Lena Lago about social innovation in practice


Social innovation is when we reinvent the roles of public, private and civil society.

During most of her professional carrier, Lena Lagos has focused on creating meaningful occupation for people. As the founder of the pioneering Swedish workforce cooperative Basta! and an active in noted Stockholm non-profit Fryshuset’s engagements in social innovations, she is one of Sweden’s most experienced people implementing social innovations on a day to day basis.

The welfare state does not work for everyone

I started as an intermediate level teacher and something that quickly caught my attention was that the school is a system. Kids that do not fit into the system are left behind.

Lena Lago observes that consequence of not fitting into the system is often that the individual get caught in a bureaucratic spiral. Once in the spiral, the individual is tossed around between local and national authorities without holistic supervision or control. Lena decided to take action – instead of taking a passive stand she left the life of a teacher in the pursuit of finding a solution to the problem.

The art of finding meaningful occupation

Lena decided to work with a focus on the individual and the idea that everyone is different and are good at different things. One of her first engagements was Basta!, a company run by former addicts and criminals. People that had previously problems subject to the system were now in charge of a business and had the power to influence the way the activities were conducted. Lena’s conclusion was where simple but not uncontroversial with regards to the Scandinavian welfare model – the system needs to be more flexible:

“In a vocational education you always have to have maths, Swedish and English. If we want to get this people involved (…) then we have to try this without maths, Swedish and English.”

According to Lena, the key to success in including socially marginalized individuals is to find meaningful occupation as fast as possible – the individual has to feel that someone believes in them and their competences.

Lena is working with several social innovations

We need platforms where people can release themselves from the bureaucratic system in order to adapt and innovate.

Lena works with several social innovations besides Basta!. She is actively working with noted Swedish non-profit Fryshuset, specialized on creating meaningful spare time activities for disadvantaged youth. Lena is project leader for Fryshuset’s initiative to initiate a social impact bond, a new financial model inspired by European initiatives to get private financiers to collaborate with public authorities and civil society to finance and run evidence based initiatives for social innovation on a pay-for-results basis.

We at LSV think Lena Lagos career illustrates the opportunities to work with social innovation across operative, financial and strategic disciplines as well as the lessons learned across public private and civil sector experiences. One of the more popular management theories of social innovation is the need for “multilingual leadership” that is leaders that are literate in public private and civil sector speak and can navigate across these sectors, the collaboration of which is the essence of social innovation methodology.

“To create something close to a specific target group. Reaching results by trying something different. Such initiatives are real competitive in the pursuit of social advancement. These are the kind of initiatives I believe in.”


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