Rethinking Unemployment: How a network of Europe’s social entrepreneurs is rethinking ways to get the long-term unemployed back into work.

by Alexandra Bowen | ashoka | Ashoka UK
Thursday, 5 May 2016 13:41 GMT

Ana Bella Estevez, founder of Ana Bella Foundation and the Empowerment School for survivor women

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Over the past two years, the Ashoka-led initiative THIS WORKS has created a network of European social entrepreneurs who are rethinking ways to get the long-term unemployed back to work. The two-year scaling program culminates this June in an international conference in Brussels.  Alexandra Bowen spoke to THIS WORKS’ program manager, Laura Catana, to share experiences on how inspiring solutions can inform and inspire governmental policy.

Since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the crisis-related global jobs gap reached up to 61 million jobs in 2014 (ILO, 2015), a figure that is expected to grow to 82 million by 2019. And currently, long-term unemployment in Europe affects about 11 million people (EC, 2016), two thirds of whom have been unemployed for at least two consecutive years.

Ashoka’s response to the unemployment crisis in Europe is to enable and facilitate the scaling and expansion of successful solutions to unemployment across Southern Europe. Central to all of Ashoka’s initiatives is the assertion:“Everyone a changemaker”. THIS WORKS is an exemplar of this notion. It is rooted in the concept of empowerment to reduce unemployment in Italy, Spain and Greece.

Led by social entrepreneurs such as Danielle Desguees who’s lifetime work at Boutique de Gestion has already supported the creation of more than 120,000 new businesses in France, and with support from the Robert Bosch Stiftung, other local partners and in-kind contributions, THIS WORKS has been able to inspire and support the scale-up of 17 programs for reinserting the unemployed into the labor market in Southern Europe. 

THIS WORKS is a global movement in the hands of local changemakers, social entrepreneurs and policy makers. After 55 local events and workshops with 60 partners, the THIS WORKS Summit in Brussels is an opportunity to co-create successful models, share resources and provide tools to tackle unemployment.


What led Ashoka to launch THIS WORKS initiative?

Laura Catana: We all know that employment is not expanding sufficiently fast to keep up with the growing labour force. Even in economies which perform comparatively well, unemployment and discouragement are becoming structural as evidenced by the increasing number of long-term unemployed. Yet, we still think in terms of the same old indicator: number of jobs created. But even when created, oftentimes, these jobs are gone as soon as the EU or local public support finishes. So we asked ourselves: are we missing the point? When we looked for the most impactful solutions for employment, we realised that very few were actually generating jobs. Most of them were creating the ecosystem around job creation - be it by working with employers to help them seize the potential of people with autism or by supporting youth to discover new career options that suit the needs and lifestyles of the millennials.


What will THIS WORKS Summit achieve?

Laura Catana: Direct communication between grassroots social entrepreneurs and policy makers is critical to ensure that public policies capture the continuously changing needs, but also innovative and impactful responses that address them in a long-term and sustainable way.

 At THIS WORKS Summit we aim to get policy makers and social entrepreneurs to reflect together on the current employment and entrepreneurship policies in the EU, discuss new ideas, methodologies and approaches that were proven to be more effective in tackling unemployment and analyze what would be the best strategies to upscale these innovations through policy change and support programs. Rather than listening to panel discussions, we want to give the attendees the opportunity to engage and interact with a dozen carefully selected social entrepreneurs and discover bottom-up solutions for challenges connected to employment, migration, skills mismatch, youth empowerment, as well as much more. In the end, we’d prefer that policy makers attending the Summit do not ask themselves “What can I do to help?” but instead say“This is what I will do to help!”


What are some key lessons around scaling that you’ve gathered over the past years?

Laura Catana: First of all we should highlight that the process of scaling social innovations does not follow the same incentives and mechanisms as when scaling traditional businesses. Social entrepreneurs are not driven by financial gains and their main goal is not necessarily to expand their operations by opening a new branch or franchise. Social entrepreneurs aim to make a lasting change in the world and if their lifetime work can be useful to others, they are eager to share it all and even invest their time and extra resources in smart networks of people and organisations united by the same mission.   

This means that the traditional scaling models focused on organic growth and branches might have little use when trying to scale impact. To really help an idea travel, social entrepreneurs need to become magnets for local changemakers and supporters. For this, they should liberate the core of their work, that key component, principles or method that makes their work unique and without which the impact cannot be guaranteed. And that was the first thing we did through THIS WORKS’s GlobalizerX, a three-month program aimed at helping social entrepreneurs to develop a scaling strategy tailored to their own model and aims. For Ana Bella Foundation – one of the Ashoka fellows of the THIS WORKS network -  the core is the community of peers and the empowerment program. To scale the first, she created a Survivors App which can be used by local partners in various countries. For the latter she equipped local organisations with key tools and empowerment methods.

Moreover, scaling impact greatly depends on the local culture, the recognition of social entrepreneurs locally, the existence of supporter communities and investment infrastructure. From our experience it takes an average of two years to launch the first pilot program. In countries where the infrastructure is scarce and/or the socio-economic conditions are particularly difficult such as the Southern European countries, the time required can be significantly higher. For Boutique de Gestion (BGE), from France, it took over a year to identify reliable scaling partners, which Ashoka helped identify in Spain. Today,  following a five-day workshop, a team of seven job centers developed a network inspired by the BGE methodology and is currently piloting first services. In Italy, Consorzio Mestieri is organising a similar transfer-knowledge workshop for twelve job centers interested in replicating the model and integrating it into their current work stream. 

Get your tickets for THIS WORKS SUMMIT now, here and join us on June 29 at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Vautierstreet 29 , Brussels from noon!

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