This summer holiday our founder, Gijs, visited France, Germany, and the Netherlands to learn about the wider movement for social change. Dani interviewed Gijs to get the low-down on his trip. Siva was invited to join forums on Smart cities and youth-led development in France and the Netherlands.
Dani: What is happening in Europe?
Gijs: These are messy times in the West: the E.U. is disintegrating (hint: Brexit) just when it was starting to expand into Eastern Europe. The people are confused about large groups of refugees still coming into the EU, and above all: the old systems to deal with crises are losing their credibility and relevance. Where to turn for solutions? Alternative models for production, exchange and decision making are mushrooming all around. Messy times make for exciting times too.
D: Did you see national differences between European countries?
G: France, Germany and the Netherlands each have a unique approach to social innovation. The French aim high and quickly present their alternatives as a replacement of the old status quo. The Dutch are less ambitious and see social entrepreneurship as a less evil way of doing business (what I would call Corporate Social Responsibility). In Germany different groups have found a home amongst the changemakers and their models for co-creation and co-living are setting the standard for collective action.
D: What can India learn from Europe?
G: This may sound boring, but I think it’s their multi-stakeholder approach. Despite national differences, one striking similarity is the tendency to connect all social players in the fight for social change. The government, mainstream markets, academia and citizens all play a role. (see: the newly found “Demos” in the words of Greek anti-hero and ex minister Yanis Varoufakis).
For example, the Dutch have started a movement of what they call “citymakers”. These are social innovators that initiate and facilitate novel partnerships and ways of solving urban problems. We could have more of that in India, where we still operate in isolation.
D: What can Europe learn from India?
G: Wow, that will be a long list! One cool observation is that the Jagriti Yatra, a learning journey by train, has been copied in France (Ticket for Change) and is now attracting more youth from across the continent (Call for Europe). Of course the Indian concepts like Jugaad and cross-subsidisation (like Aravind Eye Care) are compulsory for any social innovator to have in their toolkit. India could do more to educate Europeans about living lightly on the planet, but the sad thing is that we are losing that skill very fast and don’t seem to see its potential.
D: What is UnLtd Tamil Nadu going to with this insight?
G: Our team is trying to figure out where the boundary lies between activism and social entrepreneurship and how the two relate. Equals in Chennai is the first of our fellows to actively work with public policy (lobby & advocacy), but we are still learning how best to support such ventures. We asked European ex-volunteers how we could help them stay involved. Now we are preparing a more agile, flexible system to engage long distance members of what we now see as a worldwide Tribe of social change enthusiasts.
We are blessed with a network of support groups across 17 countries called Auroville International, and they could play a key role as hubs for social change and international exchange to strengthen our global community of practitioners. We intend to work closely with them to mobilise support and reach out to more budding social entrepreneurs in the widest definition of the word.