As well as attending the 2019 European Vocational Skills Week event in Helsinki, Finland, we also recently participated in the 2019 Towards Collaborative Practice (TCP) Forum in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid.
This is now an annual event focusing on Erasmus+ and social entrepreneurship, and brought together practitioners and researchers from youth work, education and training, social enterprises, NGOs, local municipalities, and public bodies. The theme this year was ‘social entrepreneurship for local impact and solidarity’. Participants came from throughout the European Union, along with non-EU participants from Palestine, Egypt, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belarus and Ukraine.
After breaking the ice with some folk dancing (!) and an opening ceremony, two Spanish social entrepreneurs presented their own learning and start-up journeys. One explained how a sustainable bottled water company integrated access to clean water across the world into its core business model, whilst a hemp rucksack company outlined how they work with women in rural Nepal to provide employment, and challenge caste discrimination.
We took part in several practical, hands-on workshops, including on Design Thinking and Social Impact Canvas approaches, both of which seek to ensure that organisations working on the ground are clear on what they are trying to achieve, and can measure and sustain this impact. Participants experimented with these approaches within real-life contexts and projects.
The week also included visits to community projects based within the solidarity economy in Madrid. One of these, Fundación Tomillo, is located on a housing estate in the south of the city, with high levels of school dropout and deprivation. Their holistic orientation to the needs of the local community was particularly impressive, with programmes including in-school mentoring, vocational training for adults and young adults, and, related to this, business start-up support. Both young people and adults have the opportunity to take part in Erasmus+ visits and work experience abroad, including to the UK.
There was a strong emphasis on meeting new potential partners and sustaining collaboration beyond the conference. The event was structured so that participants could genuinely learn from each other, using formal workshops, networking ‘bingo’, group coaching sessions, and semi-structured discussion ‘islands’. From widening access to the European Solidarity Corps, to generating ideas for new initiatives and projects, participants came away with a real sense of the potential for translating ideas into genuinely collaborative practice.
Last but not least, the event was lots of fun, too. Conversations continued in the bars and cafes surrounding the venue, and it is true to say that many new friendships were formed. We were also taken on a guided tour of the historic monastery of El Escorial, and were treated to a performance of their world-famous choir.
Next year’s event will be in Nicosia in Cyprus, on the theme of social innovation. See you there!