Learn from have-nots (and 7 other souvenirs from Stockholm)

Sweden, worth visiting.


Learn from have-nots.
Sociologist Erik Hannerz (Lund University) gave an excellent presentation on punk mentality. He asked whether youth work could adopt things from those subcultures, which start from having no resources. He meant punk rockers, anarchists and squatters. As he said, a notion of alienation – of not being like others – is a powerful driver for activism and creativity.

The feeling of not belonging is not uncommon in youth work. Only in Helsinki, we have 9000 16–29-year-olds without a job or studies. We work with many young people who feel strongly alienated from the society’s overall progress. Like anarchists, squatters and punk rockers, youth work could more often use that sense of being an outsider as a tool to start creating something new.

Do not play Santa although it is kind of nice.
One of the most common dangers in youth work is a Santa Claus mentality. I mean an approach where we as the system take the stand of answering to which ever preferences young people happen to indicate. Youth work should be able to go deeper, to tap into interests – things one needs. We fail when we only meet preferences. An unconstructive way of approaching democratic education is making wish lists or creating ready-made options for young people. You get much deeper by getting young people to make observations on their surroundings or their own lives. Rather than asking ” what do you want from us” or “do you want to do this”, we should split the process into two parts. First, we should take away limitations and – as Erik Hannerz phrased it –, start from the impossible. Second, we should put the ideas into context and encourage to make choices. Moving from impossible towards feasible is always more creative than moving from zero to feasible.

There is another, deeper reason for avoiding the role of Santa. When you deliver what they ask for, the power stays with you. When you let them build up the work and goals, their capabilities grow – and you cannot take that away.

Not knowing means you need participation.
Also in Helsinki we have had a lot of discussion around the skills our youth workers have and how we could react to the new youth subcultures. Erik Hannerz’s lecture resulted in a click in my head about competence development. We easily think that competence development means professional training. Hannerz pointed out that often it is actually wise to let the youth worker run a new group, in which he/she does NOT know the art form / sport / media in full. This requires that you actually need to do the development and planning WITH young people. You need participation and young people’s role is bigger than purely being customers.

Later establishment means greater service needs for +18-year-olds.
In Sweden’s new youth policy (Med fokus på unga) one of the starting points is a change in what they call establishment. With this the ministry representative meant that many young people reach full independence only closer to the age of thirty. At the same time as youth has shrunk childhood, it has also pushed adulthood forward for many. We see the same development also in Helsinki. Families are started later, apartments are bought later, communal living extends to later years than before. According to the Swedish national policy this requires also youth policy to reorientate its agenda. Stronger needs of the 20+ means that questions such as housing and reproductive rights need to be addressed more aggressively. Same goes for Helsinki. Even when the numbers are still relatively low on international standards, the number of young people without a permanent address has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. We hope to get a green light (read: funding) for testing new ways of living for instance by transforming offices into apartments.

Focus on using and creating capabilities when working with young adults.
In Helsinki all our youth workers (353 people) went on the streets this year to interview young people. One of our results was that over 16-year-olds do not want to hang out in the same places as kids. However, they do not mind adults. The city of Botkyrka had figured out similar things. In their on-going building project (Albyvägen 7), they are creating a place for this age group. The new space is built with and by the users. They are able to use their skills from their studies in the project. The entire space will be around capabilities. They for instance will have a CV lab, job interview training, internships etc. This to me sounds like the right approach. At this age young people’s main focus is on their futures. A valuable contribution by the public authorities would be to create possibilities to boost, use and be recognized for their capabilities. This goes very much in line with our strategy in Helsinki, where we will be opening a joint service point for this exact group in Spring.

Verbalise different interests when building public-civic partnerships.
In Sweden many regional bodies and municipalities have signed an agreement with civil society actors (Överenskommelsen). The idea is that you make visible the different viewpoints and drivers government and civil society have. As the speakers pointed out, government’s key drivers are and should be order, equality and that things should work for everyone. The civic society’s drivers are value, meaning and ideals. When government’s role is to make sure that everyone’s rights are guaranteed to the fullest, civic organisations usually start from realising an idea and strengthening an identity. It is not unfamiliar in Finland either that civic organisations often find themselves in a grey zone where they are commissioned by government, which starts to change the nature of the organisation. In the Swedish agreements both parties recognise the risks this poses for the independent opinion making of these organisations when they are highly dependent of government funding. The regular meetings have led to the parties understanding each other’s motivations, identifying joint interests and started joint development projects. The entire idea is very close to the way I think of government’s role in a modern society. We easily fall into a trap where we just focus on our service delivery rather than making sure that the entire ecosystem can reach its fullest potential.

Allow young people at risk to be the eyes and ears of the society.
Give meaningful things to do as a tool to cut risk behavior, not as a gift after quitting it. The Stockholm district of Skarpnäck had built a partnership with Stockholmshem (social housing) where they recruited young people at risk to go around the neighbourhood and document things that needed fixing. This partnership allowed the young people to become valuable to the community rather than being seen only as a nuisance.

Make youth centre the meeting point for the community’s competence.
At Bagishuset in Stockholm’s Bagarmossen, the runner’s academy started from the youth club. It showed new things to do for for the youth club regulars as well as brought young people to the youth club who never used it.