Hub Youth Academy: Lessons for the future
21 January 2015 - Impact Hub

Hub Youth Academy: Lessons for the future

Six months ago we launched Hub Youth Academy – a new programme that empowers young people to do business as if people and the planet mattered. Hub Youth Academy supported twelve young people with the skills, space and network they needed to step into the world of social enterprise.

Hub Youth Academy consisted of a two week intensive course followed by a years free grow-on space in Impact Hub Islington, the first co-working space for social entrepreneurs in the Impact Hub network that now consists of 10,000+ members in 60+ Impact Hubs across the world.

As there are many individuals and organisations working on the huge task of empowering the next generation to create the more equal and sustainable economy our world so desperately needs, we thought it was important to share reflections and learnings post-Hub Youth Academy with our wider community. To talk openly about what worked, what didn’t, what we will do differently in the hope that it will be useful to others in this sector.

What Worked?
Our Approach to Learning:

From the start we knew that we wanted Hub Youth Academy to take embody a different educational approach. As young people ourselves, we had all experienced the top down education taught in mainstream education where students are seen as vessels to be filled with information rather than co-creators of knowledge. Where you are told there’s one answer rather than being supported to experiment, fail, learn and try again. Where an exclusive form of academic knowledge is prioritised. Where we learn content that is often abstracted from reality on an individual basis.

If we want a new generation that feels empowered to create change in the world we need to radically change our model of education. And so we did.

Hub Youth Academy used flipped classroom learning, continuous experimentation and application of knowledge, peer-to-peer feedback and self-led learning. We brought in external facilitators with knowledge of specific topics – but their knowledge was never valued more than that of our cohort, the amount of time spent ‘lecturing’ was limited, as much as possible learning was practically applied, and participants were given time and space to reflect and apply the skills they had learned to their own projects and social businesses.

Dynamic, open and responsive facilitation:

There is often a lot of pressure on workshop facilitators, course leaders, teachers to be experts, to be know it all’s, to be right all of the time. This means at the risk of looking stupid, not intelligent or strong enough, educators blindly follow exactly what they had planned- pretending they know all the answers and everything is going great – even if the exact opposite is the case. They too have a fear of being wrong. In the same way we decided to flip our educational approach we also decided to facilitate Hub Youth Academy as equals to our cohort – individuals who also needed to experiment, make mistakes and make radical changes.

We therefore used a dynamic, open and responsive facilitation approach, in which we were always ready to be wrong, to be criticised, to take feedback from participants, and adapt to their needs. This resulted in a number of huge pivots which completely changed the nature of the day, or in one case, of the whole week.

A holistic and long-term approach to change:

A crucial element of Hub Youth Academy was to approach change in the youth social enterprise sphere from a more holistic and long-term point of view. We had seen and known many people that had attended various short courses and programmes giving them the skills, knowledge and even small grants to set up their social business, however many of them found it very hard to sustain their project following the programme and felt there was a lack of ongoing support.

We realised from our own experience that some of the most crucial elements of growing and developing a social business were missing from these programmes – an inspiring space to work, and a proactive and connected community of social entrepreneurs – both of which Impact Hub provides in abundance.

What didn’t?

Whilst we feel we are on the right track and have a unique and new approach in the field, we recognize and embrace that there were many things that didn’t work.

Differentiation between campaigning and marketing:

The joining of ‘social’ and ‘enterprise’ means that there is often a confusion between whether social enterprises should use the more campaign based techniques from the charity sector or marketing techniques from the commercial sector. Although there is a large degree of crossover and both have a similar focus on telling a story that engages the population, they are fundamentally different approaches. Our cohort wanted less of a focus on campaigning and more on market research and techniques.

Abstract Challenges:

In week two of our programme the ‘hack’ week we had planned for our cohort to develop and work on an abstract business idea to apply the skills they had learned in the first year and get experience collaborating and working in a team to develop a product. It became very clear that this was not what the cohort wanted – they felt it was a waste of time to put all their energy and time into developing a product that would not really exist – especially when many people (although not all) had existing projects that needed a lot of work.

Responding to their feedback we very quickly changed the nature of the second week, asking participants with already developed business ideas to put themselves forward and see whom in the cohort would like to work on their idea. This worked incredibly well and reinforced the notion that the best kind of education is APPLIED and REALISTIC rather than abstract as this is what induces passion, creativity and commitment.

20 minute limit:

Although we were very clear with our session facilitators about our flipped learning approach to education, asking them to give presentations where at no point did they speak at the participants for more than 20 mins (research thats shows attention limit). This was actually very hard for people to do and we were not strict enough at enforcing it. This meant we still had periods where our cohort got overly ‘lectured’ and began to switch off.

Grow-on year:

Although a years free membership to Impact Hub Islington was included for our cohort as part of Hub Youth Academy, many of our cohort have not come in to use the space to work on their projects. This reflects external factors in individuals lives, such as whether they got into full-time employment, whether they were still in education or training, and whether they were London based. As expected, the individuals who had committed to starting a social enterprise and needed office space were the ones with the highest usage rates.

We decided to take a very ‘hands off’ approach and let the cohort decide and structure how they would continue to support each other and use the space. Without further centralised facilitation, apart from a few socials and interaction on Facebook, there has been a rapid drop-off in peer-to-peer learning.

Learnings and Changes
  1. We missed out a few key topic areas that will be included in the next Hub Youth Academy 2.0, such as market research, governance and legal structures, and project and team management.
  2. We will create more structured time and space to nurture trust, belonging and community between our cohort. Through having more FUN together, as well as check-ins and -outs safeguarded just for the cohort rather than solely facilitators.
  3. We will create more space for participants to share thoughts which each other throughout the day and reflect upon their learnings.
  4. We will stick better to the ‘20 minute rule’ and provide timing set aside for participants to apply skills learned in the first week to their projects, so that learning is applied and experimented with immediately.
  5. Our biggest and most important change – structure the ‘grow on year’ differently to provide more structure, mentoring, check-ins and support.

We hope that this has been of use – do get in touch with us at [email protected] if you have any feedback or want to partner on the next Hub Youth Academy. We are looking to run the next cohort in Fall 2015.

Stay tuned for results from our 6 month impact evaluation – what projects have emerged from Hub Youth Academy, what awards were won, how many jobs were created, and much, much more!

Debbie & Rhiannon

Hub Youth Academy