Social inclusion is the process of improving the terms for individuals and social groups to participate in society and the process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity people who are disadvantaged on the basis of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or other status, to take part in society. Social inclusion is a process which ensures that those at risk of poverty and social exclusion gain the opportunities and resources necessary to participate fully in economic, social, political and cultural life and to enjoy a standard of living that is considered normal in the society in which they live. It ensures that they have greater participation in economic, social, political and cultural life as well as in decision making which affects their lives and access to their fundamental rights. Thus, social inclusion is both a process and a goal.

Social inclusion processes require both addressing the challenges of exclusion, including certain policies and institutions as well as discriminatory attitudes and behaviors, and actively “bringing people in”. To the extent that policies and institutions define the “rules of the game” for social interactions and the distribution of power, status and control over resources, they can drive social exclusion or, alternatively, mitigate its impacts. Discriminatory attitudes and behaviours further drive exclusion, although they are not its only cause. People living in remote areas may not be able to fully participate in social, cultural or political life, for instance, without being discriminated against by law or by the rest of society. Discrimination can hinder access to and enjoyment of goods, services, justice, opportunities and culture, discourage the efforts of social groups to advance their interests, all of which results in segregation.

The European Commission has in a series of instances expressed its commitment to the battle against social exclusion. The Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth sets targets to lift at least 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion and to increase employment of the population aged 20-64 to 75%. The flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 strategy, including the Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion and the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs, support efforts to reach these targets.

More particularly in Europe, the promotion of social inclusion faces various challenges.

The process has many stages forming a continuum from total isolation to active inclusion. Social exclusion is a state of isolation, rapture in the social bonds between the individual and society. The other pole is the empowerment of the individual by society for active participation in social life. People, especially the younger ones, may enter the process at different points and move toward both poles – either marginalization or achievement of autonomy and well-being.

Furthermore, social inclusion is multi-dimensional and affects various life domains: economic, political, cultural, social. The integrating processes do not act independently of one another. The successful passage of people through the educational system provides them with crucial resources such as knowledge, skills, and attitudes for their social inclusion in other life domains. Poverty allows social disadvantages to concentrate in the affected group who might slip towards social exclusion.

A complex array of factors such as gender, health, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation acts to enable or constrain social integration. Similarly, social exclusion has both current and long-term consequences which make it a priority topic for European policies.

Bearing in mind the crucial role education and employment can play in achieving social inclusion, Athens Lifelong Learning Institute develops and implements national and European initiatives which promote the access of disadvantaged groups to the economic, social, political and cultural life of their societies. The Institute provides integrated responses to social exclusion, by developing people’s potential to grow as equal members of their society, at a local, national and European level.