How social innovation and youth activism skills complement each other to create the 21st century citizen! Or what Spiderman’s uncle would say if we asked him about the power of social innovation…
Maybe it was Gandalf, the benevolent white-haired wizard of Lord of the Rings, or some presidential decry by Thomas Jefferson, or Martin Luther King’s fiery speeches of resilient dreams… perhaps it was somewhere whispered by the virtuous, paternal voice of Morgan Freeman (otherwise put, the narrating Voice of God), or maybe it was really Spiderman’s uncle… In any case, someone wise once said ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. Power and responsibility are two notions worth fussing about, and two that concern us deeply in the NEMESIS project.
How can we think about great power in our times? What constitutes it, what makes it up? What is its source and effect? Today, power is skill, skill embodied, skill learnt, skill developed, skill sprung from the right attitude and the right mindset that moves us forward through new activities and initiatives. Social innovation is in itself a form of power. And what is the basis of any skills formation or mindset? Training and education. The learning process starting by the foundational ‘learning to learn’ capacity – pretty much, like the ‘right to have rights’ is the starting point of all rights claims in a world of increasing boundaries (see Hannah Arendt) with various social groups like refugees and asylum seekers being excluded from basic rights. The foundational starting points are sort of like a charmed talisman, a ring to rule them all… Once this foundation is decoded and children learn how to learn and learners are granted all their learning rights, the rest becomes a matter of time, commitment and effort. But the door has to open first, which is what innovative training and educational programs try to do.
And how can we think about personal and collective responsibility in our times? Sense of responsibility is the mother of all initiative and action. It is the attitude to be able to say ‘I will do this’, the belief to state ‘I can make it’, the determination to declare ‘It is up to me to change this’. Just like Nikos Kazantzakis used to say ‘Ν’αγαπάς την ευθύνη. Να λες: Εγώ, εγώ μονάχος μου έχω χρέος να σώσω τη γης. Αν δε σωθεί, εγώ φταίω’ (translation from Greek: ‘You should love responsibility. You should say: I, I alone am indebted to save the earth. If it’s not saved, I’m to blame’). Feeling responsible means that it is up to you to change the things you don’t accept as just, the things that are wrong, the things that have room for improvement. This sense of responsibility, understood as self-awareness of our powers and responsiveness to them, make up the base of good and active citizenship. Good citizens are responsible citizens who are willing to learn and work with others in new ventures for the collective benefit.
The NEMESIS Social Innovation Learning Framework
Learning is the groundwork of all individual and collective development and learning opportunities should be offered to all people without discrimination. Personal growth and social advancement, as well as inclusive education, are at the heart of every good educational program, as is the case with NEMESIS. And in order to yield results, one needs to have a plan. Just like NEMESIS and its Social Innovation Learning Framework (hereafter SILF).
SILF is the vehicle NEMESIS proposes for the development of the future Changemakers of Europe who will be able to put their knowledge and skills into practice in order to work together towards solving critical problems that our societies are facing. NEMESIS steps in to provide a working definition of Social Innovation Education (hereafter SIE) that highlights what we think, as a team, is essential for the creation of better and fairer future societies. Within this context, we define SIE as:
‘a collaborative and collective learning process for the empowerment and socio-political activation of students to drive social change no matter what their professional pathways. SIE builds learners’ competences to identify opportunities for social value creation, to form collaborations and build social relationships, and take innovative action for a more democratic and sustainable society’.
These three elements, namely, the ability to identify social value opportunities, to form collaborations and relationships, and to take innovative action for the benefit of society, shape the tree trunk of NEMESIS SILF with its three interconnected tree branches that grow stems of skills and leaves of competences, vital for pushing social change forward, transforming lives and activating people for societal betterment. We also highlight the importance of specific values that should underpin all competences since values are essential for shaping a social innovation culture. Simply put, it is not enough to encourage the formation of the high-powered 21st century citizen who has powerful innovative and creative skills, but this future citizen needs to have a responsible and ethical compass if he or she is to wield this power in favor of the common good.
As such, the competences and values we envision in NEMESIS include self-efficacy and social communication skills but also temper them with empathy and the embracing of diversity and democratic decision-making. Our model promotes problem-solving skills and resource mobilization abilities, but also pairs them with reflective learning and social resilience. In its ethical core, NEMESIS aims to encourage the development of collective capacities for taking innovative actions inspired by key values, such as equality, respect, generosity, trust and altruism. When such results become evident through our collective efforts in the NEMESIS project, we will know that our tree is blooming and is about to bear fruits. Youth activism goes beyond charitable and voluntary work for the community, it aims at influencing policy and institutional practices for the promotion of social justice.
We should clarify that the NEMESIS SILF does not aim to provide a fixed and closed learning framework with definitive and prescribed answers or solutions. It aims to include its participants in its creation and development and to provide a flexible set of suggestions that can be taken on by educators, students and community members and adjusted to their local reality and context-specific needs. As Inamorato dos Santos and his colleagues put it (2016: 24), ‘the answers come from the insights generated by the process of interacting with the framework’. The initial NEMESIS SILF constitutes the first step towards the development of the ultimate NEMESIS SILF which will be tested and validated through real-life pilot implementations in primary and secondary schools around Europe during the project’s duration. The results of these pilots will be used to update the NEMESIS framework whereby all respective outcomes will be reformulated according to the directions and insights offered by the participants. In this way, the participating students, teachers, parents, and community members are active components of the design of the NEMESIS SILF.
And how do we do that? The NEMESIS model is activated through Co-creation Labs (hereafter CCLs), open learning environments where different stakeholders such as teachers, students, parents, social innovation practitioners, or any other interested member of the local community, collaborate towards a common goal: to co-create new knowledge, achieve a clear understanding of social innovation and develop relevant competences by participating in the design and development of social innovation projects. Through its CCLs, our NEMESIS project redefines existing hierarchical relations between teachers and students, the old and the young, parent and child, professional and amateur, and empowers young learners to become equal co-creators of the social innovation educational process. The resulting projects can be socially magical and politically enchanting.