Social innovation at the Catholic University, Milan: an academic conference that embraces the world

One month after the conclusion of the 13th International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC), let’s recap what happened and read about our experience as organizers


ISIRC is the conference that brings together researchers and academics from all over the world to discuss social innovation and impact entrepreneurship, or social entrepreneurship. Each year it is hosted by a different university and in 2021 it was held for the first time in Milan, organized by the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, the Alta Scuola Impresa e Società (ALTIS), and E4Impact Foundation, in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University, Sheffield University, Swinburne University of Technology, Saïd Business School Oxford University, University of York, African Network of Social Entrepreneurship Scholars and International Society for Third-Sector Research.

Despite the difficulties and uncertainty caused by the pandemic situation, the event took place in hybrid mode, both in presence and remotely, giving new life to the University, which had not hosted major events in the previous year.



ISIRC2021 - Università Cattolica, Milan Campus's main entrance ISIRC2021 - coffee break
ISIRC2021 - volunteer at the welcome desk ISIRC2021's Chairs: Professor Mario Molteni, Professor Matteo Pedrini, Dr Giacomo Ciambotti



Facts and figures on the 2021 conference

The topic of the 13th edition (8-9-10 September 2021) was “Enabling the change! Social innovation and enterprises for a better future", which drew from the experience of ALTIS and E4Impact on the issues of responsible entrepreneurship and sustainable management.

More than 300 papers were presented, in response to 21 thematic Call for Papers that explored various aspects and declinations of social innovation, from the most theoretical to the most concrete ones. Over the course of 3 days, we divided the academics into 76 parallel sessions and 8 panel sessions, which took place in various classrooms of the Milan campus and, simultaneously, in streaming, via the University's digital platform.

All presentations were in fact held in hybrid mode, with approximately 70 on-site participants and more than 200 connected from Europe, Africa, America, Asia. All classrooms, both physical and virtual, were managed by a team of volunteers, students of the Catholic University, coordinated by ALTIS staff in full compliance with Covid-19 health measures.



ISIRC2021 - parallel session ISIRC2021 - lunch break
ISIRC2021 - parallel session Panel session on entrepreneurship in Africa, with Mario Molteni, Bradley Googins, David Littlewood



ISIRC 2021 Keynote Speakers

Between the sessions, there were a few Keynote Speeches, delivered by experts in the field of social innovation:

  1. Chris Marquis, SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University ("Building better businesses: researching how the BCorp movement is remaking capitalism").
  2. Johanna Mair, Hertie School (“Research on social enterprise as disciplined exploration and imagination”
  3. Sophie Bacq, Indiana University - Kelley School of Business (“Civic wealth creation and the role(s) of community in social entrepreneurship”).
  4. Matthew Grimes, Cambridge Judge Business School ("Navigating hype in the context of social innovation") 
  5. Silvia Dorado-Banacloche, University of Massachusetts Boston - UMass Boston College of Management ("What do we call Grand Challenges? From definition to knowledge map”).


Celebrations and networking, in person and at a distance

There was no lack of moments of celebration and socializing. The Dean of the Faculty of Economics, Antonella Occhino, awarded the "Best PhD Student Paper Award" to Dillon Berjani (paper written with Karen Verduijn and Elco van Burg) of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam), and the "Best Conference Paper Award"to Sára Forgács-Fábián and Sándor Takács of Corvinus University of Budapest.

To encourage networking, the academics in attendance were invited to an aperitif at the Arco della Pace, one of the best places to visit in Milan, and attended a violin and piano concert, played respectively by Matteo Fedeli and Antonio Scaioli, in the Auditorium of the Milan campus. Fedeli played a rare “Guarnieri” violin, the work of the same luthier who made the “Cannone”, Paganini's violin. The virtual rooms were lively as well, even on Twitter: through the account @isirc2021, we narrated the developments daily and took part in the digital conversations around #ISIRC2021.



ISIRC2021 - attendees at the Arco della Pace, Milan ISIRC2021 - the volunteers
ISIRC2021 -  "Best PhD Student Paper Award" to Dillon Berjani  "Best Conference Paper Award" to Sára Forgács-Fábián and Sándor Takács
ISIRC2021 - Matteo Fedeli plays a rare Guarnieri violin ISIRC2021 - Antonio Scaioli plays the piano in the Auditorium




Beyond ISIRC 2021

At the close of the conference, Chairs Matteo Pedrini and Giacomo Ciambotti passed the baton to Saint Mary's University (Halifax, Canada), which will organize ISIRC 2022.

All ISIRC 2021’s accepted abstracts will be collected and published in an ebook. Furthermore, thanks to a few "Special Issues", participants will be able to submit their papers for publication in the journals Journal of Management Studies, Sustainability MDPI and Piccola Impresa/Small Business.


News published on October 15, 2021 by Erika Lisa Panuccio


Prof. Matteo Pedrini introduces ISIRC 2021

Watch the video

Prof. Matteo Pedrini introduces ISIRC 2021

Professor Matteo Pedrini, one of ISIRC 2021's Chairs, introduces the main topic of the conference, drawing from the experience of Università Cattolica, the Alta Scuola Impresa e Società and E4Impact Foundation.

Video in Italian, switch on the subtitles in the player.

Italian researchers

Watch the video

Italian researchers

We asked two of our researchers to give us their perspective on social innovation, and tell us about their experience of the 13th ISIRC conference.

Maria Cristina ZACCONE, Università Cattolica
Laura Maria FERRI, Università Cattolica

Video in English.

International researchers

Watch the video

International researchers

We asked three international researchers to give us their perspective on social innovation, and tell us about their experience of the 13th ISIRC conference.

David LITTLEWOOD, University of Sheffield
Abrar SAIYED, Özyeğin Üniversitesi
Constance DUMALANÈDE, University Jean Monnet Saint Etienne

Video in English.