It’s five o’clock, and Óscar – student from year 3- has their hands covered in dust. He’s kneeling in a sunny corner of the playground together with her mother, Itziar, who is rolling up her sleeves before pouring soil into some recycled tyres; soil brought by Luis, father of a year 2 student.
Few metres away, one of the teachers is helping students to craft the seedbeds for the organic tomato seeds donated by Edurne, from CERAI, a regional NGO working on food sovereignty – and who came to the school last October for a workshop on organic agriculture.
what does a vegetable garden have to do with social innovation?, you might ask. Everything.
None of those students, parents, and teachers are experts on gardening, but Mario – from a nearby communal vegetable garden – explained them how to design a vegetable garden and which species to plant depending on the season in a visit some weeks ago.
All of this is happening a Wednesday afternoon in Los Albares, a Spanish primary school located in a 6000 inhabitants village near Zaragoza, one of the schools implementing the NEMESIS philosophy into their educational practices. But what does a vegetable garden have to do with social innovation?, you might ask. Everything.
Learning to be active citizens
Usually, when hearing upon innovation we tend to think about technology or entrepreneurship. However, that’s only part of the story. Yes, both technology and entrepreneurship – understood as the ability to make your ideas happen- are important and part of the project. However, this is a project about social innovation, and that little word changes everything.
when we talk social innovation education, we’re talking cooperation and collaboration
Social innovation refers to new ideas (products, services or models) that simultaneously meet social needs more effectively than other alternatives, while creating new social relationships or collaborations. It’s that impact on existing relationship, that potential to change attitudes and behaviours, that we want to bring into education.
So, when we talk social innovation education, we’re talking cooperation and collaboration. Our emphasis is placed primary on the process: it’s not about creating new companies (although we’d be happy if the students do so) but about changing the current relationships between members of the community and make students aware of their own capacity of transforming their surroundings.
When we talk about social innovation education, we’re talking about learning the competencies and skills that will allow students to effect change no matter their professional pathways; skills that will help them to become active citizens, identify areas of improvement, foster relationships and collaborations, and allow them to mobilise resources to take action.
Engaging with the community
The vegetable garden we were describing before (which happens to be part of a broader, children-led project) is actually helping the school to create better relationships among parents, teachers or students while providing them with confidence and skills. As one of the parents from Los Albares told us: “these students don’t see asking for help as a negative or ‘weak’ trait, but as normal step into the consecution of an ending; and we’re also giving help in non judgemental and more generous way”.
the vegetable garden in helping the school to create better relationships among parents, teachers, students and exteral actors from the neighbourhood
Moreover, the project’s impact is actually transpassing the school walls and fostering relationships with external actors such as the Town Hall, nearby companies and entrepreneurs, and neighbours. The result? “We feel the school is full of life, full of future”, says Ana Echevarría, head teacher at Los Albares.
Do you want to learnt about other schools projects in NEMESIS? Click here.
Are you a school willing to learn more about NEMESIS or thinking about joining the project? Feel free to surf the web and drop us a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) or fill our contact form.
Are you a social innovator who – as those mentioned here- would like to collaborate with the schools in your area? Click here for more info on how to become a mentor.