To stay in the Christmas spirit, we’d like to introduce you to a new project that’s close to our hearts. For the past few weeks, we’ve been working together with ArmenTeKort, an organisation based in Antwerp working to make poverty a thing of the past.

Let’s start with the harsh numbers. 15% of the population of Belgium live in families with an income below the poverty line. In our city of Antwerp, that’s 17%: that’s 80.000 people, living in relative poverty, in a city with 500.000 inhabitants. Of these 80.000, an estimated 8000 people live in what is called endemic or generational poverty.

The effects of endemic poverty on any person are far-reaching. Compared to an average Belgian, people living in poverty have more difficulties finding a job; have more health risks; and have limited options for finding a sustainable living situation. Unsurprisingly, these are the areas that government aid usually focuses on: financial aid, or the provision of housing and food.

However, these concrete forms of help, although absolutely necessary, aren’t always enough. Research clearly shows a second aspect to the problem of endemic poverty: its effect on an individual’s self-image, self-reliance, confidence, and mental resilience. This stands in the way of sustainable solutions.

The psychological effects of endemic poverty make it nearly impossible to overcome the situation alone.

And this, in turn, is what has created the perception of endemic poverty as an unsolvable issue.

But it doesn’t have to be. Academic research also states that underprivileged people can conquer their situation and rebuild their self-esteem and power of persuasion – at least, if society creates the right conditions to do so.

A mindset of empowerment

This idea is the foundation that one organisation - ArmenTeKort (ATK) - builds upon in their journey to break the cycle of endemic poverty.

ATK’s ambition is to completely eradicate endemic poverty in our generation, through social innovation and a radical mindshift.

ATK wants to jump-start that mindshift through one key concept: personal empowerment. In their ten-year demonstration project, they’ll show how that empowerment can be built on a small, personal scale. This ongoing project pairs resilient, advantaged volunteers, one on one, as buddies to people in endemic poverty. The volunteer has one mission: creating the environment for empowerment by listening to and acknowledging the struggles of their buddy. This will help restore the confidence and sense of self-worth in someone in endemic poverty, by identifying the strengths that still reside within that person.

The personal connection between two people can spark a flame and give it enough oxygen to grow.

A phased approach

To achieve this, ArmenTeKort will try to increase the scale of their project every 3 years. The main metric is the number of buddyships:

1) Phase 50: 2014 - 2016

Characterised by empowerment and social innovation, the first phase focussed on pedagogical training and establishing the buddy methodology. The goal was to achieve 50 buddyships – today, that number is at 286, with 151 ongoing.

2) Phase 500: 2017 - 2019

Expanding the project to a wider target audience and across a wider geographical perimeter. Additionally, the organisation will start measuring impact and researching the role of digital. The goal is to reach 500 buddyships.

3) Phase 5000: 2020 - 2022

Expansion on a large scale, with the goal of reaching 5000 buddyships.

The beginning: November Five & ArmenTeKort

As the organisation started Phase 2, they want to explore the possibilities for supporting their buddyships digitally – which is where November Five came in.

Simply put: ATK is currently reaching the limits of its operational capabilities. To make sure they can keep meeting their ambitious goals, they knew they wanted to streamline and support their processes.

In their search for digital support, ATK originally approached November Five for development. But as we said before: we prefer to work in partnerships – and ATK was open to follow our flow.

We started from ATK’s ambitions for this project. November Five and ATK aim to explore and define the role that digital can play in ATK’s broader ambition (to scale and increase impact).

To do that, we started from the beginning: our purpose design track. During purpose design, we take a step back, and look at the why before diving into the what and how.

We performed multiple intake sessions with the purpose to fully understand the context and opportunities that led to project’s reasons of being. Our key ambition at this stage was to truly understand the organisation (purpose, strategy, initiatives and key learnings, team and operations) and the overall lifecycle (key interaction moments) between ATK and its stakeholders.

One method we always use in our trajectory is mapping a customer lifecycle. A customer lifecycle reflects the end-to-end relationship between an organisation and a customer. It’s used to map the different stages a customer goes through: from awareness, acquisition, and onboarding, to facilitating the overall customer journey (key use cases).

ATK came to us with a strong vision, and a well-considered strategy to reach their goals. With this in mind, we established quite quickly that the lifecycle would be our basis for identifying opportunities. So how can we optimally facilitate this lifecycle, and which areas need to be supported to reach the ambition of 5000 buddies?

Let’s walk you through that lifecycle first. We won’t go into every detail – a buddy track runs for 2 years – but we want to highlight some of the key milestones that could hold opportunities for November Five and ATK.

The buddy lifecycle

There are three main parts to the lifecycle: the pre-buddy trajectory, buddy trajectory, and post-buddy trajectory.

The very first step is recruitment: finding enough buddies. This is where the founders of ATK focus their attention – one on the disadvantaged participants who want to rediscover the balance in life, and one on the advantaged volunteers that are looking to make a difference.

The next important activity is the intake for the participants with a poverty background. These interviews are used to get to know them and create the best possible fit with their buddy. It’s an essential step, but takes a lot of time and energy – which can become a problem when scaling up.

A buddy track is a challenging undertaking – so ATK provides training sessions to foster the right attitude and equality towards the buddies to help them achieve an “I want to” and “I can” mentality.

After this training, the matchmaking takes place. It takes time to do this properly, but a good match between buddies is instrumental to the success of the track.

Here, the pre-buddy track ends and the buddy trajectory starts. A complete track lasts about 2 years, in which the buddies meet every two weeks on average. During these first months, the focus is on building trust. In this period, we still see a relatively high disengagement rate between buddies, for which the direct reasons are not always clear. This indicates a strong need for closer follow-up within the trajectory.

Meanwhile, the volunteering buddies are supported with a second round of training to help the buddy reconnect with his own strengths, and develop them. After that, there’s a strong focus on assisting them to expand and maintain their social network. This is supported by three-monthly intervisions: moments where they can learn about relevant topics and exchange experiences. There’s also monthly opportunities for all buddies to meet each other. But in spite of all these possibilities, buddies don’t always check in often, which means a lot of information never reaches ATK.

After 2 years (with empowerment measurements every 6 months), the official trajectory is over and we move into the (unofficial) post-buddy phase – in which the buddyships often evolve into friendships.

What’s next?

Throughout the session, November Five and ATK did together, we had one goal in mind: figuring out how digital can facilitate the scale and impact ATK wants to have. With that goal in mind, we evaluated each phase of the lifecycle and identified a number of opportunities.

After this analysis, our interpretation is that ATK has limited resources and capacity to facilitate scale. ATK is aware of this, and the next step will be to define the precise points in the lifecycle where digital can have maximum impact.

In a next session, we’ll solidify these opportunities, including the potential partnerships that could help facilitate this, and funding opportunities.

This map of opportunities marks the end of our purpose design phase! Once we’ve agreed in the why, we can dive into the how and what – but more on that in a future blog post…

We hope we’ve inspired you with this project – we think it fits into the Christmas spirit – and we already wish you all the best for the new year…

See you again in 2018!