The European Commission recently named the ten outstanding Finalists of its annual Social Innovation Competition. These start-ups hail from across the European continent and are developing exciting new ways to bring low-wage, low-skilled workers into the digital revolution.
Finalists were selected from a competitive pool of almost 800 entries from over 40 countries, each of which proposed an idea to “reboot equality.” In response to digitalisation’s transformative effect on the labour market, this year’s Competition sought out innovations that enable all Europeans to access the opportunities created by technological change.
After spending this past summer attending a mentoring academy in Madrid and developing their business plans, the ten Finalists will attend an awards ceremony in October. There, three final winners will each be awarded a prize of €50,000.
Read on to learn how each Finalist is promoting digital equality through online employment, skills development, and innovations for low-skilled workers.
1. Basic Income Currency, Bulgaria
A social financial system where inflation is transformed into basic income using blockchain.
We believe that basic income is inevitable because of the growing optimisation and automation in almost every sector of our society, which probably will lead to loss of numerous jobs. The programmable nature of blockchain technology is making it possible to introduce a fair way to create a basic income. The idea is to issue a blockchain-based token (cryptocurrency) programmed with a negative interest in currency board with a fiat currency 1:1. The fairness is in the financing of the basic income, which will come not from the societal consumption, but from the storage of means.
2. Buildx, UK
Buildx aims to democratise housing production; using digital design and distributed production to make it simple for individuals, communities and local businesses to design and build affordable housing for themselves.
The cost of housing and energy is central to the question of economic and social equality. Today, almost every developed economy has a housing crisis, characterised by dependence on centralised, speculative housebuilding models and energy poverty, with disadvantaged communities stuck in poor housing, dependent on welfare. Small-scale, affordable, sustainable housing models exist, but are notoriously difficult to scale. Our work is developing open source digital technologies that change that: putting power to build affordable housing into the hands of communities to develop affordable homes for themselves. Behind this, our aim is to ensure equitable digitisation by keeping innovations open source.
3. CollAction, Netherlands
A grassroots platform to enable platform cooperatives to enter markets previously cornered by multinational digital platforms.
A number of multinational platforms increasingly dominate the digital economy, causing a number of problems for European citizens and governments. Platform cooperatives can protect and support unskilled workers in the evolving labour market by giving users the opportunity to be the very owners of the digital platforms in which they exchange goods and services. A new grassroots tactic called crowdaction can empower platform cooperatives and local firms to disrupt digital platform monopolies, by setting up assurance contracts – a promise for action once a critical mass is reached – in which users of the platforms organise a coordinated platform shift.
4. Feelif, Slovenia
Feelif is a multimedia tool for blind and visually impaired people which enables them to feel shapes on a standard touchscreen.
Feelif is a special grid on top of the touchscreen of a standard smartphone or tablet combined with an app to bond it all together. Using vibrations and speech Feelif signals to a blind person what is beneath their finger. For the first time, blind and visually impaired people can feel shapes on standard touch screens. With Feelif one can feel shapes, feel geometric functions, draw, learn how to read and write Braille, learn and exchange knowledge, watch interactive stories, create content, play online and offline games, share, sell and buy content.
5. Mirrorable, Italy
Mirrorable is an interactive platform that enables a unique at home rehab therapy, simply learning while observing.
Mirrorable is an effective solution to restore personal mobility of people with various motor impairments (such as young and adult stroke survivors, Parkinson’s, Orthopedic injuries), and for general e-learning of motor skills in inclusive environments (such as how-to videos at school or at home for children with special needs). Mirrorable enables caregivers and doctors to collect more data, find new patterns and develop unique strategies for each human being.
6. Mouse4all, Spain
Mouse4all empowers people with motor disabilities by allowing them to use all the apps in their Android device without touching the screen.
The world is becoming mobile, but we are leaving millions of people out of this revolution. Persons with motor disabilities cannot use or have difficulty using a touch screen, the physical interface of most mobile devices. We have created Mouse4all to enable our users to access Android tablets and smartphones with alternative input devices: switches, adapted mice, trackballs and joysticks. Mouse4all boosts the independence and autonomy of persons by making accessible their Android device and all its installed applications.
7. Power of Language, Germany
An online tool that enables people with disabilities to successfully participate in digital application processes.
In recent years, job application processes have been almost completely digitised. To ensure equal opportunities for people with disabilities, tools must be provided to ensure that these processes are transparent and easy to understand. The ‘Power of Language’ project is designed to enable people with impairments (learning difficulties, reading weaknesses, non-native speakers) to use an online tool in easy language to understand and successfully participate in digital job application processes. The tool includes the creation of application letters, communications during the process and technical support for the preparation of application documents in easy language.
8. SEED – the Peer-to-Peer Learning Platform, Netherlands
SEED is a platform that reflects and compensates the true value of knowledge and skills exchanged between educators and learners.
SEED enables educators to invest their expertise in learners and derive an income from the future success of these learners. Smart contracts signed to a blockchain track the value of exchanged knowledge and skills and vest these in a reputational system that acts as dynamic accreditation. Learners get a flexible education that is free at the point of access and compensate educators according to a percentage of future income. This model empowers ‘experts’ to unlock their underutilised expertise and cultivate the particular competencies their ‘apprentices’ need in a fast-changing labour market.
9. Signly, UK
Signly is an app which uses augmented reality to display pre-recorded sign language videos, enabling access to written content for deaf users.
Some 750,000 d/Deaf sign language users are potentially excluded from accessing printed content or online content that signpost ways to access the benefits of the digital economy. Everyday activities like opening a bank account, saving money with online vouchers, or filling in a job application are made more complex when sign language is your first or preferred language but the content is not available. Signly provides an extra digital ‘layer’ of signed content on the user’s own mobile or browser to improve communication and empower sign language users.
10. Worker-Owned Apps for Cleaners, UK
A worker-owned platform app in UK cities with and for cleaners.
Cleaning is an occupation often beset by low pay, insecurity, informality and underemployment. Cleaners frequently juggle several jobs to make ends meet and experience stark inequality. They are predominantly women on part-time, insecure contracts, making them some of the most vulnerable and worst-treated people in the economy. Rewards in the growing digital economy are so far enjoyed by a handful of tech giants, not by platform workers. Our idea is to use technology in the form of a worker-owned app to empower cleaners to cooperate, connect to market demand, flexibly organise their work, earn higher wages and share profits.
Originally published September 27, 2017