The European School of Social Innovation was founded in October 2011 in the aftermath of the first global scientific conference on social innovation:
Challenge Social Innovation, held in Vienna, 19-21 September 2011. The conference adopted the Vienna Declaration on the most relevant topics of social innovation research. In its introduction the declaration stipulates:
“The tracks of international research on innovation demonstrate that the technology-oriented paradigm – shaped by the industrial society – does not cover the broad range of innovations indispensable in the transition from an industrial to a knowledge and services-based society: Such fundamental societal changes require the inclusion of social innovations in a paradigm shift of the innovation system.”
Based on this assertion, the European School of Social Innovation was formed to assist and enhance a holistic concept of innovation: The predominant economic values of innovations in business and technology, revaluated by accounts on their social dimensions regarding origins and impact, shall become associated with societal values of social innovations in public, business and civil society sectors.

ESSI considers the utmost significance of social innovations in the 21st century in enabling the socially beneficial utilization of the vast economic potential of the „knowledge society“, as part of society, to better serve distributive justice and braking the acceleration of social inequality.
Transformative science, trans-disciplinary research and professional practices are required to create new capacities in knowledge generation, knowledge diffusion and knowledge application, involving those who know how and others who know why. Combining analytical thought and practical doing requires innovative organisations, methods, networks and infrastructures in support of effective collaboration. ESSI shall serve as an umbrella organisation, a platform to stimulate, promote and develop co-operative activities, measures and projects of its members.
ESSI, as a School of Thought, considerably shapes concepts and activities in the field of social innovation, as it facilitates the collaboration between members that can form consortia to plan and execute projects of different kind. Yet through the backing by ESSI, single member organisations or even individuals may enjoy stronger positions in their social innovation activities.

According to §2 of the ESSI Statutes the objectives of the association are:

a) the international strengthening of research, academic and vocational education, further education and consulting in the field of social innovation.

b) the development of a scientific basis for international comparative research on social innovation, analogous to existing research methods and manuals on economically relevant innovations.

c) the profiling of specific European forms and conditions of social innovation based on history and welfare state concepts, under consideration of the EU Treaty and relevant guidelines of EU research and innovation policy, in conjunction with comparisons of developments in other world regions and global cooperation.

d) the promotion of young researchers and the dissemination of relevant qualifications for the development and application of social innovations, ranging from specialized vocational training to postgraduate further education.

e) the support of the transfer of knowledge between scientific disciplines, science and practice, and between all sectors of society, including politics and international organizations.

ESSI Statutes