Putting citizenship into practice: Carmen Garcia de Andrés, Fundación Tomillo

September 14th, 2011

An interview with Carmen Garcia de Andrés, General Director of the Fundación Tomillo, Madrid.

Fundación Tomillo launched the street youth program, Tiempo Joven, in 2003. What was happening in Madrid at the time to trigger so much interest in youth culture?

Tiempo Joven, Inmigration y Ciudadaní a was created in 2003 in response to different social organizations working in the Orcasur neighbourhood of Madrid (government agencies, private bodies, schools and colleges and social entities) and an increase in the number of immigrants in our community. 44.81% of all immigrants on the census in Spain are found in three provinces, Madrid, Alicante and Barcelona.

Numerous studies warned that some neighbourhoods to the south of Madrid were at risk of becoming immigrant ‘ghettos’. In the Orcasur neighbourhood this situation was exacerbated because of the number of residents who earned low incomes had lower levels of education. Orcasur has one of highest rates of unemployment in the city of Madrid.

Our most pressing concern at the time was to stop culture [ethnicity] and country of birth from becoming new forms of exclusion. We were concerned about how young people were banding together based on their backgrounds in school playgrounds and in neighbourhood squares and parks. This included young immigrants who were asserting themselves around negative aspects of their culture as well as “local” youngsters banding together around xenophobic and racist-type ideologies.

Generally speaking, these young people feel excluded and have little faith in a society that does not offer them opportunities to take part. Our approach at Tiempo Joven Inmigración y Ciudadanía was to teach young people how to take part. How is this done? By actively engaging these young people by creating spaces for meeting and coexistence, where they can share interests –Break dancing, percussion, dance, theatre, graphic arts, blogs and social networking pages —  and develop friendships and learn to see their differences as assets that enrich society. By taking part, these young people become committed to integrating their new neighbours. They also learn to stand up for freedom of choice and to protect their own identities while endeavouring to understand each other.

The result is that these once passive young people who were at risk of social exclusion become active people over time. Their example is helping transform their neighbourhoods.

The activities in the programme include rap music, break-dance, theatre and radio. Why the performing arts?

One of the main problems facing young people these days is a serious lack of motivation and a feeling of impotence caused by frustration about their expectations and their reason for existing. This can result in a search for new experiences, often not channeled appropriately.

Our programme focuses on developing artistic expression as the ideal setting in which these youngsters can develop their potential and skills because it offers endless possibilities for working on concepts such as responsibility, taking on roles, decision making, autonomy, participation, respect and co-existence, all of which are essential to their training and will have a positive impact on their personal, individual and community development.

The OECD LEED programme looked for solutions to the high levels of youth unemployment last year, including entrepreneurial spirit strategies. How have your programmes prepared the young people of Madrid for the difficult job market?

Our programmes, like the LEED programme, focus on training to develop skills and competencies among young people that will give access to the job market. We also promote employment and self employment as tools for integration.

We operate both social and work integration programs for young people and adults. We design personalised itineraries that cover technical training (intermediate level Professional Qualification and Vocational training) as well as occupational training aimed at more specific jobs. For the last ten years, in partnership with the business sector and with private funding, we have been developing specialist training programmes for these groups which allow them to access better quality jobs. For example, highly specialised IT training with Microsoft and the new “Job Bridge” programme with Johnson & Johnson, both aim to improve young people’s skills within a specialty that enhances their chances in the job market.

The objective is to show young people that they can meet the challenges ahead. Many of the adolescents who come to our classrooms have not finished their secondary school or baccalaureate studies, so this means we are giving them a new opportunity, one that requires them to take responsibility. Compare this to standard educational models focused on curriculum learning. This is a cross-cutting aspect of our work at the Fundación Tomillo and why we are also part of the European Network of Second Chance Schools.

Our Community Development programs help young people enjoy healthy leisure activities while learning about social entrepreneurship, participating actively in improving the conditions of their environment and interacting with other groups (the elderly, unemployed, etc.). This is another way of developing competencies that improve employability and entrepreneurial skills at the same time.

Lastly, as with the LEED programme, we develop strategies that can be replicated and transfer this knowledge to other social contexts, or to increase the impact of the programs in a more local context. To do this we have an Advice area and an Economic Studies Centre whose mission is to build bridges between “action” and “social research.” Standardized approaches will help governments, non-profit organisations and business take better action on local l issues, ease decision making and result in more effective economic and social policies.

I would like to know more about the Young Entrepreneurs Council.

The Young Social Entrepreneurs Council – neighbourhood assembly – is a powerful structure for democratic youth participation that has been created so neighbourhood youth can organise themselves, analyse projects and talk about their most pressing problems. Starting up their own initiatives helps then resolves conflicts.

The young people design the community activities themselves, manage the resources, request the spaces and take part directly in the forums and alliances created around these events. This has meant adapting our facilitation style to make room for young people in the networks and neighbourhood platforms [associations] so they can speak with their own voice and not through the Foundation.

We have invested in specific training in participation and entrepreneurship that has enabled joint responsibility for the project. For the last three years, the young people who are part of the project have been trained as community facilitators. This allows many of them to stay active in the project as volunteers, managing almost autonomous lines of activity such as the theatre workshop created three years ago, or a youth association that presents its own initiatives.

Making music, being an artist also requires a good business sense. What about the participatory budgets used by the Foundation with the programme participants?

The participatory budgets are more than just a management instrument. They guide and distribute programme resources but they also contribute to project objectives by putting citizenship into practice. Participatory budgeting uses the mechanisms of direct and representative democracy to generate shared commitments and responsibilities among young people. This dynamic makes them aware of the importance of good management to the sustainability and success of their projects. It also contributes to the development of competencies of youth entrepreneurship, as set down in the EU’s catalogue of basic competencies.

Your work has been recognised by private benefactors, all levels of government (from local to national) in Spain, and internationally by UN Habitat. What is the key to Tiempo Joven’s success?

On the one hand, the support we have received from the Orcasur citizen platform [neighbourhood association]. As a recognized community development project, Tiempo Joven benefits from the coordinated action of all the entities involved in the development of the neighbourhood and is guaranteed greater publicity and impact in the zone.

On the other, we have created a culture of effective action through the participation by young people in the neighbourhood. By bringing together groups of young entrepreneurs and then developing their capacity to operate in formal organizational structures, we have given these young people the autonomy, initiative and leading role required for success. These young people are their own best advertising! and highly motivating role models for their peers.

Related Good Idea:

Madrid, Spain: Timing, Tempo and Beat: Youth Leading Youth

Carmen García de Andrés, General Director of Fundación Tomillo, Madrid, and member of the Board since 2008, has a degree in Economics and EE.. Formerly PwC partner and director of the Department of legal and tax advice for businesses. Member of the Board of the AEF (Spanish Association of Foundations).

The Fundación Tomillo works for the development of the individual and the social integration of vulnerable individuals and groups. The 473 member operational foundation offers programs and funding across a wide field, including education, employment vocational training initiatives, and has a special focus on children, young adults and family and older people. Since 50% of Tomillo’s clients have an immigrant background, integration and intercultural strategies are applied horizontally across all its service and program area.

More information at: www.tomillo.org

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