In May, Meridian launched the Social Innovation Fellowship. This year-long engagement of social entrepreneurs from across Europe will yield community improvement projects in 5 countries (Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, and Spain), however the implications will be significant throughout the region as each project addresses overlapping issues.
Over the summer we shared some of the individual stories from the fellows’ experience – particularly their impressions and observations from their time in the U.S. (May, 2015). Now that they are back in their own communities, they are working to put into action best practices they learned while here. While each project – and each fellow for that matter – is unique, I have noticed some common recognition of both challenges and opportunities.
First – the context. For over 50 years, Meridian has served as a window to the world – offering a front row seat to witness the American political, economic and cultural landscape. For this project in particular it was a priority to highlight themes such as social innovation, project management, stakeholder engagement in ways that would resonate with the participants local context. Our time in Detroit was a home run – showcasing this city as a living laboratory tackling issues such as integration and economic recovery – both very relevant for the European audience. Some themes however should have taken into greater consideration the European context. Given the nature of their social innovation projects, we spent some time examining “philanthropy” – a very different concept here and in Europe, and one that is evolving everywhere. It will be important to draw from that comparison to identify more realistic next steps and how philanthropy might factor into and promote the sustainability of their project plans.
Second – the network. This Fellowship has been an incredible opportunity for each Fellow to grow their networks but also challenges them to strategically leverage it in impactful ways. Mat from Poland has described the experience as “the train has left the station and I worry that I don’t know where it is going.” Mat’s project aims to coordinate greater collaboration among Poland’s youth centers. Upon returning home from the U.S., Mat has continued in a hyper-networking but is growing anxious that the larger the network grows, the less targeted his project becomes. I know from my own experience with each conversation, your idea evolves and it is important to remember that it can’t be everything to everyone. Mat was able to get valuable advice from his peers on how to make sense of this and is earnestly updating his plan. One interesting development from all of this is that Mat has decided to focus on the needs and opportunities for youth in rural communities.
Third – the collaboration. I never could have dreamed that the Fellows would bond in the way that they did. The U.S. exchange program gave them an opportunity to not only learn together but also find ways to help each other. Each fellow brought a unique set of skills that quite frankly we did not tap into enough. Spanish Fellows, Cristina and Javier, have just hosted a workshop at Google for almost 100 women tech entrepreneurs in Spain. She brings the need and the network via her project MujeresTech – promoting the presence of women and girls in tech; he brings the platform and tools through JuntoSalimos.org – an online network to connect early-stage entrepreneurs to peers and advisors.
All this and more gives me great hope for the next 6 months. Meridian will continue to engage with the Fellows, as will their mentors, to bring each project to fruition. You can read more on each Fellow’s progress here.