Meetup #20: The academy of life

We start our meetup by listening to the compelling story of Bertrand who is currently a student at The Hague University. But his story starts in war-torn Congo. For him, living in Congo meant having to choose between going to work, school or being killed in the streets. Staying at home meant no income nor food. When he decides to flee to Burundi and a bomb explodes next to him, he feels, more than ever, devastated and alone. No parents, no home, no shelter. Bertrand decides to run even further: to the Netherlands.

When he and his family arrive at Schiphol airport, Bertrand is really confused. Running away from from bullets, from prison and horrifying circumstances, he and his family were longing for open arms. Instead of a warm welcome, he and his loved-ones, awaits a small room where they are questioned relentlessly.

When Patrick Groenewegen, former student in Politics and Nursing, hears about these stories via his work in Dutch politics, he is convinced that there is something that can be done about this situation. ‘These people totally depend on our system, and the system does not come up with solutions. Every day, they realise that they do not have any perspective: they do not have a passport, a home, a job. There is nothing to do but wait. Bertrand has several diplomas, speaks more languages and wants a perspective. How can we, as a society, change this?’

Patrick then founded Ithaka Academy: an organization that helps refugees and detainees to start from self direction. ‘Who are you: what talents, passions and knowledge can you lean on? Bertrand is very smart; he knows what he wants. He wants to make the world a better place: he wants to help homeless people.’

Besides refugees, the organisation also has programs for detainees and homeless people. ‘Our method is to go inside. Who am I, what can I do, what do I dream of? From there we go to the outside and make it specific: what do I need to get there? Ithaka only needs people with motivation. We start from there: we guide and facilitate. Together, we create a new journey.’

‘I see migrants not as a problem, but as a solution’ - Patrick Groenewegen

Main goal
The main question that Patrick has for our audience tonight is: how can we make Ithaka financial sustainable? Sometimes, we need 7.000 euros for a project that saves society 70.000 euros when finished. I need to start sharing stories and initiatives to create support.’

The Meetuppers split up into four teams to brainstorm and find a solution to the main question. After half an hour, everyone returned to pitch their best ideas.

Ithaka is fantastic, an organisation with a 90/100 percent success rate. For employees, but also for employers. Start working directly with employers. Organise internships and bring the new employees aboard. The financial burden is then for the company instead of the community and government. It’s no cure, no pay.

Team RED
This team came up with 5 ideas to help Ithaka on their journey. 
1. Make it possible to crowdfund individuals: start sharing their dreams and goals.
2. Involve companies and their employees: make sure they become coaches. Large companies can make that possible and lend staff to coach. 
3. Cut this program up into more pieces. In parts this is easier to fund. 
4. Ask students from social studies to work things out for free with the new employees as an education assignment.
5. As the Academy to pay for the education of Ithaka members. You can also make a combination of idea 4 and 5.

They reflected more on what was needed, also in the process. Their tips: 
Focus on one target group first: what is your impact?
Make a case study and make that marketable. 
Make use of the participatory action resource: what is de target group? 
Make a liaison between the target group and the company. 
Try not to solely work with fundraisers. What you have to offer makes you unique. 
Make your story stronger. Now it seems too dispatched. 
Who are the people surrounding your target audience? Start looking for the top-200 most influential people regarding migrations: make them ambassador!

The story of the great, wise frog. ‘It's not easy being green.’ We are all dreamers. Ithaka represents the island Homerus fled to. There is a poem on his marvellous journey. Bertrand is figuring as an example. Patrick Groenewegen sees refugees not as a problem, but as a solution. Bertrands compelling story is everyone’s story. We have to start selling these stories to companies. Companies can buy a story and make the refugees dream come true. In this model you can also make package deals for internships and growth strategies, so you can extend the journey.

But there can only be one winner...
Patrick: ‘Each team made my head spin: I appreciate every idea you presented! I learned that it is good not only to focus on government, but also on companies and individuals. By choosing the winner, I choose where to start with the Ithaka Academy. And Team Green had the best idea to start with. The migrant is the solution: we have to show and share their stories to the world and then find a way to finance it. Make liaison with companies, starting from the story, of the individual who has a dream.’ 

Another amazing meetup with a happy initiative! And to top it off, one of the attendees immediately offered a speech training to Patrick for free, to perfect his story and get it out into the world. Great!

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