... bottom-up change
It began by asking how we, the Impact Hub Global team could design a program that aims to tackle unemployment, not with the typical top-down approach but instead by encouraging solutions led by citizens themselves.
We envisioned it with very simple ingredients:
Take 20 participants, two phases, twelve 3-hour sessions, facilitators and one local theme for each city. Add five Impact Hubs (Birmingham, Florence, Moscow, Yerevan, and Zagreb) that deeply care about their communities and gather the participants of this year-long journey. Run the program simultaneously in five locations, giving the Impact Hubs not only regular opportunities to compare approaches, learnings, and challenges, but also allowing all participants to gain a better understanding of unemployment across borders.
Beyond (un)employment is the largest convening program that the Impact Hub global team has ever developed, and is based on a process of collectively learning and working towards system-wide solutions. Here, convening refers to bringing a group of diverse individuals together to learn, discuss, and define solutions. It creates the space for deep bonding between group members, leads to open and intimate conversation, thoughtful questioning of assumptions, out-of-the-box thinking and connections with unlikely allies.
A local theme to attract individuals interested in this specific challenge was vital, giving each group direction and providing an anchor for the conversation. Each Impact Hub was asked what local unemployment challenge is the most pressing and holds the most opportunities for creating collaborative impact. Impact Hubs chose the following themes:
- Understanding persistent & increasing youth unemployment (Florence & Zagreb)
- The future of employment in a regional UK city post-Brexit (Birmingham)
- The exclusion of over-50s from employment options (Moscow)
- The creation of alternative models of employment and business (Yerevan).
We use the term (un)employment because the conversation was just as much about employment as it was about unemployment — one can't be discussed without the other.
Some participants were invited by their local Impact Hubs, while others were attracted by an open invitation put out on social media to attract unexpected participation. The Impact Hubs’ challenge was to create a diverse group which goes beyond the usual suspects and represents a combination of social entrepreneurs, students, corporate/HR executives, academics, foundations, intermediaries, government and civil service workers, and citizens simply interested in their local theme.
The background of participants interested in joining the program were quite diverse, for example, in Moscow, where students joined to tackle the social exclusion experienced by their parents’ generation. Others wanted to network and meet people with similar interests; some simply wanted to be part of something bigger. New members joined at all stages — and in many cases, external experts asked to join beyond (un)employment after being invited to speak at a session.
The discovery phase
From April-July 2017, the groups were given time to explore the intricacies and interconnections of the local system surrounding their (un)employment issue.
The first phase used stories and statistics to take them on a journey through the history and root causes of unemployment, then moved into the present by inviting people to share their (un)employment experiences, and, finally, considered the future by discussing possible trends and predictions. Through this process, the group challenged their assumptions and perspectives about the reality of unemployment by discussing, listening and giving a voice to those who are too often talked about and not included in the conversation.
Many answers to the question of unemployment have already been found, so one focus was to learn from these successes and failures — close and far — and to explore the crucial elements, turning points and outcomes of these. Lastly, the spotlight fell on the responsibility of individuals, institutions, policymakers and other stakeholders within our systems — questioning what roles they now hold and what roles they could or should play.
The solutions development phase
We hoped that this initially broad but increasingly focussed process would light a fire within each participant for a specific aspect of (un)employment. These are the topics the groups are now focussing on in the solution development phase, which started in September and runs until December. Since we believe that bottom-up change is the only long-term approach for solving challenges, we ensured that the participants have room to include their passion, their story and their dreams for a future without unemployment.
This sense of ownership is key to creating solutions that will be taken forward by the group members. Building on their individual strengths, they will jointly design solutions and create practical action plans. These teams will be incubated in 2018 to pilot their ideas and — if proven impactful — to then implement them for the long term.
Sharing the learnings
You can read about each group’s journey and insights into their local (un)employment challenges and findings — as well as Impact Hubs learnings on convening as an approach — by downloading our white paper: ‘Convening & Collaborating With and for Cities’.
Stay tuned for our next blog post, which will share a glimpse into the groups’ discoveries.