First published in New Start Magazine.
During the Great Depression, 200 marchers from a small northern town called Jarrow marched all the way to London in protest against unemployment in their community and for others in a similar situation across the UK.
The marchers had no resources, but were offered support by the public on their journey. Wherever the marchers stopped for the night, local people gave them shelter and food.
Almost 80 years later, we find ourselves in a similar economic situation. Like the Jarrow marchers, many young people also feel that their voices aren’t being heard and their needs aren’t being met, around 78% according to a recent poll.
This isn’t just an issue for politicians, it’s an issue for charities and businesses too, who need to understand how to meet their customers’ needs.
To address this issue, social entrepreneurs are using travel to uncover the needs and innovations that go under the radar.
1. Walk a mile in the shoes of the people you serve
Social enterprises and charities use various methods to understand how their service users are experiencing the crisis. How about letting service users take the lead and show you how they live, not just through consultations or workshops, but by walking a mile in their shoes?
Founded by an informal volunteer network, homeless guides at Unseen Tours take people through their experience of living on the streets, helping people rediscover the nooks and crannies of London through the eyes of those who know it best.
Social Safari in Amsterdam combines a method used in developing countries with those used in hack days. People from across the world are given a challenge to go around the local neighbourhood to uncover the issues it faces and work to hack solutions to address them.
2. Discover how people from other backgrounds are solving problems
The world of social entrepreneurship is peppered with travelling references from ‘camps’ to ’roundabouts’. When entrepreneurs go on accelerators, they describe ‘going on a journey’ with fellow innovators to discover and test the limits of both their ideas and their drive.
What about if you went on an actual journey to discover social innovations being developed in environments as different as inner city neighbourhoods as isolated villages?
Progetto Pionieri, Millennial Trains or Start Up Bus Europe all combine the spirit of adventure of Jack Kerouac and Steve Jobs, recruiting people who want to develop projects with the communities they meet and want to learn from those they’re travelling with.
Spoken word artist Suli Breaks is going on a trip around the world in 80 days to meet people who are making change happen to challenge young people to follow their passion.
3. Help people tell their story in their own way
At European Alternatives, we develop creative activities to help people imagine connect on issues across borders. People may have come to our Transeuropa Festivals taking place across Europe. They may have helped design scenarios for the future, played our urban games or even been a human book in our living libraries.
This time, we want to come to them. About 30 young people will travel in caravans in six zones across Europe to uncover how people are coping with the crisis. Travelling through different environments – from coastal resorts to inner city neighbourhoods via mountain villages – our caravans want to discover how people are creating new ways of living.
We will meet people who feel their needs aren’t being voiced in the public sphere and are using creative techniques to tackle social, economic and environmental issues. Working with filmmakers, designers, social reporters & community researchers, we will use a variety of methods to tell the stories of the people and initiatives we discover – from fly-on-the-wall documentaries to live illustrations via urban games.
In the meantime, we want you to tell us what groups we should meet on our journey and how you’d like to get involved in putting the spotlight on the issues that aren’t being voiced.
From the Jarrow March to Jack Kerouac, travelling has always surfaced voices that weren’t being heard and uncovered new ways of solving problems. It’s a method that’s always been used in developing countries, it’s an effective tool social enterprises & charities can use to better understand the people they serve.