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STUDENTS TRANSFORM THEIR ’DREAM’ INTO A TESTED PROTOTYPE OF A COMMUNITY ENTERPRISE

12 August 2016

‘Social enterprise as a challenge’ is a class offered by the Utrecht School of Governance, part of the University of Utrecht. The course draws students from multidisciplinary backgrounds who want to apply their knowledge and skills to the subject of social impact.

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Through the class, students get to test their social impact value cases in Overvecht, a large suburb in Utrecht. In the process we get to test how transformative community practices such as the Oasis Game can be integrated into formal education. My role as lecturer is to support the students’ learning process, as well as undertake research myself for myself and fellow educators. This improves our own practice and brings education more closely towards an action-oriented approach.

So what are we learning?

Well, in the first class, which ran from Nov 2015 to February 2016 we found that students find it a huge challenge to connect and interact with community stakeholders. Seeing a neighbourhood in terms of issues poverty and exclusion necessarily creates a barrier. It is necessary to change the mindset to an appreciative gaze, an approach embedded in the Oasis game. This means that they open their eyes and open their hearts for all the local  initiatives that seek to improve life in the neighborhood. By doing so we witnessed that  students learn to see chances and opportunities instead of problems and deprivation.

Secondly, we found that students’ work flourishes when they start testing their assumptions in direct contact with the people they affect. By doing so students came up with value case  for a neighborhood safari that would allow visitors of the neighborhood to meet and mingle with local social initiatives. Testing the safari in real life conditions meant that they struck on a potential business case plus subsequent revenue model.

In another value case, a group of 5 students planned to create a platform for young mothers to meet and discuss all kinds of issues related to raising children. The forum meant they could get advice from other young mothers, with professionals also occasionally invited. These are both great examples of social innovation in action, with students gaining experience that they can learn from.

After the class was finished, the students were offered the possibility to participate on a voluntary basis in a number of workshops. In these workshops they are given the opportunity  to further elaborate their value case and to include their local stakeholder community. Next and probably even more important for their securing their impact, they must liaise with local people willing to step up to become entrepreneurs for the long haul.

We consider this edition of Oasis a success. However, it brought into focus the different styles that can be used in educating entrepreneurs. When left to my own methods, I tend to let go of the process and act as a coach to the students. This develops their own wayfinding instincts rather than relying on a teacher’s instruction. The Oasis game, meanwhile, follows a much more predescribed process.

The two ways of thinking seem incompatible at first. However, reflecting with the participating students afterwards, we  found that the Oasis process worked intuitively, fitting in with the steps they eventually took. The Celebration phases and the Appreciative gaze were particular innovations we have learned a lot from.

We therefore decided to continue with the Oasis methodology  –  especially as it creates a shared approach within and outside academia, so locals and students can both be fully involved. So 25 students can find themselves working alongside 20 Overvecht locals, who are also part of the class. Using the OASIS steps will allow the students to connect far more intensely to the opportunities that Overvecht holds and their local ‘learning partners’ will help them do that and vice versa.

We cannot wait to see this in action. We are confident that all involved, ourselves  as project partners included, will learn and change in the process. The second cycle of our project will start at the end of April and will continue up until the end of June.

By Peter Linde

This Blogpost is written by one of the partners of the CEAL-network. CEAL is supported by the Erasmusplus program (find out more here). Want to find out more about the initiatives, CEAL-programs and how we host Community-based Entrepreneurship Action-Learning programs?

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