This is European Social Innovation - The 10 selected projects
European Commission - Enterprise and Industry vom 01.01.2011
“All children need equal opportunities... ELTERN-AG helps children with less favourable conditions in early life, by first supporting their parents.”
An unjust kingdom
The OECD’s PISA (Program for International Student Assesment) survey in 2000 studied educational outcomes in children from 43 countries across the world. The survey showed that even within the abundant welfare state of Germany, children from poorer families had very little chance of achieving a high-school diploma, let alone a university degree. Generally, these children had fewer chances of success in life and suðered crucial disadvantages.
Social innovation heroes
In 2001, in a classroom of the small Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences, a group of young students and their lecturer were inspired to do something about the educational inequalities suf- fered by children from lower income families. They took the time to look into each and every existing program oðered by the state and various diðerent welfare organizations, and found that the majority of programs were aiding the middle classes the most. They were failing to engage successfully with the parents and children who really needed them. Having discovered this, the group, which named itself ELTERN-AG, left the classroom to discover the reason for this, by talking directly to the parents. What they learned was that more often than not poorer parents felt intimidated by the unfamiliarity of some of the very state institutions which were there to help them.
The innovation journey
The ELTERN-AG-group decided to tackle the problem through empowerment; they did not believe in lecturing grownups, but wanted to galvanize them to help themselves. The group went to the poorer quarters of the city, and looked for struggling families, for immigrants who couldn’t speak German, for young single mothers, for fathers who had never learned how to cope with a nagging child. From these people, they began to build the basis of the network of ELTERN-AG groups.
In 2004 ELTERN-AG formed its first group. 10 parents came together in the“Daisy Kindergarten”in Magdeburg. They had time to share stories and discuss the trial and tribulations of their everyday lives while their children played. They discussed the things that mattered to them, such as best practice examples of how to celebrate a children’s birthday party on a budget. The group met 20 times and results began to show. All the parents stayed with the group; they now had friends and acquaintances, a social network, and the group decided to continue the meetings for several years. The ELTERN-AG team had learnt a lot too. They had learnt to be men- tors rather than teachers, tour guides rather than instructors. However financing the program was still an issue. In 2004 the students and their professor set down everything in their vision, and everything they had learnt, into a successful funding application to the Ministry for Social Aðairs of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.
The way back home
To date, around 800 parents have participated in ELTERN-AG, which means around 2000 children have been reached. 100 ELTERN-AG mentors have been trained by the original group, which has itself developed into a professional team. ELTERN-AG groups have been held in five German states, and the programme will soon expand to Austria and Switzerland. The empowerment concept is so successful, that ELTERN-AG has been asked to turn their focus to new target groups, such as long term unem- ployed people, and elderly people looking for a new perspective in their career.