Local background of the social innovations
The role and recognition of civil society in Varaždin has strengthened since 2000. Before, civil society was a rather marginal phenomenon. However, over the last decade, civil society organisations have grown respectably in their number, and have gained a growing policy role. Some of recognisable areas of civil society impact are organisations for children, professional organisations, organisations of the retired, environmental organisations and health organisations. Those areas are examples of systematic work, instead of ad hoc actions. However, some think that it is still in its early stage of development.
The local government has also become more responsive and open to initiatives form civil society. They also initiate partnerships with CSOs on different projects. However, political turbulence and changes to power structures over the last couple of years pose a threat to the development of systematic cooperation with civil society and its role in governance.
The economic crisis seems to have triggered the innovative potential of civil society. Important incentives have also come from abroad, through international cooperation of CSOs. This assumes more broad civic movements (such as urban gardening) as well as particular cooperation and transfer of good practice. In this respect, CSOs are important carriers of new initiatives and consequently, social change.
Civicus Civil Society Index (CSI) research 2008-2010 in Croatia identified an “entrepreneurial orientation”, recognisable in Varaždin and the region, which is also a characteristic of its civil society organisations. Accordingly, Varaždin county, together with Istria county, was at that time leading participation in the EU pre-accession programmes for civil society.
Development agency “North” seems to have an important role in social and regional development of the Varaždin region. It was also recognised as an important stakeholder in the above-mentioned CSI research. Through its activities and projects, it strengthens inter-sector cooperation, participation in the EU funding schemes, supports the work of CSOs and promotes innovative practices.
Welfare innovations in the three policy fields
The four social innovations presented in this report were chosen based on background interviews with local stakeholders, experts, civil society representatives, practitioners and our own investigations of available resources (newspapers, websites, policy documents). The portraits of the four innovations, introduced by a comprehensive description, are organised alongside three basic themes: 1) types of services and ways of addressing users; 2) internal organisation and modes of working and 3) embeddedness of the project in the local welfare system. The innovations are presented alongside policy fields. The innovations chosen were Public works Varaždin, Her Second Chance, Gardens of life and Non-profit housing organisation.