At a time, when education is perceived as the key to success, young people who are socially and economically marginalised and have a long history of bad experiences with the education system can find it difficult to find a place on the job market and establish a successful working life for themselves. The Lab2400 Talents enterprise course (2400 referring to Bispebjerg’s postal code) tries to break with this paradigm and to use business enterprise as an empowerment tool for marginalised youngsters. The course is part of an overall municipal enterprise project focused on the city’s disadvantaged areas. The goal of this overall project is to increase economic performance, namely to ‘promote enterprise, business development and social innovation in areas of the city that are characterised by a lack of businesses, jobs and mixed-function properties’ (Copenhagen Municipality, 2014). However, Lab2400 has more of a social focus, as it is targeted at a younger and less resourceful group for whom starting up a business lies further ahead in the future. The main objective of Lab2400 is thus to increase the social mobility of these youngsters by empowering them and broadening their horizons. Nevertheless, the project manager does express hopes of improving the local business life to some extent. The main strategy of Lab2400 is to make the youngsters aware of the potential of entrepreneurship as an alternative way of making a living where a less conventional way of thinking can be an advantage. As the project manager puts it, the ambition is for these marginalised youngsters to realise that they can actually make good: “Because that’s how the story goes, you know, that an entrepreneur often goes against the odds”. The strategy of the overall enterprise project of Copenhagen Municipality is to combine two sources of untapped resources: Areas of the city that are full of life and people, but lacking in local businesses, and aspiring entrepreneurs local to these areas. The overall project thus aims at facilitating business enterprise in these areas of the city. The Lab2400 course is one way of doing this through aiding the social mobility of the youngsters and sowing the seeds for entrepreneurship.
The overall enterprise project is organised by Copenhagen Business Service in the Copenhagen Municipality and runs from 2012-2015. The project is entirely financed by the Ministry of Housing, Urban and Rural Affairs. Each year activities are set up in three areas defined as disadvantaged by the Copenhagen Municipality. In the spring of 2014 Bispebjerg is one of the chosen areas. The project in Bispebjerg employs two full-time staff members and one assistant. The target audience of the Lab2400 course is unemployed, unskilled, marginalised young people (aged 16-30) from the local area. The main activity is a three-month enterprise course teaching the youngsters how to develop their ideas, work out a business plan and present it to potentially interested parties. A group of local businesses function as a sounding board and chooses the winning business idea at the end of the course. The arrangement is thus public-private.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The focus of Lab2400 is socio-economic diversity, as the target group are socio-economically marginalised youngsters. The approach of the course, however, is to promote and develop the specific competences, personality and interests of each young individual. Hyper-diversity is thus key to the work of Lab2400. Socio-economic situation seems to be merely an entry ticket to the course. The perspective on diversity taken in Lab2400 is, firstly to challenge the ordinary understanding of the road to success and insist on alternative ways, and secondly to promote unconventional thinking as a creative potential that can generate economic performance. The project thus takes a pluralist approach (Syrett & Sepulveda, 2012).
Main factors influencing success or failure
The most important external success factor of the project is political support and with it economic funding. In Copenhagen Municipality, the political focus on improving living conditions in the city’s disadvantaged areas has increased in recent years. Concurrently, entrepreneurship has attracted attention as an economic potential to be developed. This combination thus forms an important external success factor for Lab2400. The main internal success factor of Lab2400 is the combination of a bottom-up approach based on the course participants’ own dreams and interests and actual tools for the youngsters to make a life for themselves. A second internal success factor consists of the freedom that comes with being a new development project where the testing of new and perhaps unconventional ideas is part of the purpose and where mistakes are accepted. Being part of ordinary municipal management would entail that the approach, setup and success criteria of the course were fixed, thus leaving less room for innovation and creativity.
The external failure factors of Lab2400 relates to the cooperation with local actors in Bispebjerg, such as businesses, youth clubs, the cultural centre and the area-based regeneration project. Support from such actors is crucial in order to ensure the local anchoring and continuance of this line of work in Bispebjerg after the municipal project runs out. A number of internal failure factors can be identified. According to the project manager, the most important objective of the project is actually to make a difference for the lives of these youngsters: “It cannot on any account become ‘just another course’ for them”. The main responsibility for avoiding this lies in the hands of the project team and the teachers of the course. Most importantly, they must avoid imposing something on the course participants. Rather, they listen to the participants’ own ideas and let those be the starting point for the course. This can be difficult, the project manager states, because working for the municipality entails working with a lot of agendas and objectives, and it can be difficult to put these aside when they conflict with the ideas of the course participants. A second internal failure factor is the recruitment of the wrong group of course participants are recruited: At previous courses in other areas, more resourceful youngsters (many of them university students) participated, taking away the attention from the more marginalised youngsters. This made the latter feel excluded and they ended up quitting the course. Obviously, this is important to avoid, and as a consequence, recruitment strategies have been adapted for this course (i.e. to hanging out at the local youth clubs). Finally, it might be difficult for Lab2400 to realise the goal of the overall municipal enterprise project of improving the local business life given the target audience of marginalised youngsters and the focus on social mobility in this particular course.
Lab2400 aims at breaking with the paradigm of education as the only way to success and employs business enterprise as an eye opening empowerment tool for marginalised young people in disadvantaged areas of Copenhagen. The goal is to achieve social mobility for the youngsters but potentially also increased economic performance in the future. Using entrepreneurship as an empowerment tool in social work and combining this with a locally anchored, bottom-up approach shows the innovative potential of Lab2400.