You are an active resident, social entrepreneur or social initiator, and you want to realise your plans to improve the neighbourhood. What do you do? How do you make it work? You need help, but where do you find it? In the Netherlands Starters4Communities helps enterprising residents’ initiatives on their way by matching them to students in their final year of university.
Making a difference
Initiator Manon Becher started Starters4Communities in 2013 when she was unemployed after the end of a temporary contract. Meanwhile Starters4Communities employs 18 people, with 16 finished programmes engaging 386 starters and 123 projects in Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague, Den Bosch and the rural Achterhoek region. Manon: ‘Many active residents can achieve a lot more with a little extra help. We facilitate their access to the knowledge, talents, creativity and passion of highly educated starters, so they can jointly contribute to a positive change in society.’
Soup at halftime
Renée Ritsma had worked in education for years, but wanted to do something that she could be passionate about. After a period of making neighbourhood lunches together with residents, she thought: this is the kind of job I want. Last year she further developed her enterprise Soep langs de lijn (Soup at halftime) with the help of Starters4Communities in Amsterdam. Together with volunteers, people with a disability, she delivers fresh homemade soups to sports canteens, by bike, on foot or by public transport. The team of starters helped her to write a business plan, to acquire clients and to find starting capital through a successful funding request. Soup at halftime has existed for one year now, business is going well, although not all the hours invested are counted. Renée: ‘But this work gives me so much more satisfaction.’
‘Another way to be an entrepreneur’
Dorinda Bucher, pedagogics student, together with three other students assisted Renée to make Soup at halftime work. ‘I learned so much in those five months. Now I know what I am capable of. Renée and the whole team were a very warm and welcoming group. We shared an enormous drive and team spirit and achieved quite a lot in a short time. I thought: ‘so this is another way to be an entrepreneur.’
Manon Becher: ‘We think that the creation of societal value should be at least as important as the creation of financial value. That is why we bring starters into contact with social assignments and issues. The programme engages starters and initiators to work together as a team for five months on an innovative, bottom-up neighbourhood initiative. Projects wishing to increase their impact, reach and financial sustainability. The assignments for the starters are primarily aimed at sustainability and social entrepreneurship. For instance, how can a residents’ initiative become less dependent on grants. They also look at smart collaborations within and outside the neighbourhood, or better ways to reach a target audience. For the initiators it is a good way to follow their heart and try new ways with the offered assistance; by for instance making the shift from neighbourhood initiative to social enterprise. For starters it is a challenging, interesting and instructive work experience with a lot of room for their own contribution.’
Community room Corantijn
Tamara Janmaat graduated as a structural engineer, but could not find regular employment in the competitive labour market. During the Starters4Communities programme she joined Community room Corantijn in Amsterdam and created her own job. A dynamic community where neighbourhood residents meet in a kind of living room atmosphere and are able to join multiple activities. With the help of Starters4Communities and a small grant from the local municipality Corantijn was able to change direction. Tamara: ‘The municipality withdrew from the neighbourhood, and we took over with activities by and for residents. We also facilitate a weekly consultation by the social community team. Last year I became the coordinator, even though it is only paid for one day per week. But I find I enjoy connecting people, inspiring and activating them. I found my way, got involved in other projects and was even able to re-introduce my architectural background through consultation hours.’
Habiba Bouanan also was able to further develop her enterprise Prachtvrouw Coaching (Magnificent woman coaching) with the help of Starters4Communities. She supports women who have a distance to the labour market in Amsterdam East. As an experiential expert Habiba coaches these women to regain control of their lives and to make better choices. She relates: ‘I have a lot of experience with applying for jobs and understand how difficult it can be for many women to exit from unemployment. Eventually I decided to establish my own coaching and training organization to help women like me to become economically independent. I already had a large and active network, but I was not very good with commercial and financial issues. That is where the team from Starters4Communities gave me tremendous assistance. I also learned to think big, but to start small. And it works.’
July and Isabelle, who graduated as organisation anthropologist and health scientist, assisted Habiba: ‘For us it was both fun and very instructive. A great opportunity to combine theory and practice. And of course we will continue to watch and support Habiba!’
Drive and enthusiasm
All the people involved share the same drive and enthusiasm, and they all do it together. They share the feeling that they finally found work that is close to their heart, and that gives them wings. They are all concerned about whether it will provide an income. But the Starters4Communities programme at least provides a sound starting point.