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Young Social Innovators Contributes to Social Innovation Forum for the Western Balkan region.

Above: Bronagh O'Hagan, YSI Head of Programmes

Earlier this month Young Social Innovators was invited to participate in a social innovation forum hosted in Podgorica, the capital city of Montenegro. The Upbeat Forum marked the end of a four-year regional project focussing on the issue of employment for young people at risk of social exclusion. The project sought to contribute to the creation of public policies that would guarantee greater social and economic security and the inclusion of young people in society.

The Upbeat Forum invited social entrepreneurs, innovators, and facilitators and practitioners of social innovation from the Western Balkan region and Europe to share best practice examples and inspiration of how social innovation can be used to address challenges and how the region might develop a more innovation-based and inclusive culture and economy.

Above: Podgorica, the capital city of Montenegro

YSI’s Head of Programmes Bronagh O’Hagan presented on Young Social Innovators approach to engaging young people in social innovation in Ireland. We asked her to recap on what she shared at the event in this short interview.

We sat down with Bronagh to ask her about where YSI fits in the world of social innovation.

Bronagh, can you tell us a little about why you were in Montenegro?

I went there on the invitation of the Association for Democratic Prosperity – Zid who were coordinating the Forum with their wider network to talk about what Young Social Innovators is doing in Ireland in relation to designing, delivering and promoting social innovation education.

What does YSI do, exactly?

We facilitate young people to DO social innovation and to tackle real-world issues affecting them and their communities. We do this by training teachers in the use of our framework and our methodologies and supporting them to facilitate social innovation projects with their students. 

Where did the idea for Young Social Innovators come from?

The idea for Young Social Innovators came about as a result of our CEO and Co-founder Rachel Collier’s experience working with young homeless women in our capital city of Dublin in the 1980s.

She recognised that the services being designed to meet the needs of these women were infinitely improved when they themselves were involved in the design process and when their insight, their knowledge and their lived experience of homelessness was used to inform the design of the service that was ultimately being created to help them.

Now, in 1980’s Ireland, concepts like design thinking and user-centred design were not in our common vocabulary but this is effectively what was being pioneered. And out of that was established what is still the largest national non-governmental organisation for homeless people in Ireland (Focus Ireland).

What struck Rachel from that experience was:

1. Young people in Irish society really didn’t have much of a voice on the issues that directly impacted them and

2. Young people had a great capacity to use their unique insights, passion and creativity to effect change. Rachel knew that, if given the opportunity and the support, young people could become powerful catalysts for social change and she wanted to find a way to allow this to happen.

Above: Rachel Collier, CEO and Co-founder of Young Social Innovators

And YSI sprung from this idea?  
Yes. Rachel chose the concept of social innovation and in 2001 Young Social Innovators was created with the vision of firing young people’s passion to change the world for good. We began to deliver social innovation education to young people in Ireland – on a very small scale in the beginning and then rolling out to a national programme.

Can you tell me how YSI has expanded since those early days?
Our model of training teachers to act as facilitators of social innovation has been key to YSI’s expansion and has allowed us to maximise our social impact and to have a greater reach into more communities across Ireland. 

In a given academic year, we might work with 300 teachers, for example, but these 300 then facilitate around 8,000 teenagers who create hundreds of social innovation projects tackling a wide range of social issues from health to poverty, community facilities, from equality and inclusion to climate justice and these innovations themselves then impact on many more individuals and communities.

What do you think makes YSI’s framework stand out?
The most critical thing about our programmes is that they are team-based and youth-led. It is the young people themselves who decide what issue they want to tackle and how they are going to do it. The teacher is very much the Guide and their role is to facilitate and support rather than to lead or direct and so it is a very democratized style of education delivered through the values of respect, equality, inclusion and social justice. It’s also really good fun!

And how does YSI support this process?
We have built a whole infrastructure around the teaching and practice of social innovation, from teacher training and resources to events, platforms and other opportunities for young people to enhance their learning and experience and to increase their social impact. This includes a social innovation fund, a dedicated week to local community celebration of the work being done by young people, a regional Speak Out Tour and a national Awards event that recognises excellence in youth-led social innovation.

Can you give me an example of a successful YSI project?
One exciting example comes from a team called ‘Global Mapping’.

These students used an open source street mapping system to make the small, landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho one of the most mapped countries on the continent of Africa. Despite advances in technology, much of the developing world remains unmapped and the implications of this are immense. Without maps it’s difficult to plan infrastructure such as roads, schools, housing, hospitals and much more. The team of young innovators hosted ‘mapathons’, which saw large numbers of young people mapping simultaneously, all while coordinating with contacts in Lesotho to verify the mapped data.

Above: Students from Portmarnock Community School, Co Dublin present their social innovation at a YSI Speak Out event

So what next for Young Social Innovators Ireland?

We are currently working on the design of three new programmes or modules for various audiences and, very excitingly, we are just finalising the creation of Ireland’s first Social Innovation Learning Lab and we are looking forward to bringing on stream a new range of workshops, hackathons, camps and summits for young people to increase engagement even further,

We’re excited about the work that we have done so far, and look forward to bringing social innovation to more and more young people. Our success is based on the dedication of the teachers who engage in our programmes and the support of school principals who believe in the value of this type of education.

We have shown that, by giving young people a voice and empowering them to recognise their potential to bring about social change, social innovation education can build much needed social capital and, with the right support, can produce widespread social impact.

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List of Speakers and Panelists  at UpBeat Forum

Key note: Setting the scene of social innovation - Upbeat Hub - Igor Milosevic

SOPACT Accelerator - Emelie Dahlström, Accelerator Manager

Blockchain transformation - Ivan Jolicic, Upbeathub/Revencoin A Peer to Peer Electronic System for the Creation and Transfer of Assets

B NADAD Moataz, Zaytech, Morocco

Inspiring practice in social innovation - How to develop new Start-up during engineering study – Adis Muminović, University of Sarajevo, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering

Concept of Food labs – Aniko Nagy, Hungary

Web4jobs - Digital platform for employment  – Valmir Xhemajli, Lens Prishtina

Young Social innovators Ireland - Bronagh O Hagan

Impact of social entrepreneurs on community development - Gianluca Pastorelli, Diesis Network, director – Teo Petricevic, Act grupa, Croatia

Panel Discussion: Ecosystem for social innovation - Alison Kemp, British Ambassador to Montenegro - Monika Nagore, Young Foundation - Miroslav Mijatov – Smart office Vienna/Belgrade

Employment and Innovation - WB region in 10 years ahead - Concept of Regional policy lab – Sanda Rakocevic, ADP-Zid director

The role of social innovation within EU employment policy – Isaac Stanley NESTA

Transformation of social experiment into policy proposals - Francesca Rizzo, Faculty of Polytechnics Milano

Topic for presentation and discussion:
Regional Western Balkan recommendation paper
Putting the analyses and recommendation of EU platform in contest of Western Balkan

  • Zlatko Talevski, MKC Bitola
  • Jan Kulenović, Munja Sarajevo
  • Jelena Stojanović, NAPOR
  • Nenad Krstic, Evrokontakt, Kruševac
  • Ivan Topalovic, BoŠ Beograd

Blockchain and positive social impact - – Aida Kamisalic Latific, Blockchain Lab, University of Maribor - Miha Mahorko

The Ying and Yang of Blockchain and artificial intelligence – Andjela Todorovic, Blockchain community Serbia

Holochain – Momir Dragisic