Back in September 2018, the second year of my study International Leisure and Event Management started. The second year is known for choosing a specialisation within the Bachelor of LEM. For me, this decision was quite straightforward to make. I chose the specialization Social Innovation. What did this mean to me? It meant an opportunity of self-organizing my learning path, finding out how I can have a positive influence on society but moreover a leap of faith, because I had no idea which world I just entered.

Today, I am writing the last blog of my ‘final expedition’ the final stage of my higher professional education and I have learned a lot about myself, my interests, competencies, strengths, weaknesses and the process of Social Innovation. This blog will give an insight in my process, growth and formation of the person that I am today. A person that is motivated by being part of change processes, diving into innovation and the formation of new creations. The search for my intrinsic motivation first brought me to the societal challenge of, especially teenagers, feeling pressured by peers. Gaining insights and knowledge into the complex system these pressures are embedded in. Most important insight: one gets less influenced by social pressure when he or she is self-reliant and acts out of their own needs and desires. Thus, a connection to education was a next logical step for me. Seeing education as the foundation for the formation of people and as a tool for making youngsters more resilient and self-reliant.

Diving into education

After doing an internship at Cities of Learning, an initiative that aims to tackle inequality in learning by providing non-formal education via their platform and validating learning experiences by universal e-certificates. I wanted to learn from our current educational structure. I found an assignment for Business Desk that I explained in my second Blog in the following way:

‘A micro level challenge that has overlapping characteristics with bigger societal challenges. Finding out how a co-creative approach, meaning efficient collaboration and co-creation between students, work field and educational institutes, fit into the organizational structure of educational institutes or even goes beyond borders of different parts of society. To start with, it is important for Business Desk to be aware of their identity in order to generate clarity on their role within the BUas system.’

I started to do research into the current educational system. Looking for what is working and what is not. I quickly noticed how the current educational system in the Netherlands is doing extremely well. However, it has some striking flaws that makes education more inclusive for the upper class of the Netherlands than the lower class. (blog 1). Next up I started to do research into the identity of Business Desk. The more research I did into the identity of Business Desk and their stakeholders the more I noticed how there is a mismatch between the way Business Desk does its work and their overall challenge of connecting its stakeholders. Something that inspired me to write about maintaining a focus on the purpose of your labor (blog 2). I noticed, by applying the focus on purpose of labor already resulted in a shift within the way of working of my client. The focus went from day to day tasks to the core of their work, connecting education and the industry.

The newly gained insight about the way we approach our work made me look differently at my challenge. I did not only want to find out what the industry requires from education and vice versa. I wanted to conduct research on a value level, finding out what dreams all stakeholders have in the collaboration between work-field and education. Since I learned that in order to have a functional complementary relationship between parties it is essential to link on a value level. It made me notice how my way of working, designing conversations and having an appreciative focus on values really impacts the way of thinking and working of others. Furthermore, I noticed how the focus on values generates motivation and willingness to work together.

Redefining the challenge

I know that the base of most social innovations theories is to generate change outside of current systems. However, I think, especially within the educational system, which is already so good, applying a social innovative perspective on the current system can improve what is already good instead of building something completely new. After conducting an internal- and stakeholder analysis I noticed that the identity of my clientdid not fulfil the desires of all stakeholders in connecting education and the industry. Most important insight is the current gap between the theoretical base of education and the dynamic practical desires of the work field. It made me realise that this challenge of connecting education and the industry and creating complementary relationships between these stakeholders goes deeper than only my client. The professional of the future needs to have different competencies than what education at the moment provides. I started a search to what it is that needs to change in order to close the gap between industry and education. One of the most important findings was that we should shift focus from the System World to the Life World. Creating personalised, value-based learning experiences. It was also here that I noticed the value of Social Innovation. The big societal challenges that we face today need new, dynamic and innovative solutions. And in order to reach this solution, collaboration between all kinds of people is required (blog 7).

‘If we want to grow as society and as inhabitants of our planet, the focus should be on fostering complementary relationships, instead of fuelling competition.’

All stakeholders of my final expedition challenge stated that they miss out on personal connections and desire an entity (which could be Business Desk) that guides and facilitates the process towards personal connections between the stakeholders. According to the stakeholder analysis students are responsible for reaching valuable personal connections between education and the work-field. Meaning that in order to increase value in practical assignments, the guidance amongst students has to be increased. In order to make valuable connections between work-field and education, an awareness on the dynamics (think of culture, way of working, expectations on other stakeholders etc.) of all different stakeholders is required. This means that the Life World should be the main value meter instead of the System World.

At the moment, fostering complementary relationships is not what is at the base of educating, the essence is still based on individualistic qualification. I would like to make a change in this by creating human centered learning experiences that aim for mutual benefit, sustainable solutions. I believe my competencies of mapping out needs and desires, empathic listening and a task-oriented attitude will be of benefit in my future profession. Creating a world where education is truly inclusive and open for everyone, not fixed in institutes that are only reachable for the upper class of society but for everyone. I believe, at least a part of the solution, lies in focusing on the Life World, on the values of us humans instead of the frameworks we build to validate ourselves.

To conclude

I learned a lot from this journey through Social Innovation, it made me grow as a person. Especially during my final stages of education, I noticed how much I have learned. During my final expedition I was very decisive, confident and not afraid to speak out my mind. Something that I have found difficult in the beginning. I learned how to follow the energy in change processes. Which also means letting go of an envisioned end goal (as processes of change are, logically, unpredictable and ever-changing). Cliché but true, trusting the process is the best to do. Following the energy and having an appreciative mind-set helped to have open and empathic dialogue. Bringing people together by looking for values and linking needs and desires. Facilitating group sessions with confidence and experience even made it fun to do. Furthermore, I learned how to look at challenges from a systems perspective. Noticing how no problem is isolated and all is interconnected. I am ready for new challenges and I am more than happy to take my experience of the past years with me.