EuroPhilantopics 2014: why is the community missing from debates on employment?


Kimberly Manno Reott


‘At the end of the day, it always comes down to the people,’ said Celia Tennant from Inspiring Scotland, a venture philanthropy organization with a specific funding mechanism focused on unemployed youth. Celia was speaking on a panel about employment in the EU at this year’s EuroPhilantopics forum, which I attended in Brussels on 4 and 5 November.

Celia’s comment grabbed my attention. Until that point, the panellists’ comments had largely been about policy and money. I found this ironic, given that the topic was employment.

Ironic, but not uncommon. Because topics like finance, strategy and policy are easy to quantify and define, we gravitate to these themes in panel discussions. However without people and the communities they comprise, the best DG-Employment policy, for example, is doomed.

From my experience building and activating communities at Context Partners, 80 per cent of any organization’s challenges are relational. In other words, it’s all about the people – not a better financing scheme or a new strategic plan. People – and more specifically how people come together to form human networks of purpose – are the key to addressing any organization’s challenges and/or opportunities.

The panel touched on the role of foundations and policymakers in creating an enabling environment for employment issues to be addressed. Organizations like EFC and EVPA were also cited for their role in connecting people and organizations across Europe. But the discussion missed a central issue: how the community itself is involved in co-designing solutions to the unemployment situation in Europe.

At Context Partners, we call this people-engagement approach Community-Centred Design (CCD). It’s a solution-design methodology based on a belief that those closest to the problem are best placed to guide the way to the solution. CCD helps organizations to transform relationships and it includes elements of collaborative ethnography, design thinking, and movement making. We’ve seen some foundations use community-centred design – Rockefeller, Packard, Mava and King Baudouin Foundations – to build new relationships, generate new ideas, and understand what’s working on the ground around the world.

Towards the end of the session, I heard glimpses of a CCD approach: Celia described how Inspiring Scotland spends a lot of time with disadvantaged and chronically unemployed youth – in their home and community environments – to more deeply understand their needs, aspirations and assets. This has led them to the insight that building youth self-confidence is an essential component to any unemployment initiative involving adolescents. They now take this into account when making funding decisions. In other words, Inspiring Scotland engages the community itself to guide how it places its venture philanthropy bets.

The Employment and the EU panel at EuroPhilantopics was a good discussion – although I wanted to hear more debate about how foundations and policymakers can enable initiatives that truly empower people.  If foundations and policymakers want to join forces to address the employment crisis in Europe, putting people at the centre is crucial.

Kimberly Manno Reott is managing director of Context Partners.

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