What Governments can learn from the NEDs (New Employment Disruptors)

How Europe’s social entrepreneurs are seizing the initiative and creating innovative new approaches to job creation

Written by Julian Philips, Storyteller at Ashoka’s This Works initiative

How have institutional approaches to the job market and unemployment changed over the last decade? Globally the workforce has had to endure a near apocalyptic economic meltdown and, perhaps less noticeably and all the more insidious, socio-economic change through the continuing rise of automation and digital disruption. At the sharp end of these changes are people. The unemployed, and their hopes of finding a job remains largely unchanged. For many it’s a visit to a government-funded employment agency where they are faced with the uninspiring experience of applying for outdated training programmes or oversubscribed vacancies with little prospect of success. While the skillsets needed in this new world are changing, the governmental approach to the issue isn’t.

As entire industries disappear, new sectors and new working patterns are emerging which are nothing like the “lifelong” jobs of the past. Two in three primary school children in the United States will work in a profession that doesn’t exist today.

Innovation is a very attractive concept and it’s on everyone’s lips, but for an entire generation of young people these radical changes — which have taken place in just a few years — have left them without the skills to compete in the job market.

Where there is demand supply follows. Not from the usual suppliers — business and governments, but from the citizen sector, or ‘us’ for short.

The youth unemployment figures taken from the latest EU Report illustrate the problem in Europe. Despite the fall in the unemployment rates started in the end of 2013, in August 2016 in Spain 43.2% of young people were still jobless; In Italy 38,8%; and in Greece a staggering 47,7% were without work.

Introducing the New Employment Disruptors

Where there is demand supply follows. Not from the usual suppliers — business and governments, but from social entrepreneurs. With the freedom and insight to see the market failure and to attack the problem differently, they have pioneered revolutions in many sectors. Social entrepreneurs like Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia who opened up the world’s’ knowledge to everyone and rendered encyclopedias obsolete; or Ursula Sladek, founder of networked energy movement EWS who shifted the ownership, management and production of energy into the hands of citizens, thus fostering energy saving and renewables sources. Now social entrepreneurs are tackling the problem of long-term unemployment in Europe with new approaches to an old problem.

They are seizing this market opportunity in Europe and working together to create models that can scale and offer a more dynamic approach to resolving local, regional or national unemployment.

Sandra Schurmann, Founder of JobAct

These are the New Employment Disruptors or NEDs. In Germany, Sandra Schürmann is a social entrepreneur whose project JobAct has helped thousands of young Germans find work or start their own business through an innovative methodology that uses theatre to build employment skills. In Spain, José María Pérez (“Peridis”) created the Lanzaderas project which brings together teams of 20 people alongside a coach to work together to find jobs or develop their own entrepreneurial activities. And in Turkey Serra Titiz has developed “Future Is Brighter”, an online and offline platform where youth get access to information, contacts with businesses, universities and leading professionals across borders, which helps them make better and more informed life and career choices.

Like Wikipedia, Couchsurfing and EWS, these projects are based on simple ideas which can scale and be replicated and localised anywhere in the world, and that’s what’s happening. Peridis has replicated his Lanzaderas projects, reaching over 3,200 unemployed people across Spain with a considerable success rate: over 60% placement of participants, translating into 20,9 percentage points more chances to find a job than the control group. In 2016, the Spanish Ministry of Employment and Social Security signed a partnership with Lanzaderas to scale the model to 550 groups across the country reaching over 11,000 people.

The success of Sandra’s initiative is not measured only in the jobs secured for unemployed young Germans, but also in the side effects produced. An “I can” attitude which has proven to be contagious and has succeeded in boosting new impact initiatives in the country and abroad.

Winners of Advocate Europe competition, JobAct team organised local workshops in Florence, Madrid and Athens this spring to find partners, share methodologies and co-create new projects in Southern Europe. As a result, with EU funds from Erasmus Plus, this summer they held a summer camp involving 54 young people from four countries. Their aim is to launch a European JobAct Academy to train JobAct trainers in all the continent and beyond.

Impactful solutions need incubation and scaling support

But Peridis, Serra and Sandra’s plans for expansion and scale need a central resource which can help them to implement their initiatives in other regions or countries that would benefit from them to reverse the trend in youth unemployment. To make this happen, in 2014 the NEDs allied themselves with Ashoka, and the Robert Bosch Stiftung, one of the largest foundations in Germany. Together they have created a knowledge network of local foundations in Spain, Greece and Italy under the banner of THIS WORKS.

It’s true that social entrepreneurs do not usually generate large-scale employment on their own but they come up with large-scale and system-changing ideas which have the potential to address the problem. They do it by creating smart networks of partners around old problems and innovating together around the value chain, providing new models of access to social services, creating inclusive labour markets, developing a new organisational culture and most importantly, inspiring bigger organisations and institutions to scale up their ideas through their policies and programs.

How to reach scale for unemployment solutions

So how can these great ideas and initiatives overcome the financial and logistical obstacles and achieve greater impact and scale? June’s summit in Brussels gathered these and many other social entrepreneurs who presented their solutions for unemployment, not only to other social entrepreneurs who could replicate them in their countries, but to representatives of the European Commission and Member State Governments who can take these ideas and supersize them — make them European, national or regional policy. These ideas are already reinventing the sector across Europe, so the beta testing is done. The next step for the New Employment Disruptors is to scale up and provide networked solutions to unemployment across Europe. Tough job, but it works.

THIS WORKS SUMMIT, BRUSSELS JUNE 29

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