European social innovators are leading with new ways to improve the health of communities.

New paradigms are emerging in the health space across the globe. In Europe, social innovators are centering solutions that democratize the access to care and knowledge. We are seeing a global understanding of wellness, well-being, and good health that focuses on holistic approaches and community models that democratize access and information. At the core of innovation in health is a human-centered mindset, meaning the "spark" for many solutions come from a motivation to better the lives of the people around them. 

Ashoka and the Johnson & Johnson Foundation co-created the Reimagining Community Health Challenge to find innovators who are improving the health of their communities with person-centric solutions. We analyzed the 136 applications we received for their methodology, inspiration, and impact to better understand the ways that innovative, human-centered care is spreading across Europe. We found that the innovations center around holistic care; they acknowledged the role of social and environmental factors in health rather than just biological, and strived to create more efficient systems for care. 

Holistic Care that Considers the Community 

In fact, over three-quarters of the innovations had one eye on the impact of social and environmental factors on a person and community’s wellbeing. We are seeing that health is increasingly understood as more than just one hospital visit but rather as the effectiveness of the health system as a whole. Inequity in health was clearly recognized in many cases, and often centered in the solutions or audience. Solentra, one of Challenge winners, saw the need for a health solution for migrants – one of Europe’s most systemically excluded communities who are often left out of traditional health services – and designed a solution so that their mental health needs were being met. 


A group of people sitting in a circle. Only two of individuals are fully in frame, a woman with short black hair and a black man in a wheelchair, both wearing medical masks.


To help mental health professionals better reach and serve this community that struggles due to its vulnerable situation, Solentra developed a method known as ‘Psychiatry Assisting a Culturally Diverse Community in Creating Healing Ties’ – or PACCT. The PACCT method combines community psychology and transcultural psychiatry to make specialized mental healthcare more accessible for those with a refugee or migrant background. Solentra psychologists also make themselves available to work directly with individuals and families who are struggling to access regular mental healthcare, as well as offering consultations, supervision and training to build capacity for health workers. 

Integrated & Amplifying 

The strongest cases of innovation are working broadly to create impact. Nearly 90% of innovations submitted to the Reimagining Community Health Challenge were working across methodologies, connecting communities to more accessible health services, informing individuals on how to care for themselves and others, empowering marginalized and vulnerable patients, and building empathy between communities and the natural world, to create more equitable and impactful change. Ashoka sees these key shifts in health as integral elements when designing solutions for more agency and self-advocacy in health in a rapidly-changing world. The analysis showed that over half of innovations were working laterally across 2 of these methodologies, and 38% innovated across 3 or more. 

There were key differences between the ways that innovations connect with traditional health actors. In contrast to innovations that democratized efficiency and access, organizations like MedGezel instead integrate into current systems as a separate but collaborative entity – It fine-tunes and strengthens existing systems, and promotes the efficiency of moving parts already within the health system – providing expertise to existing stakeholders to better the health outcomes of individuals and communities.  

MedGezel is a patient-centered and medical resident driven initiative which is characterized by a bottom-up approach. It focuses on adding value at the "sharp end" i.e., the level of patient- medical resident interaction, creating opportunities for shared decision making. This innovative approach teaches medical students empathic behaviors by acting as a medical coach (a MedGezel), guiding a patient in obtaining a person-centered doctor’s consultation.

Nearly 90% of innovations are working across methodologies

Similarly, an innovation that collaboratively plugs into and shifts health systems is Creative Minds.  

Bringing together over 120 grass-roots groups & community organizations, as well as the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS), Creative Minds develops and delivers projects which focus on the relationship between arts, sports, recreation, leisure and health in the context of building healthy resilient people and communities. Its methodology is designed to combat the isolation that disabled people using creativity to support their own wellbeing, so that they can be more confident and resilient. 

Some of the ways that people with mental and physical health issues can take advantage of Creative Mind’s offerings are through a weekly, drop-in conversation and drawing club for asylum seekers and refugees; a music-making for theater project aimed at young people with learning disabilities and/or autism; and climbing sessions with opportunities to meet new people and have fun. 

Each of these approaches comes with their own benefit: Innovations that integrated directly into existing systems had a greater degree of interconnectivity and dissemination of information, leading to more efficient outcomes. Those that plugged into the current system had a more dramatic impact.  

The Thread of Technology & Information 

One common thread is that many of these innovations also had a component of technology used to connect people, creating a pathway for exponential growth and scale. Innovations like Helpper, an online platform designed for tasks and chores that are usually beyond the reach of professional care services. 

A growing number of people around the world need regular assistance with small tasks but budgets, staff shortages and other restrictions mean that their options tend to be limited. connecting people who need help with everyday tasks with helpful neighbors. By creating a highly scalable platform to connect those in need with their neighbors, Helpper offers a more flexible solution for home assistance, and a more affordable solution for society. An added benefit is the human-to-human connection and community building that happens through these helpful interactions. 


A medical worker and a patient, both wearing medical masks and sitting at a table, share an elbow bump greeting.

A Deeper Understanding of Human-Centered Health Innovation 

All of these innovators are not only serving the purpose of reimagining health for their communities, but they are leading a wave of entrepreneurs who are using human-centered health solutions in new ways. So much of their impact is validating Ashoka’s own understanding of how changemakers are innovating, as well as where there are gaps in health systems around us. Surprisingly few solutions focused on building empathy between people and the natural world around them - ie., identifying and leveraging the interconnectivity that individual health and well-being has on the environment and animals around us, and vice versa - a potential gap in current innovation. Knowing these gaps can help us more intentionally find those in the future.