Albania hosts Regional Labour Market Monitoring Conference

IMG_3303The famous clock tower in Tirana ticks away on our conference on the relevance of regional labour market monitoring for more effective policy-making. The conference is drawing not only on the important research results of the European Network on Regional Labour Market Monitoring (EN RLMM), but also on GIZ’s work in developing and emerging countries. The aim is to create a platform for both groups to explore how research findings can be transferred to countries outside of the EU. Albania is an excellent choice to host – the results of migratory brain-drain, combined with strong economic growth, mean that national employment policy urgently needs to obtain and act on strong labour market information: where are which skills required and how can national and regional policy-makers support skills development and effective matching of supply and demand.

This is an amazing space for participants from EU, South East Europe, Central Asia and Northern Africa to understand their different situations and explore how experiences can be built on and used in different contexts.

Kick off citizens’ dialogue in the Parlament of the German speaking community of Belgium.

24 citizens, randomly selected by a university, will start their dialogue in Eupen today to develop policy recommendations on childcare. Their discussions will take 3 Saturdays and end  with a dialogue with the Parlament in which they present and discuss future possibilities. Next time they meet, they will confront a selection of experts that they will choose themselves today. Instead of being “force fed” by expertise, the process creates a pull from the questions and gaps identified by the citizens themselves. Over 30 potential experts have already been asked to block the date, but whether they are asked to attend or not depends on the citizens.

President Mieser hopes to install a New Democratic dialogue here in East Belgium. The parliament is committed to learning from the process and plans to hold similar dialogues with citizens on other hot topics in the future.

I am proud to be designing and supporting the process and meeting the citizens in just under an hour!

International Germany Forum – Huge interest in the changing stigmatisation surrounding mental health

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Bildnachweis: Foto: Bundesregierung/ Sandra Steins

These are the notes I took during the forum on Mental Health at the 2017 International Germany Forum (IDF) and hopefully show how exciting the near future could be for society’s understanding and treatment of mental disease:

  • Mental health stigma affects all of society:
    • people living with/suffering from mental health illnesses, thus making it more unlikely that they seek help early.
    • Families, friends, colleagues and public life as a whole, thus making mental health a “non-issue” and stopping people understanding what they have and how (effectively) it can be treated.
    • Healthcare and medical institutions – lack of understanding of the implications of mental health on physical health and vice-versa. Prejudice and maltreatment of people with mental illnesses when they need physical help.
  • What’s behind the stigma? What has caused it and is contributing to keeping it upheld? (Mirai Chatterjee: “People just don’t know how to approach mental health”)
    • Guilt – e.g. Mentally ill people and/or their parents and family: “what have I done wrong to have caused this to happen”
    • Fear of treatment – e.g. Exorcism, painful and/or humiliating experience
    • Lack of knowledge or the “normality” of mental illnesses: is it an illness? Are you dangerous? Is it contagious? Is there a treatment? Am I a lost cause? Will I waste my doctor’s time by seeking treatment?
    • Fear of exclusion and loss of legal rights after “coming out”: will I ever be able to drop the label? No understanding of the continuum of the diagnosis and the fact that it can end!
    • Lack of access to a group: I’m on my own.
  • We need to differentiate in our approach to mental health and mental illness:
    • Different mental disorders (from schizophrenia to depression, etc.)
    • Mental disorders (treatment) and mental health (prevention)
  • We need to learn from others on how to destigmatise mental health. E.g. HIV/AIDS, homosexuality
  • Main levers for destigmatisation: 1) Talk, talk, talk (famous people and normal people – multichannel – use social media to generate broad groups of people!), 2) showcase successful treatment! The more people are seen to be successfully treated and “well”, the less taboo, 3) involve people living with mental disorders in issues (relevant for them)
  • Main action for experts and specialists: connect the dots (there’s already a wealth of things going on, but no roof, so that the effect is reduced)
  • What should we be doing NOW?
    • International action: Germany is called on to take on a leading role in merging the agendas (Agenda 2030, G20, etc.). Create a movement – bottom up and top-down. Mental health is one of the prerequisites for all people to be productive citizens and combat the tasks on the agenda 2030.
    • National action: e.g. Germany needs a National Mental Health Action Plan to connect the dots, increase access, develop technology and treatment and destigmatise.


Further step to go really global: social enterprise’s international leader summit

How to be more than the sum of the individual parts and create “additionality”? This is a relevant question for many of my clients operating at decentral offices, often globally, with a mother base. And it was the question that emerged during this year’s international leader summit for a leading social enterprise that I was happy to moderate (pro bono) this week. The decentral leaders and organisations in the company (running as a franchise) will be able to look forward as from today to more standardised processes to support them set up a sustainable financial model in their local context. There will be a stronger global brand with global marketing and staffing (recruitment and rotation) offers for the local business owners to take on board. The goal is to retain flexibility and remain sensitive to local markets, but use the global knowledge and data structure to understand much better how markets work and refrain from reinventing the wheel.

An important discussion showed the importance of sustainable finances for every social business, regardless of their for-profit or not-for-profit status: without the cash to pay the monthly costs to operate, there’s no operation and no social impact. Even though the goal of the organisation is not to generate profits, if it’s not making enough money, it won’t be able to grow its impact. There is a strong business case for having a strong business case as a social enterprise!

It’s always fascinating to see how similar the challenges and issues are facing social and conventional businesses. But it’s really rewarding to work with people who are investing everything to change the world for the better!


YouMatch – improving labour markets for youth

I am currently in the middle of a two week assignment to support experts from subsaharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa and Europe to exchange ideas and experience in getting youth into meaningful employment and income. The challenges are similar across the regions – in addition to the need to create employment opportunities (or encourage self-employment) – prejudice, lack of soft-skills, insufficient platforms for meeting and matching and providing youth with orientation are rife. Employers are complaining that they don’t have the applicants for job vacancies. Youth are stagnating in underemployment or by simply being in the wrong job for them. Economies are slowing and braindrain is hurting attempts to develop sectors such as IT.

German international development cooperation is networking experts from the three regions to get things moving and stimulate ideas, money and collaboration opportunities.

The willingness to embrace change and work together across sectors and countries is promising. As is the interest in investing in process consultation to ensure that the working groups retain their motivation and energy to collaborate after the workshops here in Berlin have ended.

Thanks to Darius Walker for supporting the workshops and making the participants feel welcome and oriented. Here’s a non-official shot of the subsaharan delegation. The photographer wanted a bit of action! (Photo thanks to GIZ)


Feedback – effective, but what a difficult thing to do!

On 1st May, our daughter had an horrific accident at an indoor playground that resulted in emergency surgery on her head, only just saving her life. It took us 4 weeks to confront the responsible people and I’m glad we waited that long. Our initial reaction after the accident was anger: I wanted to sue the place and get it closed down. The fury made me sick. After 4 weeks and total recovery of our daughter, the anger had abated and (mostly) left, leaving in its place an urgent wish for “closure” (as one calls it nowadays). My husband and I drove out to the nice looking play centre with that one goal: to leave it all behind us and forgive. There were 3 hurdles though, preventing us from doing that:

  1. We had put our trust in a professional institution that avoids unnecessary risk (she was at a children’s party and we weren’t there) : how could it have happened?
  2. The responsible people at the centre hadn’t called the emergency services and our daughter was operated on only just in time (after we’d heard her strange crying on the phone and demanded they do so): why didn’t they call them immediately?
  3. No one from the centre had called to ask how our daughter was doing (having watched her leave in an ambulance): don’t they care?

There was obviously only one solution: dialogue with the people responsible based on feedback and avoiding attack (which produces counter-attack and creates a situation of war). Oh yes, because I knew if it didn’t work and I felt understood and acknowledged with each of my 3 hurdles, I would go to war. And I wanted to avoid that if at all possible (knowing how impossible it is to really win).

We arrived and had a look round – an intimate, clean and friendly place. And then I calmly asked the lady who was older than 25 if she were the manager and introduced us as the parents of the little girl who’d had the accident, asking if we could have a talk. She was alert and gracious and immediately invited us to a quiet table, somehow signalling to one of her colleagues to bring us a coffee. I asked her if we could give her feedback on what happened, because it was stopping us from getting over the situation. She agreed, was very focussed and listened. That was already 80 % goal reached, I think. I’m not sure how we managed to stick to the feedback rules of speaking from one’s own perspective, mixing positive and negative perceptions and voicing one’s wishes for how we would have liked it. I’m not sure how we managed to completely avoid judging her. I suppose it’s because we knew we wanted to shake hands at the end of the discussion, rather than “We’ll see you in court” or something equally melodramatic (my husband’s a lawyer).

After about 45 minutes we thanked her quietly and shook hands. She was truly sorry and shocked by what had happened and thanked us for opening her eyes. She invited our daughter to come and have a free play, which we’ll do one day.

It was over and we could get on with our lives in forgiveness.

I was so grateful to her for her ability to take on our feedback and even formulate clear learnings for the future, and I was grateful and proud of our ability to give feedback – rational, emotional and fair. I have practised giving and receiving feedback for 22 years – it’s part of my job. It’s not easy and I’m often hopeless at it in a private context, but this encounter proved to me above all others how effective and wonderful it is.

A few of my clients are currently working on improving feedback in their teams and everyday working situation. Why? Because it’s a safe way of moving onwards, learning, improving, dealing with mistakes and staying happy and sane! Confrontation, attack and judgement destroys people – whether in their private lives or at work. If we’re obsessed about being right, we may “win” our point, but still lose, because trust is destroyed along with the opponent’s lost face. Feedback can make everyone a winner – it allows us to see the world through a different perspective and decide for ourselves if we want to change our viewpoint.

We don’t know for sure whether the play centre has changed any of their practices to reduce the risk of other children hurting themselves, but I believe they have.  Because the feedback session with the owner enabled her to see ways of doing so that allowed her keep face and be in charge.