative path that aims to give voice not only to the expression of needs, but also of proposals and resources.
A third element refers to inter-institutional and spatial relations. The difficulties of the Italian incomplete federal reform are evident in the conflicts among local, intermediate and central levels on the release of resources, on the definition of priorities, on the distribution of competences. The announced but never-accomplished reform of metropolitan areas leaves also the services and projects analysed here in an institutional limbo that reduces the potential synergies and scale effects in the use of (always scant) resources.
The experience of Fondazione Housing Sociale (section 2.3) and its pioneer ethical fund for social housing is a very innovative case in the Italian panorama. As explained, the creation of a special agency to develop social housing projects, detached from the bank foundation (Fondazione Cariplo) enabled the pluralisation of activities and a call for the participation and funding of strong institutional/financial stakeholders and put the issue/problem of lack of affordable and good accommodation on the local scene. The most positive aspects of this experience (that needs to be developed further for definitive conclusions in terms of sustainability) was the alignment of FHS policies to public ones, the enactment of public–private partnerships and resource pooling, the development of new models of social housing oriented to high building standards and to focused social mix criteria (which is possible because of the derogation of public dwellings allocation criteria) and, above all, the scaling up of the first ethical fund, which now is much wider and richer and the inspiration given to other contexts and groups of stakeholders around Italy.
The case of FHS has to be read considering that it is backed by a very big and rich institution. Fondazione Cariplo is the second biggest foundation in economic terms in the world, following the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All the critical events of FHS could count on the resources of Cariplo, both financial as well as more intangible ones. Moreover, FHS could use some of the last empty plots to develop its projects, thanks to conventions with the Municipality of Milan. Social housing initiatives need in general a complex montage and the participation of different stakeholders to be attractive and compatible for private and public aims at the same time. Some observers state that FHS and the FIL are using their resources very slowly and that they are not risking enough to produce affordable dwellings, that they are using (as other operators) public resources (mostly public land) to produce too small proportions of housing to rent. Some critiques are more profound in the sense that they accuse subjects like FHS of draining scarce public resources from the most needy and deprived in the housing market. In a context of scarcity of resources for this policy sector, it is very difficult to cope with differentiated needs.