Rural development in Europe is a long‐standing issue that has been supported through EU policies in various ways. The effects of rural development have been uneven, and differences between well‐to‐do and marginal rural areas have been increasing both across and within countries. This process is reinforced by the current financial crisis. Recently, social innovation has been introduced as the new panacea for realising development and growth while, at the same time, warranting social inclusion and counteracting social inequality. A central question of this article is whether social innovation may help to effectively fight rural marginalisation, why that could be the case and what conditions then must be met. Three examples of rural social innovation are used to distil specific features of social innovation and compare them with other concepts and approaches to rural development. Rural social innovation is distinctive in its dependence on civic self‐reliance and self‐organisation due to austerity measures and state withdrawal, and its cross‐sectoral and translocal collaborations. This article concludes that it is time to go beyond earlier ideas of exogenous versus (neo‐)endogenous development and introduces the idea of nexogenous development with socio‐political reconnection as an engine of revitalisation.