Each of the the eight groups had whiteboards , and plenty of paper to write on. Photo: Owe Ivarsson.
Speed dating at EU level
Find the right partner at the first date – can it really work? Yes, just let go of the rail and come out to play. That was more or less the message sent out to 120 people who were involved in 80 projects from a number of countries in Europe.
Åsa Lindh, the Swedish ESF Council Director-General, welcomed everybody to a partner search at the transnational level – based on a Polish model.
The National Supporting Institution in Poland has previously had three similar meetings in Warsaw, with successful results. They have also helped the ESF project Inclusive Europe, run by Arbetsmiljöforum (The Occupational Safety and Health Forum), to arrange Sweden's first large speed date for EU projects. With an emphasis on finding partnerships in the Baltic Sea region.
On a sunny Wednesday morning in Stockholm, Sweden, on 12 October, the people who were eager to meet went to their specified places at the round tables. Each of the people in the eight groups had whiteboards with them, and plenty of paper to write on. What was about to happen here?
After listening to a number of speakers about the different countries' project rules and even some good advice, a slightly impatient mood developed in the room. Those eager to date, wanted to get started.
Wants to run at least 100 transnational projects
This was where Antonio Georgopalis ESF in Flanders, Belgium sat, with the objective of running at least 100 (!) transnational projects. And this is where the social worker Živilė Baronienė from Lithuania sat, with a small budget and great expectations. And a few others. Would they find each other?
But it is very similar to life in general: a few "interesting" lines round a table is not enough. Not if we want to improve the odds for a serious relationship and partnership.
Those who wanted to be involved, first had to submit a properly completed form with answers to everything from the reason for their project activities to a description of their budget. After that, Inclusive Europe went through the details and chose those that were most appropriate.
At each table, there was at two facilitators, group leaders, that kept things in order and ensured that everyone contributed. The participants with similar target groups and activities were placed in the same group. Preferably, with as many nationalities as possible around the table.
Steal good ideas!
First of all, the participants presented themselves and they were then given the opportunity to present more information. The paper on the large flipchart was filled with columns about the participants' projects: target group, purpose, structure and budget, with transnational resource aspects.
Each project presented was given a code – consisting of the table group number and the participant's number which was on the documents that were handed out. Everything was designed to facilitate the matching process between the tables.
Lina Nilsson from Inclusive Europe encourages the participants to "steal good ideas".
What can you get out of being involved in a transnational project, except perhaps to undertake exciting trips abroad and attend conferences? Making studies and developing methods together, that can push developments forward. Improving conditions for vulnerable groups in society, as well as providing more employment opportunities. Learning from each other.
"If you want to make a difference, you need to be able to show results."
This was emphasised by Bengt Landfeldt at the International Programme Office who also gave the thumbs down to the sweeping visions. And to top-down projects, which do not allow participant involvement in designing the content from the beginning.
More transnational elements
In the second half, Matina Chasta from the project Boost by FC Rosengård spoke about her expectations for the day.
"I want to see how transnational cooperation could work, it is the first time that I have participated in something like this. And we need to find partnerships with similar projects, it was a requirement when we applied."
A year and a half ago, only 10-15 per cent of the Swedish ESF projects had cross-border elements. Today the figure is 30 per cent as a result of the requirements strategy from the ESF Council.
Boost by FC Rosengård helps young people who are out of work, provides them with individual coaching and an overall approach — everything from diet and exercise, to entrepreneurial courses and contacts with employers. They now have 300 participants and are aiming at a figure of around 1,600.
What can transnational cooperation provide?
"We can exchange ideas with each other by sharing different solutions and experiences. We can provide each other with important information and knowledge. And we could for example produce reports together."
What type of difficulties do you envisage?
"There might be problems with different countries' systems, different ways of dealing with job seekers. And perhaps with different ways of working and thinking, with the many different foreign backgrounds."
Is there a partner here, someone you have your eye on?
"I have not found one yet but I think that they exist in Germany, the Czech Republic or Poland. I must, and I will find someone...!
"I think it is a great idea to get together like this," said Živilė Baronienė from Lithuania.
"I am afraid that they will come to Sweden and they will not want to go home again," you said, laughing, while seated at the table when you told me about your project...
"Yes, I was joking a little."
Is it a problem that skills are leaving Lithuania for a better labour market abroad?
"Yes, it is. In Lithuania, many people are unemployed and there are many who would therefore prefer to leave the country. Who leave their families. Families that are split up and children that grow up in difficult circumstances. In our project, Public Institute of Family Relations, we will be working with young people aged 16 to 24 years and with entire families, including the long-term unemployed and those with drug problems."
"We have psychologists, social workers, access to educational institutions and companies that work together to motivate and help people to work and to compensate for the unintentional disruption of their families," said social worker and project manager Živilė Baronienė.
There were many Swedes sitting at Åsa Tjärnberg's table. She is project manager at the skills department Industriellt Utvecklingscentrum (Industrial Development Centre) in Norrbotten.
"It is interesting to see how others have worked with skills development. I'm working with small to medium sized enterprises in the business community."
How was it to end up among a bunch of Swedes when the objective is to create transnational collaborations?
"Well, good, because I am in touch with projects that have transnational contacts which we can share. I can contact my contacts' contacts; I am satisfied!"
Dan Berggren from Piteå municipality was, however, not as lyrical.
"I ended up in a very scrawny group so I think that we needed at least three or four days in order to deepen the discussion with each other. In order to encourage transnational work, more money from the EU is also needed. No, speed dating is a little too superficial for me."
So how did it go? What happened with the people who were so eager to meet after just over one and a half hours of active speed dating?
As in the school world and other worlds, all possible forms of group dynamics were represented. Some were successful while others got stuck in the actual presentation phase.
Many new transnational collaborations
How did it go for the man from Flanders, who had both ambition and a budget for at least 100 transnational projects?
"Very well, said Antonio Georgopalis and smiled. I have already received five-six projects to work with And then we have just sat at a table, there will clearly be more when we get the opportunity go around the tables in the afternoon."
"All but one have found transnational collaborations," said the group leaders at two of the tables.
"We usually have about a 100% match," said Katarzyna Tyczko from National Supporting Institution in Poland and the day is not yet over.
And in the evening, we are all having dinner together. And the following day the Working Life Partner Search Event, with a thousand mingling people … talk about opportunities for meetings.
Text: Marie Eriksson, +46 (0) 76 212 93 34
Photo: Owe Ivarsson, +46 (0)70 663 75 25