this is who we are
There are lots of things we are not. We are not an agency with some employees who come to the same office every day. But we are not a loose collective of professionals who hardly ever meet either. It is hard to describe our organisation, so maybe we should just try and explain how the Solidarity University came to life.
Before there even was a Solidarity University, there was our founder: Petra de Braal. One of her first projects was DEEL& Ulrum. When asked to develop plans for the revitalisation of a village that faced depopulation, she came up with much more than was asked for. She invited visionaries, artists and experts from a wide range of disciplines (from architecture to sociology, to the arts or psychology) to stay in the village. Petra lived here herself as well – for three years she stayed here one week per month. The guests shared their views, impressions, development plans etcetera. It brought the place to life and it brought out the best in all participants. Additionally, it really gave a boost to the area. An important aspect of the entire undertaking was that it focussed on a narrative approach.
setting up the Solidarity University
DEEL& Ulrum was a stepping stone to setting up the Solidarity University. We like to work on projects that involve the local population, living-lab-like situations and a multidisciplinary approach. And a narrative approach is key to all our projects. Together with co-founder Arend Roos, Petra set up the basis for the Solidarity University, simply by starting out. They checked out what big questions needed answering and set up projects around them and worked together with organisations that came to the solidarity university with a question that needed answering or a problem that needed solving/a different point of view.
belief in people’s stories and experiences
And that is, basically what we still do. A social innovative approach based on mutual understanding and shared meaning still forms the basis of all we do, because we believe people’s worldviews, their stories and experiences are at the core of everything. Therefore, these should be central to every plan you make, research you perform and insight you wish to gain. And we still start our projects by, well, just starting out and working our way from there. What has changed, however, is that this highly intuitive way of working now also has a clearly defined theoretical and scientific basis in the Social Theory. It also forms an integral part of the Minor Fit for the Future. The theory was set up by Petra, and Hans de Bruin. They work together on the minor and the Social Theory.
group of people
And there we have another significant change: the group of people we work with has grown a great deal. There is a large group of people who work for the Solidarity University on a regular basis, such as Martien Luteijn, who not only focusses on communication, but also helps define what the Solidarity University is all about. Sonja Barentsen also deals with communication (and PR). Saskia Smolenaers takes care of administration and Marjan de Smit aids in the research. Outside this team there is also a large group of professionals at our disposal who add their expertise to the Solidarity University on an infrequent basis.
Over the years we have worked for, amongst others: local social initiatives, municipalities and local/national/international authorities, and research and educational institutes. This has added to our experience and enables us to regard problems and challenges from more points of view. It also allows us to work closely together with people within these organisations and to pass on our work methods to them so they can apply it themselves. Furthermore, they become ambassadors for our work method within their own organisation. Working together with the Solidarity University is therefore never a form of one-way traffic. It is more like ten-way traffic. Both parties learn and benefit from the experience and knowledge is passed back and forth in a continuous process.