Youth unemployment is a challenge in many parts of the world. The phenomenon of growing armies of unemployed young people is an alarming reality for governments and all people concerned with the well-being of society. I was in Abu Dhabi from 21st to 27th May 2012 working under the auspices of Common Purpose’s Itijah Venture (which means direction in Arabic). Itijah Venture brought together 40 emerging leaders from seven Arab and three European countries to grapple with the challenge of how to multiply, through information and communication technology (ICT) and social media, youth enterprises as a way of reducing unemployment among young people. Common Purpose invited me to co-design and co-facilitate the Itijah Venture. In this article, I share the key learnings I picked with regard to facilitating an innovation process.
At the end of the week, Itijah Venture participants produced six prototyping ideas that they felt could significantly contribute to the reduction of youth unemployment in Europe and the Middle East. The six ideas were designed to leverage young people’s attraction to and use of ICT and social media. In the next few months following the Abu Dhabi meeting, participants will continue thinking together and developing the ideas into practical and living prototypes as a way of learning how to create large numbers of youth led/managed enterprise and jobs.
The Itijah Venture process began a few months prior to the meeting in Abu Dhabi. The first step was taken when the Itijah Venture Advisory Board set the challenge as stated above. In many instances, training programmes simply take people away from their normal life activities and, for a few days, make them learn about tools, techniques and practices of leadership. This is not enough for imparting practical skills. Common Purpose, over the years, has learnt that the best way to run leadership development programmes is by locating the training within a particular challenge that is crucial to the client organisation or a group of people. In this way, the return on investment in training has greater chances of being realised and measured than when training and problem solving are done separately.
The second step was the identification of emerging leaders to participate in the programme and sending them to gather data about the challenge. As soon as the candidates were selected, they were asked to go to “places of most potential for learning about the challenge”. Candidates went out to interview individuals or groups and observing situations where they could quickly learn about the challenge: what it is, how it manifests itself, what attempts have been done to resolve it; lessons picked from these attempts; and what stakeholders in the challenge fee can be done to resolve it. This is also known as sensing journey or learning through the eyes of stakeholders.
Upon arrival in Abu Dhabi, participants were introduced to and made a committed to certain ways of working that maximised collaboration and collective thinking. After the effective working atmosphere was established, participants went through a process of sharing the lessons they had picked during their sensing journeys. During the following two days, participants continued their sensing journeys by listening to subject matter specialists, entrepreneurs, and visiting places where they could learn through observation. Towards the end of the third day, participants started making sense of the information or data they had picked since they were accepted on the programme. On the final day, participants working creatively in small groups built sculptures that represented the ideas for prototyping. Participants played consultants to one another by challenging each other’s ideas, testing whether the ideas game changing.
The following are the key lessons I picked from Itijah innovation process:
Collective intelligence is possible and repeatable when a good (proven) process is followed, a diverse group is convened and key stakeholders are involved.