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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Thursday 11 April 2013

Chelsea Foyer Anniversary speech

A rough transcript of my keynote address at the Good Shepherd's Foyer 10th Anniversary event in New York, hosted by BNY Mellon, Thursday April 11th (I don't use scripts for my speeches, so it's not word-for-word accurate but represents the main content)

When I arrived at the airport yesterday, customs couldn't understand why I was coming all this way just to speak at an event celebrating the 10th Anniversary of a project working with young people. But that's how much we value the work that you and your partners have done in developing the Chelsea Foyer. I am very happy to be here to share in your celebration.

I am going to introduce two hashtags as part of today's discussion on #housing4youth. They are #advantagedthinking and #opentalent. They form part of a revolutionary approach we at the Foyer Federation would like to share with you.

Let's start with a 'tale of two cities' to make a connection between New York and somewhere in the UK - called Liverpool. New York and Liverpool have over history shared many journeys across the atlantic. But there are two amazing facts that link them together now. The first is Central Park. Central park is one of the most famous and beautiful parks in the world. Its design though was based on a park in a place called Birkenhead in Merseyside on the edge of liverpool. Just like you have taken a good idea from Birkenhead and made it even better through Central Park, so the Chelsea foyer has taken the foyer approach and made it your own here in New York. There's more. Birkenhead is not just the origin for Central Park, it has its own foyer, run by the excellent Forum Housing Association, which is also celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. So there is a special link between you, the significance of which I will return to later.

2013 is a great year to be celebrating your 10th anniversary. Far from being worn out or outdated, the Foyer 'approach' continues to innovate exciting breakthroughs. This month has seen the launch of a new initiative called Popup Talent, redesigning the jobcentre and work programme into a youth-led 'popup' model where young people can access inspiration, develop skills, and showcase their talents to employers to take work as well as create their own enterprises. Because when we talk about #housing4youth, we need to talk about creating opportunities for employment. Next month sees the launch by our partner the Mayday Trust of the world's first Learning Ability foyer - a project applying the foyer approach to work with young people experiencing learning disabilities. Because when we talk about #housing4youth, we need to talk about using what works to help those young adults who are most poorly served by current provision. Three weeks from now sees the opening of another foyer in Melbourne, Australia - what will be the first Foyer ever set up applying some of the new #advantagedthinking and #opentalent principles I will introduce today. Because when we talk about #housing4youth, we need to be talking about doing things differently.

2013 is an important year for Foyers. More than ever, the transition of young people into adulthood remains complex and challenging. The stakes are high, the signs ahead confusing. Today in America there are 6.7 million young people aged 16-24 struggling to make the transition, in need of services such as the Chelsea foyer. In three years time, our failure to enable more young people to develop a positive route into adulthood will become all the more symbolic. 2016 is the year that those young people born in the first year of the 21st century will begin, at the age of 16, to need the services we provide. In 2016, we will see that the 21st century has not brought about a breakthrough in how we equip our young people to become positive adults. Why is that?

I'd like to suggest that our society has created an entrenched dichotomy between advantage and disadvantage. On the one hand, cities like New York and Liverpool are capable of creating abundant sources of wealth, developing incredible achievements in the arts, science, business and technology. But on the other hand, they establish services called 'disadvantage education centres', and continue to fail large numbers of young people. Why can't we learn to apply the approaches that develop advantages, to address the challenges where we create disadvantage?

We can see the same dichotomy if we look again at 2016 when the next Olympics will be held. At the London Olympics, the country that topped the medal winning table was America; the the highest winning country from the EU was great Britain. You would expect that countries who know how to develop talented athletes also know how to develop the talents of all their young people. But you would be wrong. America, the country that won most gold medals, is also the country with one of the highest numbers of young people in the criminal justice system in the world. Great Britain, the country that was fourth in the medal table, is the bottom of the table in Europe for the wellbeing of its children.

The reason for the dichotomy is because we are applying two different approaches. America and Great Britain's success at the Olympics was due to 3 key ingredients: access to high quality coaching; access to flexible, personalised investments and resources; and access to a community with high aspirations for success. The young people in America's criminal justice system, and at the bottom of the league for wellbeing in great Britain, don't have access to either of those things. One approach is about how people can develop the assets and advantages they need to thrive; the other approach is about how people can survive and cope with their deficits and disadvantages. We call the latter 'disadvantaged thinking'.

Disadvantaged thinking is what happens when you see people only interms of their needs and problems, when you create services that seek to solve a perceived deficit rather than than address the individual. Disadvantaged thinking applies disadvantaged fixes to help disadvantaged people cope. It doesn't work. It isn't in the business of looking for solutions that create sustainable advantages. That's why we need to stop talking about our young people in negative stereotypes which promote them as disadvantaged. I have never seen a homeless person in my life; I have only seen people experiencing homelessness. There is an important difference between the two; between the stereotype and the person beneath it. Because when we talk about #housing4youth we need to talk not in terms of disadvantaged safety nets, but about advantage building trampolines and ladders that enable people to thrive.

In the UK we have been experimenting with offering young people such advantaged thinking programmes. Giving them access to the three ingredients of coaching, flexible investments, and communities with high aspirations. Working with employers, such as Virgin Trains, Toyota and Ford, to provide contexts where young people can build their confidence and thrive. The programmes are not only successful, they are also more cost effective in applying smaller, more targeted investment to develop assets.

The argument boils down to a choice: we can either continue to present young people as disadvanged youth to fund their deficits; or we can see young people as 'opportunity youth' and look to invest in the assets they need to develop to become thriving members of our society. And let's be clear, we can't afford to choose the first option anymore. Not just morally, but economically. In America, the 6.7 million young people struggling to make a positive transition will cost almost $14,000 dollars a year between the ages of 16-24. If the same number remain as disadvantaged youth, they will cost the American tax payer a staggering 4.75 trillion dollars over the course of their lifetime. We need to make a breakthrough.

That's why, in the UK, we have introduced a concept called Open Talent - to help make the shift from disadvantaged to advantaged thinking. Open Talent has a simple but powerful idea: that every young person has a talent, and that it's our job to work with young people to help them harness that talent for personal and social good . It offers five domains of inquiry, which effectively question how #housing4youth can be developed.

First, Open Talent PLACES. Places where young people can go to be inspired, to feel safe as part of an empowering community, and to begin a conversation on how they can achieve their dreams. Where are those places in New York? When we talk about #housing4youth, we need to talk about places that can grow young people's talents.
Second, Open Talent PEOPLE. People - professionals, mentors, peers - who can coach, enable, and connect young people, not just support them. Where are those people in New York? When we talk about #housing4youth, we need to talk about how the people within them will develop young people's talents.
Third, Open Talent OPPORTUNITIES. Opportunities where young people can identify what they are good at, nurture their potential, and promote their ability to employers. Where are those opportunities in New York? When we talk about #housing4youth, we need to talk about the opportunities available through them for young people to build their talents.
Fourth, Open Talent DEAL. A deal where young people can access the investment required for them to take the risk to break out of coping behaviour and commit to build a more sustainable livelihood. Even the hotel I'm staying at understands the idea of offering a deal - I have a booklet on my bedside called 'here's the deal'. Where is the deal for young people in New York? When we talk about #housing4youth, we need to talk about the deal that can be offered to make a positive investment in young people's talents.
And fifth, Open Talent campaign. A campaign to challenge the stereotypes and myths that young people can only be supported to cope with their disadvantages through deficit-based approaches. A campaign to show that young people can and must develop the talents to thrive in life. Where is that positive campaign for young people in New York? When we talk about #housing4youth, we need to talk about the campaign for that housing to provide a springboard for young people's futures and not just a safety net for their problems.

These five elements constitute a revolution. A Talents revolution. When I was flying over from London, I noticed that my in-flight entertainment was full of films about revolutions: the French Revolution (Les Miserables); the Iranian Revolution (Argot); the political and social revolution that led to the abolishment of the slave trade in America (Lincoln). The proliferation of films about revolutions in Hollywood perhaps tells us something about the uncertain nature of the times we are living in. Part of our revolution is about establishing a more positive paradigm. One where the DNA of how we think about and work with young people is based on a positive belief in their talents. It's about challenging the aspirations we hold for each young person; challenging the aspirations our services instill in young people; and challenging the aspirations of policy and decision makers in society for the type of outcomes they expect and invest in for young people.

I will leave you with three signposts to help you approach this revolution. Beginning with Thomas Paine, an important influence behind the American revolution. Paine was part of a group of thinkers who believed that everyone was entitled to the advantages they were born with - namely the fruits of one's labour and the land that we are born on. If Paine was alive today, he would add another advantage; that the rights of human include being seen as a person who has talent. Talent is not the preserve of celebrity or priviledge. Everybody has a talent. Once we understand that, we can better argue for the need to invest in young people as opportunity youth, so that they and we can harness their talent in society. How to make that investment can be understood by turning to the work of one of the world's leading thinkers, the American Martin Seligman. Seligman's brilliant 'Flourish' clearly outlines the difference between interventions that focus on helping to people to cope, and those that build the resilience and wellbeing for people to thrive. Seligman's work offers an evidence and practice base to invest in the talents to thrive. His approaches are widely used in the world of business, in education and other sectors. Why aren't we using them? My final signpost, New York, can help. The city might have changed alot over the last decades, but it retains two constant characteristics; it's sense of dynamic energy and it's pioneering innovation. We must draw on that energy and innovation, and inspire ourselves to create #housing4youth that looks beyond the status quo to the principles and approaches of people such as Paine and Seligman.

In celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Foyer in Birkenhead, like you, is not just looking back at its past, it's also looking to its future. The Foyer will be one of the first services this year to achieve our new accreditation for organisations who are applying Advantaged Thinking, Open Talent solutions. I'd like to think that, in the same spirit you developed central park and the Foyer here in New York, you'll also want to take Open Talent and make it your own, so you can join us in turning the end of youth homelessness into the beginning of youth talent.

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