10 February 2020

The European Social Catalyst Fund

This blog was first published on the DAFNE website on 30 January.

The European Social Catalyst Fund (ESCF) is a new initiative recently launched at Philanthropy House, Brussels by Deputy Director General Signe Ratso of DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission. It has been established and co-funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, Genio (Ireland), the Robert Bosch Stiftung (Germany) and the King Baudouin Foundation (Belgium). The ESCF is designed to have significant impact on some of Europe’s most pressing social challenges. The objective is to bring together public and private resources to improve social services to enable people who need support to live as valued and participating members of their communities. The opportunity remains open for other foundations whose objectives are aligned with those of the ESCF to join the initiative.

The ESCF will provide financial and capacity building support to develop plans to scale proven social service innovations. It is anticipated that these plans will provide details of how public and private resources (philanthropy and/or social investment) can be brought together in a range of collaborations to help re-focus public spending in a more effective direction in the interest of European citizens. It is intended that during the project a further phase will be designed, based on learning obtained, which will include a focus on supporting implementation of plans to scale proven social service innovations.

We recognise that there are many initiatives across Europe that provide seed funding for social innovation projects. However, many of these innovations do not grow to scale and therefore have limited reach. This is often because they are established outside the public sector without their engagement, despite the fact that governments are best placed to sustain and scale social services for particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the context of their legislative responsibilities. The public sector has the largest funding and the mandate to meet the needs of those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged and therefore offers the best route to achieving scale. The ESCF consortium has experience of the catalytic role that private finance can play in creating innovations that can then be sustained and scaled by the public sector.

Applications for funding

The ESCF will award planning grants across a range of priority social challenge areas within, or across, European Union Member States drawn from the Sustainable Development Goals and aligned with the three main categories of the European Pillar of Social Rights: equal opportunities and access to the labour market; fair working conditions; social protection and inclusion. These include ageing; poverty and marginalisation; homelessness; disability; mental health; migration; promoting gender equality; dementia; digital inclusiveness; employment and job creation; inequalities; education, training, skills; community development; the role and place of young people in society; inter-generational solidarity; and ecological and social transition.

Innovations will be identified through a pan-European call and all eligible applications will be evaluated against published criteria. Preference will be given to innovations that have the most robust evidence of success and that aim to reach the most significant scale. Decisions regarding the allocation of grants will be made by the consortium of philanthropy organisations contributing to the ESCF. Successful applicants will receive a planning grant of up to €100,000 along with capacity building support. A minimum of €600,000 will be allocated to support at least 6 plans. It is anticipated that the successful applicants will represent a range of social challenge and geographic areas.

Funding will be allocated in July 2020 and the plan development period will commence in August 2020 with final submissions due in March 2021.

Applications are now open for the European Social Catalyst Fund.

Key dates

  • Launch: 16 January 2020
  • Applications close: 15 April 2020
  • Successful applications selected: 23 July 2020
  • Plan development: August 2020 – March 2021
  • Plans submitted: 25 March 2021

Facing Change Exhibition

As part of the launch of the ESCF, the Facing Change exhibition is being hosted in Philanthropy House from January – March 2020. This photographic and film exhibition celebrates inspiring people from across Ireland who have been supported to overcome challenges and lead a life of their own choosing in the community – including people with disabilities, mental health difficulties, dementia and those who are long-term homeless. Their personal stories showcase the impact of the type of work the ESCF intends to support on an EU-wide basis. We are very grateful for the support of the European Foundation Centre in hosting this exhibition.


Madeleine Clarke

Founding Director, Genio