Within the framework of the LEADER approach to rural development applied in rural areas of the European Union, a high degree of social innovation (SI) has been achieved with the support of public–private partnerships. This research analyzes the different forms of SI achieved in specific projects in marginal rural areas facing depopulation. These initiatives make important, sometimes intangible, contributions to rural society, which are not sufficiently valued in rural development practice. Using an exploratory qualitative methodology, we made a selection of projects carried out in rural areas of Spain and Italy by searching for specific keywords (“innovation”, “entrepreneurship”, and “LEADER”) in the European Network of Rural Development database. According to the typology of promoters, we considered Transnational Cooperation Projects promoted by various Local Action Groups (LAGs), by public sector initiative and by private promoters. In-depth interviews were also conducted. The main findings include: the crucial role played by local leaders, social enterprises and LAGs in overcoming resistance and reluctance amongst the local community to participate in and support rural development projects; the importance of creating collective learning processes; the complexity of the network affects the number of contributions; the need for long-term continuity of processes and projects, and the importance of combining exogenous and endogenous development and knowledge
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