“Everything begins with an idea.” – Earl Nightingale
“Ideas shape the course of history.” – John Maynard Keynes
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams
And we can keep quoting unto the ages of ages!
So…ideas! Ideas to alter something in your environment, to bring positive change, to make a difference, to fulfill your organization’s vision. It usually reflects some negative phenomenon or condition related to the core activity of your organization and it can be as broad as it gets! From peer violence to environmental pollution and from jeopardized human rights of a certain minority group to general freedom of expression. You name it! After all, it is up to you to decide how to shape your idea into an action.
Does a youth exchange approach match your idea? Can it really contribute to the change that you want to bring or are there some other, more practical solutions?
Shaping your final idea is no easy task. It can be a quite challenging and demanding process that requires not only mind mapping and brainstorming, but also digging deep into your organization’s aims, vision and mission. No need to say that two heads are better than one; it is much more effective to have more than one participant in an activity, as more people thinking and working together can come up with better solutions and yield better results. Therefore…include as many people as you can in this process: members of your team, partners, stakeholders, sponsors, even the final users themselves!
Take advantage of collective thinking! Kick out loneliness and welcome the experience, skills and perspectives of your team!
For starters, you only need to deal with three tricky letters: W H Y ?
Υou need to define the problem that you want to deal with by organizing a youth exchange. This is the first, but also the most difficult step through which not only will you develop a line of reasoning that you can use to explain to your partners (and also to potential donors) the importance of your project as a response to some needs identified in the society, but also set the basis for creation of a complete project proposal later on.
THIS IS US:
Let’s say that the problem to mitigation or solution of which you want to contribute through this youth exchange is that:
“…youth organizations in the Western Balkans (and often other European countries) have insufficient capacity to deal effectively with issues of discrimination, intolerance and reconciliation processes…”
In order to explain the methodology more comprehensively, for purposes of this problem analysis we will use the analogy of a tree. Every tree has roots that provide it with food and enable it to grow and develop a trunk and, finally, it has a treetop, which is the first thing we notice when we look at a tree from a distance.
Similarly, every main problem has its roots that feed it i.e. its causes, and also a treetop i.e. its consequences – events, phenomena and states that indicate the existence of the problem, which clearly is pictured as the trunk of the tree.
Now, if we cut the treetop, new branches will grow again after some time and the tree will continue to live and so will the problem if we deal with its consequences – it will not be visible for some time, but it will reappear. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze the causes that led to the problem (trunk) very carefully because only by acting on the causes (roots) can you make a lasting positive change.
IT’S WATCH O’CLOCK!
Dreaming is good and never hurts anyone. However, after creating your problem tree, it is time to take a look at your capacities and to be realistic when you are assessing the groups of causes that you can impact and the ones that you cannot. This can only happen by answering the question: in what way can your project idea –in our case organizing a youth exchange- fit into the whole picture? This is significantly important as it sets the basis for the formulation of the action. This should be a collective activity, so…call your team and start brainstorming!
THIS IS US!
After completing our problem tree analysis, we could indicatively draw the following picture:
PROBLEM – TRUNK: long-term distrust, hatred and other negative relations between post- or frozen-conflict nations.
CAUSES – ROOTS: past conflicts, violent memories, traumatic past experience, political expediencies, war, underlying economic causes, political manipulation, intercultural unawareness.
CONSEQUENCES – TREETOP: discrimination, prejudice, bias, missed opportunities, injustice, propaganda, political, social and economic inequalities, hatred, mistrust, negative relations, intolerance.
Now…time to come down to earth and figure out which of these causes our organization could more successfully confront to some extent. If we want to be realistic…well…changing the official policies would be quite difficult and time-consuming, while the outcome of our effort would be at least doubtful. Therefore, we should probably “cut” that branch completely and disregard it during the rest of the process. We can follow the same procedure with other similar branches and stick to those that seem more relevant to our work and capacities.