The concept of social innovation, its meaning and understanding is a relatively new approach for all stakeholders, even for the academic community. Social innovation as a driver of change and further development are poorly recognised among stakeholders in Zagreb. Although some of them are quite innovative and creative, they do not express a sufficient understanding of the concept. It is a completely new concept in Zagreb. Some innovative practices in employment and development of sustainable pension systems might be seen as a real social innovation and even best practice. However, to have such best practice status they need “political recognition,” which is very often not a rationale choice. It might be important to stress that respective local stakeholders with professionals from city administration bring more positive change than politicians can accept on public agenda.
The presented social innovations in the city of Zagreb are very different in nature, and in initiation and outcome. Innovation in labour market social mentoring comes as a transfer of innovation placed in existing institutional infrastructure, fully funded by EU money and remaining mostly in professional circles. Embeddedness of this innovation, with top-down legacy, in the community of local stakeholders was questionable and traces of the project are not visible.
RODA’s innovations show the capacity of civil society to understand and address social problems and become co-governor in the child care system. The civic initiative provides evidence of developmental capacity in terms of creating a strong network and setting-up social enterprise. It should be stressed that the innovation is a bottom-up development. Besides that, new generations of social services produced here provide a sense of a potential welfare mix system.
Innovation regarding the public rental programme, as a contribution to welfare pluralism in the housing crisis marked with affordability issues for younger generations, in fact is innovation that has come as the result of political will and the professional capacity of the local authority.
City administration, particularly in the area of social policy, demonstrates openness for the development of new solutions and supporting new good ideas. This is particularly true in their cooperation with civil society and civic initiatives where they have built certain partnerships. For the time being, in the local welfare system, the challenge is coordination with governmental programmes of social care and employment. Parallelism of governmental and local authority in social care and employment programmes on the local level are starved of social innovation.
In larger cities (Zagreb), civic initiatives for public good and engaged citizens are less visible that in smaller cities (Varaždin). In that sense, mobilisation of local stakeholders and facilitation of social change appears to be a more demanding and difficult process. Citizens in large cities are not so visible and civic energy looks to be less productive with outcomes only tangible only on the neighbourhood level. “Bringing” social capital from the neighbourhood to the city level is a rather long-lasting process.
Investment in knowledge and skills of those employed in local authorities and public sectors might be of crucial importance for the modernization of local welfare systems and the development of social innovations.
Nevertheless, accession of the county to the European Union provides legitimacy for social experimentation and social innovations. We expect some new framework of thinking and new initiatives to be developed, fostered by support, which will be primarily financial, from the EU. For further sustainability of social innovation, it would be necessarily to show to the city government the usefulness of this kind of action and/or raise public attention and awareness to generate interest. That may demand increased management or marketing skills of people involved in social innovation projects. There is also space for the involvement of the private sector, which is as yet unrecognised. In addition, there is an opportunity for applying for EU funds for such projects. Actions in these areas would certainly help to increase the stability and opportunities for sustainable social innovations, relying on the capacity and support of public administration and social capital among all of stakeholders in local welfare systems.