Last year Edgeryders and the United Nations Development Programme started collaborating around a new project in three countries: we called it Spot the Future. It engaged over a 130 participants in Georgia, Armenia and Egypt in a massive, peer to peer conversation online (on the Edgeryders platform) and offline (in various workshops and a final conference, Futurespotters). It succeeded in bringing together people doing groundbreaking work at the edges, who did not know one another before the project, and who had little previous interaction with organisations like the UN in a real conversation: many have remained in contact, and we have seen several collaborations spring up between participants after the project ended.
It turns out Spot the Future has already made an impact - If you participated in the project last year you have contributed to a major strategic change happening at the United Nations. To prepare for the next step, we are hiring engagement managers in Armenia, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Marocco and Ukraine for a new project.
The new project is about youth volunteering. It is run jointly by UNDP and UNV, the United Nations Development and Volunteering arms respectively. It works like this: mature political élites tend to see youth as younger versions of themselves. Their values and practices are assessed as a function of their proximity of those embraced by their elders. This is understandable on a human level, but it is also a cognitive bias: young people are not defective older people, and what we do best may be something completely different from what our elders excel at. As a result of this bias, change tends to come from directions that mature political élites are not looking in, and to take them by surprise.
An obvious example is politics: while established players complain that youth seem uninterested in politics and civic engagement, young people are busy inventing new, exciting political movements at the same time as we are turning our backs on traditional party politics. The world of volunteering, too, is undergoing profound transformations; one of the findings from Spot The Future is that many of us are donating our time to activities not normally thought of as volunteering: social startups, social enterprises, digital campaigns, market activism. Wherever we look we are seeing signs that social innovation (often in a form that de-emphasizes financial sustainability, or accepts very high risk of failure) is a new form of civic engagement.
Partially as a consequence of meeting the Spot The Future crowd, UNDP and UNV have taken all that onboard, and are out to look at volunteer-driven initiatives in a new way. They are looking for new partners: individuals and groups, often as the edge of society, trying daring, radical new strategies to thrive in a changing world. If you are reading this, chances are they are looking for you, and your friends and partners. This means you have the chance to get involved in designing a new United Nations program for the future of youth volunteering in employment, social protection and data. This covers a lot of ground, people: from leadership programmes through soup kitchens all the way to civic hacking. It covers almost anything these days.
For now, we are shaping up for the project. We are recruiting engagement managers and reaching out to our peers in Armenia, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Morocco and Ukraine. If you are interested in joining our team or simply learn more about the project and how you can get involved, join the weekly community call (every Thursday at 11, see events for more info) or just leave a comment below.