Interview with Prof. Dr. Jürgen Howaldt


Jürgen Howaldt

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Howaldt, born 1960, is the Director of the Central Scientific Institute, Technical University of Dortmund and Scientific coordinator of the global research project SI DRIVE funded within the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission. He is an internationally renowned expert in the field of social innovation. As a consultant he has not only presented his concept of social innovation to policy makers in Germany and Europe but in plenty of other parts of the world. Howaldt is Co-founder of the European School of Social Innovation and an Expert of the German Federal Chancellor’s Dialog for the Future.

(1) What is your definition of social innovation and what is your main research field?

The term social innovation can be traced back to the early 19th century, long before technological-economic connotations determined the common understanding of innovation. But at the same time the global mapping of the SI DRIVE project revealed that there is no shared understanding of social innovation (including a clear differentiation from other concepts such as social entrepreneurship or technological innovation).

Taking its cue from Schumpeters basic definition of innovation, we see social innovation as a new combination of social practices. What distinguishes social innovations from other manifestations of social change is that they are driven by certain actors in an intentional targeted manner with the goal of better satisfying or answering needs and problems than is possible on the basis of established practices. An innovation is therefore social to the extent that it is accepted and diffused in society or certain societal sub-areas and ultimately becomes institutionalized as new social practice. Just like any innovation social innovation does not necessarily provide impact that is ‘good’ for all or ‘socially desirable’ in an extensive and normative sense.

(2) Do you think social innovation gets enough public attention? If not, what would you like to see change? Why do you think social innovation is playing such an important role for our society?

The importance of social innovation for successfully addressing the social, economic, political and environmental challenges of the 21st century has been recognised not only within the Europe 2020 Strategy but also on a global scale. There is a growing consensus among practitioners, policy makers and the research community that technological innovations alone are not capable of overcoming the social and economic challenges modern societies are facing. The global mapping of social innovation initiatives uncovers countless approaches and successful initiatives that illustrate the strengths and potentials of social innovations in the manifold areas of social integration through education and poverty reduction, in establishing sustainable patterns of consumption, or in coping with demographic change. At the same time, social innovations are gaining in importance not only in relation to social integration and equal opportunities, but also in respect of the innovative ability and future sustainability of society as a whole.

(3) Do you think technological innovation is directly linked to social innovation and why?

Even we think it is necessary to distinguish social innovation from technological innovation analytically in practice they are closely interlinked and support each other. The global  mapping revealed that while in many social innovation initiatives technologies do not play an important role (e.g. integrated care; income support, reduction of educational disadvantages) in others technology is essential (E/M Health; Energy Supply etc.). Even though in different practice fields and social innovation initiatives the role of technology varies greatly, the possibility to take advantage of new technologies for tackling social problems often motivates or triggers action.

Overall new – but also the re-use of old and basic – technologies may offer new opportunities for social innovation. Technology can be an enabler, an instrument, a supporter, a form of substantiated knowledge, and a prerequisite for diffusion. Especially the potential of social media and mobile technologies happen to drive social innovations. In this regard novelties in technology can be a crucial to spark off new social practices. Yet looking at the same issue from the other side, in many cases new technologies are made viable and effective by the implementation of cooperative practices shaped by participating collectives.

This underlines the enormous relevance of social innovations concerning effective measures (including the application and utilisation of new technologies) to cope with, e.g., climate change: Policies for energy management (less energy consumption and more efficient energy supply) rely on technologies. However, their deployment will hardly be feasible and effectual if practices (behavior, norms, values) were to remain invariant. Further innovations in technology and business are imperative; yet in order to reap their full potential, and at the same time creating social development that is beneficial to cultures as inclusive as diverse, social innovations will make the difference.

(4) What are the main challenges for implementing social innovations?

The SI.DRIVE project provides for the first time an evidence based overview of various types of social innovation in different world regions and central policy areas (education, employment, environment and climate change, energy supply, transport and mobility, health and social care, and poverty reduction and sustainable development). The results reflect the diversity, broadness and usability of Social Innovation, proving the variety of actors and their interaction and exploring the systemic character and concept of social innovation.

Like technological innovations successful social innovations are based on a lot of presuppositions and require appropriate infrastructures and resources. Moreover, social innovations require specific conditions because they aim at activating, fostering and utilizing the innovation potential of the whole society. Therefore, new ways of developing and diffusing social innovations (e.g. design thinking, innovation labs etc.) as well as additional far reaching resources are necessary to unlock the potential of social innovation in society and to enable participation of the relevant actors and civil society.

There is an increasing awareness and promotion of social innovation: In many countries, the promotion of social innovation itself by the EU has served as a driver and opportunity for various actors to embrace new ways of working, access new funding streams, and promote change at a national level. Even though a lot has been done during the last years, there are still some important steps to take in order to move social innovation from the margin to the mainstream of the political agenda.

(5) What do you expect for the future of social innovation; in which fields will social innovation have the biggest impact?

Our society is not only facing such challenges as social exclusion and unemployment as well as inequalities in wealth, education, and health care, but also climate change and sustainable development. The most urgent and important innovations in the 21st century will take place in the social field. Traditional ways in which the market and the state have responded to societal demands are no longer sufficient. At the same time, technological innovations reveal limitations when it comes to coping with pressing societal challenges.

In the SI DRIVE project we elaborated four major topics with regard to the future of social innovation:

Social Innovation, democracy and participation

Social innovation builds on the desire of citizen to participate. With the expansion of the participation repertoire, social innovations challenge the current content of the whole range of ‘democratic’ and other types of politics. Participating citizens strengthen established structures both of democracy and of peaceful and prosperous societies more generally. At the same time, these citizens contest the existing power relations, in government, in the market, in work organisations and in their local communities. National, regional or local participation currently does not sufficiently unlock the potential of civil society in co-creating solutions for problems and demands that are theirs. Politics of all types need new ways to empower the citizen, to give the citizen responsibility for problem solving, to enable them to design and implement their own solutions, and importantly to dramatically improve their own agency to do so increasingly in the future

Social innovation and the economy

Social innovations create social and economic value. Social innovators, social entrepreneurs and the social economy can deliver new jobs and new sustainable growth opportunities. However, it is still largely misunderstood that social innovation also has a number of beneficial impacts well beyond traditional growth and employment effects, for instance by strengthening social cohesion, civic participation and commitment. The ability of social innovations to foster economic and social returns at the same time makes social innovation a promising option for creating more sustainable, just and resilient societies. Under this perspective social innovations are also a growing economic factor, reflected by the remarkable participation of economy partners in social innovation initiatives and the growing interests of companies for this kind of innovation going beyond pure corporate social responsibility. The economic potential of the broad range of social innovations is still underdeveloped and underestimated.

Social Innovation and the ecological transition

Social innovations can also create and increase ecological and environmental value. They have a very important role in moving society through the socio-ecological transition necessary to combat, or at least mitigate, climate change and other environmental stresses and degradations, the challenges of which are set to increase dramatically in the foreseeable future. Many social innovations already act upon the understanding that it is living assets, both human and natural especially working together, which are the only real sources of any type of innovation, including technological and business innovation.

Digital transformation needs Social Innovation

Digital technology has disruptive effects, dismantling current social relationships. Technology untamed brings great risks as well as great opportunities for everyone. To cope with these challenges, citizens and other actors need to understand how to master the digital transformation and put it to the service of society. Technological innovation needs to be strongly influenced by social innovation. Technological and social innovations can work hand-in-hand to create new services and products with benefits for the whole of society, as well as opening up new markets.

For further information

SI DRIVE website:

Howaldt, Jürgen et al. (2018): Atlas of social innovation. New practices for a better future.


New Membership: GCCIR joins Tatawaw


We are thrilled to announce that the German-Canadian Centre for Innovation and Research is now a member of Tatawaw.

Tatawaw is an opportunity for businesses and non-profits to rediscover an ancient tradition of welcoming. Edmonton has a long history of welcoming diverse cultures to trade, share stories, and celebrate the bounty of the land. For thousands of years the Plains Cree described this tradition, the spirit of welcoming, as “tatawaw” meaning “there is room for you, welcome.”

Tatawaw does this through organizing a teaching roundtable for organizations. These roundtables provide a supportive, open place to learn about the indigenous roots of welcoming and how we all can build on that knowledge to improve organizational or corporate culture and day-to-day operations. The result is an ongoing positive shift in perspective about the spaces we hold and make.

The GCCIR is excited to join Tatawaw’s movement to make Canada what it was always meant to be: a welcoming and safe home for all.

For more information about Tatawaw, please visit

Exhibition – Canada and Germany: Partners from Immigration to Innovation

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We are glad to announce that we are currently hosting the “Canada and Germany: Partners from Immigration to Innovation” exhibition at Enterprise Square. The exhibition was curated by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Ottawa for the purpose of celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada, as well as the long and positive relationship between the two countries.

For the opening of this exhibition, we hosted a reception on German Unity Day, Oct 3, 2017. We were pleased to welcome friends, colleagues, some of the companies we’ve funded through the Alberta-Germany Collaboration Fund, as well as esteemed members of the German community here in Edmonton.

On the same day, we also held a press event in the morning where we welcomed numerous companies that have received funding through GCCIR programs. It was great to see them present their successful projects!

The exhibition will be in Edmonton until Oct 27, and we encourage everyone to stop by for a look!

Regular opening hours are as follows:

Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri 11am to 5pm
Thu 11am to 7pm
Sat 12pm to 5pm
Sun closed


Enterprise Square Gallery (Main Floor), 10230 Jasper Ave, Edmonton, AB T5J 4P6

The entrance is free of charge. We are looking forward to seeing you there!

We will host other activities on Tuesday evenings during the time that the exhibition is in Edmonton. Please register on Eventbrite for the following events:

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Oct 17: “Die Vermessung der Welt” Film Screening – Measuring the World

Germany in the early 19th century. “Die Vermessung der Welt” follows two brilliant and eccentric scientists: the geographer Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss on their life paths.


Oct 24: “Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland” Film Screening – Almanya – Welcome to Germany

The story of three generations of a Turkish immigrant family. The tragic comedy dramatizes the question of identity and belonging for former Turkish guest workers in Germany and their descendants.

Falling Walls Lab UAlberta: Inspiring Ideas and Breakthrough Projects


This year’s winners: Abdullah Farooq, Kenzie Gordon & Valerie Miller

The Falling Walls competition is a unique international platform for leaders from the worlds of science, business, politics, arts, and society to share their ground-breaking research. The Falling Walls Foundation, a charity, is supported by the German Ministry for Education and Research, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Helmholtz Association, the Berlin Senate and numerous other academic institutions, foundations, companies, non-governmental organisations, and prominent individuals. It was initiated on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.

Inspired by this world-changing event on Nov 9, 1989, the question of every Falling Walls gathering is: Which are the next walls to fall? Falling Walls fosters discussion on research and innovation, and promotes the latest scientific findings among a broad audience from all parts of society.

All over the world, students have the chance to present their research in the Falling Walls Lab taking place in their respective cities. The three winners of each preliminary round qualify directly for the Falling Walls Lab Finale in Berlin on Nov 8, 2017.

The University of Alberta held its first qualifying Lab in 2014 and sent the top three winners to the Berlin finale, where one of the UAlberta participants, Nermeen Yousseff, won second overall. In 2015, UAlberta’s Lian Willetts repeated that feat.

On Sept 20, 2017, the fourth UAlberta Falling Walls Lab brought together 15 graduate students from a wide variety of disciplines to share their innovative ideas, social initiatives, and research projects in only 3 minutes each. The topics ranged from early diagnosis of mental illnesses, multi-moveable prostheses, to developing treatments specific to different breast cancer types.

A distinguished jury made up of representatives from academia, industry and government selected the three most intriguing presentations. This year’s winners are as follows:

1st place: – Abdullah Farooq – Breaking the Wall of Antibiotic Resistance with Phage Therapy:
Abdullah believes we can fight and eliminate drug resistant bacteria with genetically modified phages. Phages are viruses that have natural anti-bacterial mechanisms.

2nd place – Kenzie Gordon – Breaking the Wall of Sexual Violence:
Kenzie believes video games could help address, and maybe even prevent, sexual violence.  She sees games as a social learning tool that can engage us in ways other media forms cannot.

3rd place – Valerie Miller – Breaking the Wall of Healing the Earth
One of the biggest land reclamation challenges is finding ‘suitable soil.’ Valerie builds new soil and is developing processes to build soils using other waste materials – essentially using waste to clean up and fix waste (i.e., wasteland).


They will pitch their work once more on the global stage of the Falling Walls Lab Finale in Berlin on Nov 8. We wish the three of them much luck and all the best for the finale!

An Opportunity Like No Other

My name is Nicolette Horvath. I am currently a student at the University of Alberta’s francophone faculty, the Campus Saint Jean, and am entering the fourth year of my undergraduate studies in sciences. I am also the 2017 recipient of the GCCIR Experience Abroad Award.

During the summer of 2017, I have been participating in the University of Alberta’s e3 French Alps program in Grenoble, France. This program consists of three components (a French course, an internship, and an academic course); however, I have chosen to participate in only two of them, the 6 week internship from mid-June until the end of July and the 3 week academic course during the month of August.

My internship took place in a laboratory, Laboratoire HP2 (Hypoxie PhysioPathologie), in the South Hospital situated in Grenoble. I worked with a research team called “Hypoxie-exercice” under the supervision of researcher and pulmonologist, Dr. Bernard Wuyam. One of the main focuses of this research team is to study physical adaptations of the body when faced with intermittent or chronic hypoxia due to physical effort, illness, or altitude.

A previous study has shown that there appears to be a link between muscle weakness in lower limbs and the morbidity and mortality rates of patients with certain pathologies, notably for those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) (Swallow et al., 2007). A testing technique proposed in a technical sheet titled Maximal isometric voluntary quadriceps strength assessment in COPD by Bachasson et al. was published in 2014. In order to measure the isometric MVC (maximum voluntary contraction) of a person’s quadriceps, this test uses an immobilized hand-held dynamometer, an inextensible belt (comparable to a seat belt), and some small cushions for comfort and stability. Data obtained through a test such as the one described in Bachasson et al.’s technical sheet appear relatively simple to acquire and could be very useful to healthcare professionals in the assessment and treatment of some patients, but there has not been any previous official or standardised description of how to carry out this type of test. My internship was mainly focused around the immobilized hand-held dynamometer testing technique that measures the isometric MVC of a person’s quadriceps muscles. Among other things, I tested the reliability of the hand-held dynamometer used to measure the isometric MVC of the quadriceps, the reproducibility of the isometric MVC test of the quadriceps, as well as the sensitivity of the test to muscle fatigue. I am also very pleased that Dr. Wuyam wishes to use one of the data sheets that I created when evaluating patients who take the isometric MVC test in the future at the South Hospital in Grenoble.

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This internship opportunity provided through the University of Alberta e3 program and the support from GCCIR have allowed me to both challenge myself and grow on personal, academic, and professional levels while simultaneously working to improve my French skills. I believe that this opportunity has provided me with skills and experiences that are invaluable, and that they will surely play a major role in my future endeavors.

I would like to express that I am very grateful for the support provided by GCCIR, the staff at University of Alberta GoAbroad office, as well as certain administrative staff and professors at the Campus Saint Jean. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation for the knowledge, guidance and friendliness provided by Dr. Bernard Wuyam, Marie Guillard, Carole Cerutti, other staff members, and other interns at Laboratoire HP2 throughout my internship.


Bachasson, D., Villiot-Danger, E., Verges, S., Hayor, M., Perez, T., Chambellan, A., Wuyam, B. (2014). Mesure ambulatoire de la force maximale volontaire isométrique du quadriceps     chez le patient BPCO. Revue des Maladies Respiratoires, 31(8), 765-770. doi:0.1016/j.rmr.2013.10.645

Swallow, E.B., Reyes, D., Hopkinson, N.S., Man, W.D-C., Porcher, R., Cetti, E.J., Moore, A.J., Moxham, J., Polkey, M.I. (2007). Quadriceps strength predicts mortality in patients with moderate to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Thorax, 62(2), 115-120. doi: 10.1136/thx.2006.062026


ATB Catalyst 2017

Each year ATB Financial organises so-called Catalyst events throughout Alberta. The aim is to inform interested Albertan companies about the opportunities that are out there for them, in order to advance their business. This year’s Catalyst event in Edmonton focused on four different topics that all have the potential to help Albertan businesses grow.

The first moderated talk focused on programs and organisations that help with New Market Opportunities. The panel comprised representatives from the Alberta Export Expansion Program, from Export Development Canada, and from the Albertan Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. All three organizations support Albertan companies expanding into new markets abroad in a variety of different ways. Export Development Canada provides targeted advice for companies that are facing problems entering new markets. The Albertan government also supports certain activities to promote export. The Alberta Export Expansion Program provides travel grants for fairs and exhibitions and an Export Readiness Micro-Voucher Program is also in place.

The second talk was about Machine Learning and AI and the potential this field holds for Albertan Manufacturers. Canada Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence and UofA Professor, Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer, provided some excellent insight into the topic of Artificial Intelligence and its industrial applications. With the UofA being one of the best places in the world for machine learning, Albertan companies have an excellent resource right here in our province.

The third talk was about New Frontiers and how the defence and aviation industry might be interesting sectors for Albertan companies to consider getting involved in. The talk quickly revolved around government procurements and why it makes good sense for small and medium sized enterprises to consider putting in bids.

Innovation Support Programs available to Albertan companies were the focus of the fourth talk. The talk included representatives from Mitacs, Alberta Innovates, the Industrial Research Assistance Program, as well as our Manager, Katelyn Petersen, who talked about the Alberta-Germany and Alberta-Canada-France Collaboration Funds. Overall it was impressive to see how many programs are available to Albertan companies interested in innovation and research.

Following the four talks was a presentation by ATB Financial on Industry 4.0 and the ATB Manufacturing Revitalization Program. At the end of the event, ATB handed out their ATB Innovation and Export Awards. The 2017 ATB Catalyst event once again provided an excellent overview of the many support programs that are out there for Albertan companies. For companies it is often only a matter of knowing about them, which is why informative events like these are so important.

GCCIR Experience Abroad Award

The German-Canadian Centre for Innovation and Research (GCCIR) is happy to announce the launch of the GCCIR Experience Abroad Award, available exclusively to Campus Saint-Jean students. The Campus Saint-Jean is the only French-speaking Campus in Western Canada, and is part of the University of Alberta. The official announcement occurred at the Campus Saint-Jean’s “Thank-a-thon” on March 14, 2017. This event provided an opportunity for students to acknowledge the donors behind the many awards made available to them.

The GCCIR Experience Abroad Award is intended to support students in gaining research-based study or work experience in France. Business and/or Science students enrolled at Campus Saint-Jean will have the opportunity to receive a grant of $2,500 CAD. There is one award available each year, and the deadline for this year’s applications is April 15th, 2017.

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Since 2016, the GCCIR has been mandated by the Albertan Ministry of Economic Development and Trade (EDT) to manage the Alberta-Canada-France Joint Industrial R&D Projects program.

With this Experience Abroad Award, the GCCIR aims to further strengthen the connection between Alberta and France through research-based alliances and student experiences.

More information can be found here: