Social Up

Social UP is an EU co-funded project (2016-2018) under the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union with the aim to cultivate design thinking in social enterprises for improving their social impact, sustainability and scalability in a targeted and financially viable manner. The project is based on and applies the 3 consecutive phases of Design Thinking – INSPIRATION – IDEATION – IMPLEMENTATION – to deliver a DT Field Guide for Social Enterprises.

The social economy employs over 11 million people in the EU, accounting for 6% of total employment. The burgeoning interest in social entrepreneurship across Europe has been driven by the growing recognition of the role social enterprises can play in tackling societal and environmental challenges while addressing the spill-over effects of the global economic crisis, austerity measures and the increasing withdrawal of public agencies from social services supply in tandem with new and growing social needs. With social enterprises focusing on a number of state-related services, their increasing number is expected to result in widespread gains for public budgets. Their attractiveness as employers is increasing as well, e.g. the number of full-time employees working in Dutch social enterprises had increased by 12% between 2012 and 2014.

According to European Commission forecasts, social enterprises in Europe are expected to grow into a dynamic and diverse entrepreneurial movement, encapsulating the drive for new business models that combine economic activity with social mission and the promotion of inclusive growth. Aiming to create an enabling ecosystem across Europe conducive to the development of social enterprises, the EU has introduced several practices alongside new regulations.

Despite the increasing interest and support to social enterprises, their survival and growth is still hindered by several internal key constraints encompassing lack of viable business models, high reliance on the public sector as a source of income, lack of entrepreneurial spirit as well as shortage in skills and specialised advisory services.

With startup survival rates very low (50-90% startups fail in their first 4 years) mainly due to inability to target a real market need, creating a sustainable startup business model and strategy continuously ranks among the top-5 support needs of social enterprises, especially given social entrepreneurs’ innovative business ideas or plans based often on non-proven concepts, that investors often consider too risky.

Design thinking is a creative act that stems from deep empathy and understanding of needs and motivations of people who make up the everyday world of any given business. It’s a structured approach to generating and evolving ideas and has 3 generic phases that help navigate the development process from the point of identifying a design challenge to finding and building a solution. INSPIRATION: Introducing the Challenge and Exploring User Issues I IDEATION: Initial Solution Design, Prioritising and Simple Prototyping I IMPLEMENTATION: Service Blueprints, Prototyping, Impact Assessment and Solution Pitches.

Constituting a human-centered, and experimental interdisciplinary approach, offering entrepreneurs of any stripe a chance to deeply understand the people they’re looking to serve, and create innovative new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs, design thinking, specifically adapted for social enterprises, has been shown to be effective in building innovative organizations and creating social impact.

That is where the Social UP project comes in. Its aim is to improve the social impact, sustainability and scalability of social enterprises for them to achieve their societal mission in a financially viable manner, by cultivating design thinking culture, well-adapted to their own needs.

The project, in cooperation with design thinking experts, social entrepreneurs and business advisers, co-designs, co-develops and co-implements a design thinking-based training material in the form of a “DT Field Guide for Social Enterprises”, providing the necessary knowledge and tools to support and motivate design thinking within social enterprises in order for them to grow, scale–up and prosper.

 More specifically, the project aims to:

  • Raise awareness about the value of nurturing design thinking culture in building innovative organizations
  • Enable social entrepreneurs to act as in-company design thinking facilitators and make use of the design thinking approach in view of creating and establishing sustainable business models with a proven concept
  • Upskill and enable design thinking experts, VET trainers and advisers of social enterprises to motivate innovation and design thinking to social enterprises, expanding their services
  • Cultivate entrepreneurial spirit and competences for social entrepreneurs
  • Broaden the horizons of the target learners to experience other innovative design thinking-led approaches, such as gamification.


Design Thinkers (Birmingham UK):


The Social UP project brings together a transnational consortium involving 7 experts in different fields from 5 EU countries (UK, Greece, Finland, Spain and Cyprus):

Innovation Training Center



EU programme

Erasmus+ KA2. Cooperation and Innovation for Good Practices. Strategic Partnerships for VET.

EU contribution

288.304 €


01-09-2016 – 30-08-2018


– Design thinking in social enterprises
– Field Guide for Social Enterprises
– Enable social entrepreneurs
– Upskill and enable design thinking experts
– Policies to support Social enterprisesand social economy

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