Illustration: Robert Rurans

Illustration: Robert Rurans


In 2019, the French Red Cross built entrepreneurial support programs that work with external stakeholders (NGOs, social enterprises, private companies, etc.) in the development of joint social innovation projects that fit with the needs and strategy of the organisation.


Faced with the major socio-economic changes of the 21st century, the French Red Cross has for several years been undertaking a profound transformation to strengthen 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. This transformation is necessary because traditional actors in the third sector no longer have a monopoly on the best solutions and practices of social action. Indeed, more and more actors (charities, social enterprises, local authorities) are proposing innovative solutions with huge potential for social impact. 

The French Red Cross has taken on the challenge of opening up to actors who can help improve the service provided to its beneficiaries on a daily basis. This is why, in 2019, it created 21, its new social innovation accelerator. It is both a coworking facility available to citizens involved in social action, whether they are internal or external to the organisation, and a set of programmes to support impact projects.  

Technical details & Operations

The Entrepreneur programme aims to support social entrepreneurs who think of solutions relevant to the French Red Cross. It enables them to test and improve their products or services with beneficiaries and French Red Cross professionals. At the same time, it contributes to improving the quality of the Association’s service and the working environment of its network. 


Each programme cycle lasts 6 months over the course of which 4 projects are supported. Interested contractors have 8 weeks to respond to a public call for projects to join the programme. Once the deadline has passed, the 21 team sends a presentation of the most relevant projects to the various operational departments of the French Red Cross. After a first reading of the project files, the departments and the 21 team meet to select the 10 finalists who will make presentations to the Selection Committee.

This Committee is made up of four juries of 5 to 10 people, bringing together a diverse range of personalities from within and outside the Association. After presentations by the project team, each project is examined by two juries. After a day’s deliberation, the Selection Committee announces the four winners for the new cycle. 

This is the selection criteria used by the juries: 

  • Project:
    • the identified social need is poorly or not currently met 
    • the product/service offered is innovative
    • the business model is viable
  • Entrepreneur/team leading the project :
    • the entrepreneur is motivated and has a personal vision that goes beyond him or her
    • the entrepreneur knows how to bring people together
    • the entrepreneur has a precise knowledge of the issues at stake
    • the entrepreneur is surrounded by a solid and complementary team
  • Co-operation :
    • the project is relevant to the French Red Cross
    • the development of the project in partnership with the French Red Cross will increase its social impact and accelerate its development
  • Added value of the support offer:
  • the support offered by 21 meets the needs of the candidate.
  • the experimentation is achievable within the duration of 21’s support

For each winning project team, the Entrepreneur Programme of 21 entails : 

  • providing a business advisor, selected from among the 17,000 experts of the French Red Cross in the health, social, medico-social, emergency, first aid, social action and international operations sectors;
  • providing a 21-led support team, expert in supporting social projects;
  • access to a community of experienced entrepreneurs, external professionals and a body of training courses;
  • access to testing sites in the field, thanks to the 1,700 branches of the French Red Cross throughout France;
  • funding to carry out the innovation of up to €15,000;
  • a workstation in the coworking space of 21, located in Montrouge (Hauts-de-Seine department, 92).

The project support programme is divided into three successive phases: framing, testing and, subject to a favourable opinion from the Validation Committee, deployment.

Conception phase (8 weeks)

The scoping phase aims to formalise the concept and develop a joint project between the winning team and the French Red Cross. 

To do this, it is first necessary to identify the Association’s stakeholders that will be involved in the project, and then to set the offer of the service or product. Indeed, the Red Cross intends to benefit from its investment by making the product or service developed by the candidate organisation available at cost price or under very preferential conditions. 

The winning project team is also trained in three areas: the workings of the French Red Cross, methodology for measuring social impact and obtaining partnerships and funding. 

For each project, we find experts, referees, mentors and consultants, either salaried or volunteers from the French Red Cross or external organisations, who make their expertise and experience available to help develop, test and deploy the solution. The business advisors and 21 ensure that the team, which first selects a representative from 21 (called an “entrepreneur advisor”), acquires the knowledge and methods needed to launch an entrepreneurial project. 

Testing phase (16 weeks)

Once the product or service proposed by the winning team is ready to be launched, it is necessary to identify the local branches in which it can be tested. One or two establishments are then designated to test the product/service. A testing advisor, identified with the help of the business advisor, then has the task of welcoming the winning organisation into their branch and enabling it to test its product or service in real conditions.

It is then up to him or her to ensure that the testing phase runs smoothly by bringing the French Red Cross employees and volunteers on board and by monitoring the actions required to ensure the success of the testing. Then he or she can collect user feedback according to a protocol jointly drawn up at the start of the testing phase, in order to identify the obstacles, to make the solution evolve as closely as possible to the needs of the French Red Cross and to evaluate the impact of the collaboration between the organisation and the French Red Cross.

Deployment phase

An approval committee then assesses the relevance of continuing collaborations with the winning organisations. It is composed of the CEO of the French Red Cross, the relevant operational departments, the Director of Strategy and Innovation of the French Red Cross, as well as representatives of the governance of the French Red Cross and 21. The approval committee is attended by the 21 advisor, the entrepreneur winner and the business advisor. 

The Committee is organised as follows: 

  1. The 21 advisor presents the results of the experimentation with :
    – a review of the feedback/opinions of employees, French Red Cross volunteers and experimentation referents ;
    – a review of feedback/opinions from the public accompanied by the French Red Cross an assessment of the social impact of the project ;
    – a presentation of the technical evolutions of the solution ;
    – the conditions of deployment (economic model, resources to be mobilised).
  2. The other advisors and the entrepreneur briefly give their perspective on the experimentation.
  • The approval committee deliberates and decides whether or not to deploy the project on a larger scale within the French Red Cross. 

Deployment & Impact

Once the validation committee has approved the solution, several options are available to deploy the solution at a larger scale:

Commercial advantage – The French Red Cross has the right to use the services and products, at cost price, developed by the project leaders within 21.
Ex. Arbitryum, which offers a measurement tool to improve the quality of life in retirement homes, offers the French Red Cross more advantageous rates.

Partnership – The French Red Cross continues to spread the solution within its network, helping it to respond to calls for projects or to raise funds.
Ex. Solinum, which has created a guide listing the best services for homeless people, is being used by more and more social workers from the French Red Cross and other charities. The support of French Red Cross helps Solinum to find new partners in exchange for the free use of its solution.

Co-construction – The project leader and the French Red Cross, supported by 21, create a new joint venture. This concerns in particular projects that develop training courses.
Ex. The WERO recruitment agency, which helps statutory refugees find employment, is building with the French Red Cross a training programme in social and health professions to improve the employability of job seekers, supported by WERO, who will eventually be able to find a job at the French Red Cross. 

Since the launch of the program in May 2019, 21 has completed 12 entrepreneurial projects over the course of three sessions:

  • Season  1 :
    • Toutes Mes Aides
    • Solinum
    • T.zic
    • WERO
  • Season  2 : 
    • Arbitryum
    • ENOUMA
    • HelpMeUp
  • Season 3 :
    • Le Labo des Partenariats — Start-Up de Territoire Alsace
    • ShareAmi | Oldyssey
    • Frello
    • Bubblebox