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Poverty in Leiden tackled in Honours Class on social innovation

How can business strategies help us solve social problems? This was researched by students of the Master Honours Class 'Social Innovation in Action' over the past twenty weeks. During the final seminar of the class they presented their creative enterprises to tackle child poverty in Leiden. ‘It’s not simply about money.’

The diverse plans were pitched in the building of PLNT, a platform which helps start-ups in Leiden to seize the opportunity to launch their ideas. During the class, taught in PLNT, the students worked together in small groups to establish a social enterprise. The goal was to help the estimated 2400 children in Leiden living below the poverty level. During the final presentations, a jury consisting of members of the city council, the university, and local social workers decided upon the winner.

Falling through the cracks

After a short welcome speech, two representatives of the team of ALT Track kicked-off. Ömer, a well-dressed young man who supports his words with hand gestures, explains. A picture of a boy appears on the screen behind him. ‘This is Peter. He wants to join the football club Meerburg, but his mother cannot bring him to the club, and he does not own a bike.’

Because of this lack of mobility, children like Peter fall through the cracks of society. They cannot go to parties or sports clubs on their own. ‘As a solution, we thought of Alt Bike’, Ömer’s partner Petra continues. The concept: Underprivileged families can rent an Alt Bike, in the colour and size of their choice, for only three euros a month. There will also be a free repair service. Wealthier people pay a little more, to ensure that the company does not lose money.

Using the mother tongue in language development

Each group tackled a different aspect of poverty; and therefore, thought of a different solution. Some examples: making sports clubs more accessible via a mobile app, making bullying debatable via a boardgame, and teaching responsible financial behaviour to school leavers. 

According to three students, deficient language skills are also a problem: ‘Research shows that children with a migration background can learn Dutch faster when they can use their own mother tongue.’ For this reason, they made an interactive playbook together with writers and illustrators from Leiden. In this book children are encouraged in their own mother tongue to, for example, order food in Dutch: ‘Our test subjects reacted very positively!’

Best enterprise

In this Master Honours Class students learned that poverty is a very complex problem, says participant Eduard. ‘Often there is money available, but parents do not make the most of the available funding. This is partially because of their feelings of shame.’ Therefore, an important lesson was: Test your assumptions. Eduard: ‘It is very important to talk to people and ask: Is this what you want? This is a skill that I definitely learned in this class.’

Petra agrees: ‘The course was very practical.’ Does she want to continue in social entrepreneurship? ‘Maybe not in the near future.’ Then, laughing: ‘But we can always use more enterprises, right?’ Either way, Petra and Alt Track have made a good start: The jury decided that they were the winners. To consolidate their plan, they received a three-month course on social entrepreneurship at PLNT.

Text: Michiel Knoester
Photography: Buro JP
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