Illustration: Pau Gasol Valls

Illustration: Pau Gasol Valls


21 is the Social Innovation Accelerator of the French Red Cross. 21 hosts a set of programs to support projects with a positive social impact, a coworking space and a digital studio.


Faced with the major socio-economic changes of the 21st century, the French Red Cross has for several years been undergoing a profound transformation in order to increase the impact of its actions. It has launched a performance and development plan, implemented a corporate social responsibility strategy and deployed an innovation strategy to remain true to its history and values. 


The creation of 21 is part of this evolution. Aware that traditional solutions are insufficient to deal with the diversification and increasing complexity of social needs (increased social isolation and digital illiteracy for example), the French Red Cross has identified social innovation as an effective way of adapting its services and thus maximising its social impact. 21 is the social innovation accelerator of the French Red Cross, i.e. both a physical coworking space hosting organisations that create new products and services that meet social needs, and also a set of support programmes for projects with social impact.

Technical details & Operations

21 is a 1,000m² space dedicated to social innovation located on the first floor of the French Red Cross headquarters in Montrouge, near Paris.

Accelerator programmes

21 is also a set of support programmes for social impact projects. Lasting six months each, the programmes help project leaders test, improve and deploy products and services that address poorly or inadequately met social needs. 

There are three entrepreneurial support programmes, reserved for actors outside the French Red Cross, and an intrapreneurial programme, reserved for the Association’s volunteers, employees and students. The successful projects benefit from:

. the help of an expert in support for social projects ;
. a fertile environment for experimentation (1,037 local organisations and 577 social, medico-social and health establishments) ;
. advice from external professionals (finance, legal) and internal professionals (across all social, health and medico-social professions),
. a place in the coworking space ;
. a financial package of several thousand euros. 

The functioning of the four support programmes is detailed in articles that you can find below : 

  • Intrapreneurship Programme
  • Entrepreneurship Programme
  • 21 x OETH Programme (for organisations promoting the employment of people with disabilities)
  • Impact Data Programme (it promotes the use of health data to support the patient journey)

A co-working space

21 holds a co-working space reserved for social entrepreneurs and organizations working in the field of social innovation or public interest and medico-social organizations wishing to work closely with their peers. The coworking space offers more than 60 workstations, 8 meeting rooms, 1 event space, 1 digital studio and 1 virtual reality studio.

Working at 21 means having access to the network of volunteers, employees and students of the French Red Cross, an events programme focused on the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) and, lastly, a sports hall. 

The Accelerator also offers learning opportunities to share the methodologies developed within 21 and to meet the protagonists of the transformation and innovation of the French Red Cross. In addition, the event space can be rented to host conferences, meetings or  workshops.

21 Talks 

In order to bring together the ecosystem of the social and health sector, 21 organises event series on themes at the heart of the French Red Cross’ mission, such as longevity, migration or disability. Public actors, private stakeholders and associations are invited to reflect together on the 21st century’s most pressing issues. The talks are organised around the following four phases: 

  • Foresight – The event cycle starts with a horizon-scanning workshop to imagine possible scenarios in the future. Examples of topics covered: What will be the new means of public engagement? Will we still be old in 2050? How will disabilities be perceived in 30 years?
  • Understanding – Dialogue between experts (entrepreneurs, scientists and academics) and the audience engenders a better understanding of the issues.
  • Pitch session – This phase enables the audience to discover existing solutions answering the social needs of today and tomorrow through a pitch session.
  • Co-creation – Inspired by existing solutions and the input of experts, the participants work together with the objective of co-creating a new product or service.
Photo by Leif Carlsson
Photo by Leif Carlsson

The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the importance of reinventing the health system to improve access to care and fight isolation. To meet these new challenges, 21 created a digital studio. It brings together vulnerable people, professionals and innovative companies to learn how to use the digital tools developed for the field. The objectives of the digital studio are: 

  • Fighting against isolation – Digital tools enable French Red Cross volunteers to help isolated people and victims of loneliness, a priority in times of health crisis;
  • Supporting digital transformation – The digital studio is part of the French Red Cross’s digital transformation, which improves the daily life of healthcare workers, volunteers and beneficiaries;
  • Improving training at the French Red Cross – The digital studio improves digital literacy through training, developing new innovation and research projects.

Here are two solutions hosted in the digital studio: 

  • FeelU – This solution uses virtual reality to allow users in the retirement homes to travel but also to appeal to their memories. Thanks to this immersive experience, FeelU offers an innovative non-medicinal therapeutic tool.
  • Music Care – This digital health application based on listening to music eases the patient into a state of deep relaxation and naturally treats pain, anxiety and sleep disorders. 

Shared governance 

21 is a Société par Actions Simplifiées (SAS) owned 60% by the French Red Cross and 40% by Nexem, the main federation of employers in the social, medico-social and health sectors. Its legal name is Nexem Innovation Red Cross.

Its governance is shared between a Supervisory Board, a Strategic Committee and a Selection Committee. The first, composed of directors of the French Red Cross, approves the strategic decisions of Nexem Innovation Red Cross. The second supports strategic decisions. In addition to the Association’s directors, it is composed of external members. Finally, the Selection Committee is in charge of selecting the winning projects for the acceleration programmes. It is made up of employees of the Association and external stakeholders. 

Deployment & Impact

Since the creation of the intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial programmes of 21 in May 2019, more than 500 applications have been submitted to participate. This demonstrates not only the dynamism of the innovation ecosystem, but also its need for support. Finally, no less than 30 projects were supported by 21 inmore than 35 innovation sites thanks to the commitment of 65 mentors and referents from the French Red Cross. Moreover, it is estimated that half of these projects have the potential for large-scale deployment, proof that 21 is fully embedded in the transformation of the French Red Cross. 

The impact of 21’s action for the French Red Cross can be summed up in five main areas:

  • Commitment – The Social Innovation Accelerator of the French Red Cross  is an effective tool to engage the Association’s volunteers, employees and students in a different way. On the one hand, the opportunity offered to everyone to apply for the Intrapreneurship Programme broadens the Association’s avenues for engagement. On the other hand, the network benefits from innovations accelerated by 21 that improve working conditions at the French Red Cross. 
  • Agility & Multidisciplinary – 21 has accelerated several projects that help the French Red Cross and its members to be more responsive and better in tune with the needs on the ground. Moreover, the room for manoeuvre available to the 21 teams enables them to adapt to the Association’s pressing needs, such as during the health crisis. 
  • Social Impact – 21 improves and expands the range of services offered by the French Red Cross. Indeed, the new solutions developed within the Accelerator are tested in the Association’s establishments and then assimilated by its teams where a positive impact is demonstrated.
  • Support – 21 creates and promotes innovative solutions to the needs expressed by the other operational divisions of the French Red Cross.
  • Diversification – 21 creates new synergies between the French Red Cross and other players in the field of solidarity and social innovation. Combining the strengths of different structures (associations, startups, foundations, etc.) maximises their social value.