An additional point of discussion is the provision of individual incentives to the participants. Almost half of the projects we analysed channel material incentives to participants of approximately 30 Euros per day. This small incentive contributes significantly to sustained attendance and to the success of programmes, as noted by the organisers of these activities. Other programmes support employers for each young person they employ during the program, and this is a factor that contributes to the success of projects that adopt this approach as part of their engagement strategy.
4.4. Bottom-Up vs. Top-Down
This dimension focuses on the organisation of the intervention, whereby stakeholders are incorporated into the action. It also takes the sources of finance into account. Some interventions are organised and conducted by a single actor, and others incorporate other societal actors. Similarly, some interventions are financed by a single agency, and some others mobilise the financial sources of other actors [27
]. This dimension is critical, as it has a demonstrable impact on the social innovation process in communities. According to Butkeviciene [28
], the “bottom-up” and “down-up” approaches in social innovation seem to be more successful than “top-down” initiatives [28
]. In terms of social innovation, the bottom-up approaches are more effective as they consider local problems and incorporate local stakeholders.
On the other hand, top-down approaches may be more focused and well-structured, but they will have difficulties mobilising local resources. We analysed these documents by asking two questions: which organisations are involved in the action and which institutions are financing them? Our analyses show that the state is the key actor in these projects. A total of forty-four out of fifty one projects include a state agency as the key actor. The public employment services (PES), ministries of labour or social services, ministries of education, and ministries of economics are among these state institutions. Two different factors may explain the dominant role of the state as the organiser of these activities. First of all, the Youth Guarantee Programme is an international body; it functions as a tool to be employed by government agencies. Secondly, the problem of NEETs is observed as a macro problem to be solved using macro interventions. As previously mentioned, the relatively lower number of regional projects is another indicator of this top-down approach.
Meanwhile, the role of the local governments presents a clue about the potential of local dynamics. Local governments are partners in nine projects, and they are the key actors in three. The “Trecone” project in Belgium; Spain’s “Youth Guarantee Communication Plan through promoters”, a project conducting information activities in Catalonia; and “Technical round-tables for coordination of the Youth Guarantee at Municipal level in the Region of Murcia” are projects coordinated by local governments. There is a conjunction between the regional focus and bottom-up approaches.
Civil society organisations (non-governmental organisations) are also active actors of these projects, and, in three of them, they acted as the main organiser. The “PULSA Employment” project in Spain is coordinated by Red Cross Spain and aims to empower youths across the country. The Open Youth Centre “Gates” in Lithuania has been operated by Actio Catholica Patria, a Lithuanian civil society organisation, and it provides services to young people visiting its centres. In other projects, civil society organisations have a supportive role. Our analyses show that the role of the private sector is also limited. Out of 51 projects, the private sector has a role in 6 projects, and it is the coordinator only in 1of them. An example of one of these projects is the “Talent Match” programme in the UK that has been organised with the support of the Big Lottery Fund and led by voluntary or community-led organisations. The involvement of the private sector has occurred via the incorporation of the umbrella organisations, such as the Chambers of Commerce and/or Industry, or they have been the beneficiaries of the project via subsidies provided for their employment. In a small number of projects, they are directly included in the decision-making process. From that perspective, we can conclude that the private sector has been observed to address the problem by providing employment. However, they are excluded from being an active actor in the decision-making process.
Similarly, the labour unions also had a limited role (5 projects), and they did not have any direct projects. A good example is the “Lifelong Career Guidance Centres—CISOK” in Croatia. The PES in Croatia operates these centres, and the labour unions are listed among the partners, without having any direct responsibility in the operation of these centres. Another example of this kind of division of labour was noted in the “Alliance for Initial and Further Training” project in Germany, in which labour unions are listed among the stakeholders without having any active role in the project.
The second sub-dimension we attempted to categorise is the financial structure of the projects. The majority of the projects were financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) programme and the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI). In contrast, the local government contributed a small portion of the budget, changing between 8% to 15%. For example, 89% of the budget for “The First Challenge” in Slovenia (20.7 million Euros); 90% of the budget for “Through Work Experience to Employment” in Slovakia (31 million Euros); and 90% of the budget for “Second Chance Vocational Education Programs” in Lithuania (32 million Euros) have been financed by these two programmes. Meanwhile, Erasmus+ also financed some of these projects; for example, “Baltic Alliance for Apprenticeships” in the Baltic states and the “Young Adults Skills Programme” in Finland are two examples of that kind of contribution. Moreover, the contribution of the Erasmus+ programme is a meagre 200,000 Euros (out of 187 million Euros). These figures show that EU finance is essential for these projects.
It was also evident that the national governments channeled significant amounts of money to deal with this problem. For example, the Federal Employment Agency of Germany finances 50% of its “Career Entry Support by Mentoring” project (1 billion Euros) and the ESF has financed the rest. The French government channeled more than 120 million Euros to its “Guarantee for Youth” project (the total budget was 229 million Euros). In a small number of projects, the national budget was the only source of finance. “The Delegation for the Employment” in Sweden (15 million Euros), “Building Bridge to Education” (21 million Euros), and “Job Bridge to Education” in Denmark (17 million Euros) are examples of projects directly financed by the national budget. The private sectors’ contribution remains limited. In the case of the “Talent Match” project in the UK, the budget of 121 million Euros has been covered by the private sector. The private sector’s contribution remained extremely limited in the the “MolenGeek” Tech Ecosystem in Belgium (200,000 Euros). Similarly, other stakeholders’ contributions seem to be covering a minimal amount of money spent to solve this problem. Significantly, local governments, civil society organisations, labour unions, and other stakeholders have limited contributions to the projects. These figures show that the EU initiatives, the ESF, and the YEI are the most important initiators of interventions we analysed. The contribution from the national governments seems to be dependent on the fiscal capacity of the receiving countries. Germany, France, and Finland can channel a significant amount of funds, whereas the contribution of other member countries is limited. Meanwhile, it is possible to state that the private sector and other stakeholders have a very passive role in financing these projects. Considering all these facts, we can suggest that the top-down approach is the dominant method.
4.5. Social Inclusiveness
Social inclusion describes the participation of affected people in the process of intervention. In modern society, particularly disadvantaged people can enhance their opportunities, access resources, voice their needs, and gain respect for their rights through participation. According to Rogers [20
], actors of successful social innovation must be from diverse social systems. In such systems, there is a greater openness and willingness to adopt new ideas [20
]. Actors with quite different backgrounds, know-how, and interests have a greater potential to develop a successful social innovation than a network consisting of actors with similar experience and know-how. If an intervention explicitly states one or more vulnerable groups among its target groups, it will be considered suitable for classification as socially inclusive. The last dimension we used to categorise these documents was social inclusiveness. We defined social inclusiveness as openness, as presented in the Figure 3
Most NEET or youth projects and programmes aim to enhance the capacities for the job market. The analysed projects themselves are non-profit organisations or projects. They operate on a social dimension (common good) to make youths or NEETs employable. Being employable does not necessarily translate to the inclusion of the person in the society, nor does it suggest that the person can contribute through innovation to the society. Isolated people (geographically, education-wise, societally, or technologically) experience difficulties on various levels and areas of life, whereas social inclusion may, through contacts and relationships, ease the difficulties with support from the society on many levels. This can enable the person to be innovative regarding the pressing topics of the society (social, ecological, and technological innovation), which may also translate in the fruitful elaboration of projects, ideas, and business (e.g., for the youth entrepreneurship programmes). The inclusion or exclusion of persons is very much affected by the density of the population; the diversity of people in the society; and the encounters with different ideas, manners, and ways of doing things. People in rural areas may be less exposed to skills, solutions, and ideas, enabling them to be innovative in their surroundings. Densely populated societies can also live in a micro-world, in which certain disadvantaged people are not exposed to opportunities for innovation (e.g., migrant children, with weaker (local) language skills) and are, therefore, socially excluded.
The subjective perception of a job is often associated with social integration, but also with life satisfaction, the access to economic resources, and mental health [28
]. Social status and higher self-efficacy are especially associated with employment and career. The negative effects of being unemployed are increasing with the duration of unemployment, as well as how early in life they occur, whereas having a partner and being highly educated reduces the negative effects. While we know that our current society cannot find employment for every single member, for the sake of resilience and wellbeing, we need to address the attached meanings to employment and find adequate solutions to those needs, too. This necessity is often neglected by the education and youth programmes. Analysing these potential dimensions of social exclusion is an important topic for future research. Less educated individuals suffer more from unemployment, which accounts for the cases of youth unemployment. Programmes that positively influence the perceived social status and self-efficacy can, prevent individuals from feeling rejected by society and, thus, avoid the onset of a downward spiral ending in long-term unemployment [29
]. Social innovation actors from different backgrounds, know-how, and interests are potentially more successful in social innovation than actors with similar interests, know-how, background, and talents [20
Consequently, the diversity of actors in areas with less population diversity, such as rural areas, may decrease substantially. Therefore, we conclude:
The integration and empowerment of youths that engage in extracurricular activities can add the necessary diversity to the mainstream educated group of people in rural areas [30
Social inclusion is affected by the manner in which institutions in charge are operating. They can create the necessary “room to manoeuvre”, facilitating the emergence of social innovations [22
Youth work and education work can prepare young people for the engagement with social innovation.
If social innovation actors are open to understanding their target group and engage with their communities, they must also be willing to embracing the characteristics of the people they support.
Transparency is important as it allows new goals and outcomes to be established for the participants, which can evolve in the process and are therefore new for the institution and the participants (innovative).
If they understand the overall goals and challenges (climate, resilience, etc.), scale up, and create new formats to maximise the local potential, this will facilitate social innovation.
When social innovation actors provide full access to services without a restriction on gender, race, and/or geographical placement, this will open access to education and training pathways for all members of society.
The analysed projects provided a “starting package” with information about how to secure a smooth implementation, based on knowledge and experiences from the pilot phase. We assume that they were willing to understand their target group (openness of the institutions) and their decisions were guided with an inner compass of societal challenges. If the document addresses one of the vulnerable groups, we coded it as an inclusive social intervention.
According to our coding, two-thirds of projects do not have a clear definition of their target groups. These projects present their target groups as “young people”, “youth”, “school pupils”, or people younger than 29 years old. For some other projects, target groups are VET providers or other stakeholders. Hence, it is not possible to categorise them as inclusive projects. However, some projects have clearly defined their target groups. For example, the “Production Schools” in Austria includes young people with “special education needs or disabilities”; “Project Learning for Young Adults (PLYA)” in Slovenia targets young people who are socially excluded; Sweden’s “The Delegation for the Employment of Young People and Newly Arrived Migrants” aims to integrate newly arrived migrants; and “Alliance for Initial and Further Training” in Germany include migrants, young persons with disabilities, and disadvantaged young people in their target groups. Some other projects included favorable conditions for disadvantaged groups. Our analysis shows that social inclusiveness is not a common practice among the projects we analysed.
We indicated the numbers of interventions to visualise the scope of the proposals. Social innovation includes the development of new ideas and ways of working that offer better solutions to social problems and challenges than previous methods, leading to the more efficient functioning of society and the community. Social innovation offers solutions to social problems by developing innovative and better-functioning solutions. These can also be in the form of services. Given that our focus is on vulnerable young people, based on the descriptions of the interventions, factors can be identified that can help to reach and support the respective target group. According to our analyses (51 interventions), the involvement of young people with fewer opportunities is mentioned in the general plan in less than half of the interventions and it is less predictable through various explanations. Based on the interventions, it can be pointed out that although most of the interventions are universal and aimed at a wider target group, the description highlights the need to approach and offer more specific approaches to vulnerable target groups and to reach them. Half interventions repeatedly point out the understanding that the target group is not heterogeneous and, for this reason, there is a need for an individual, cross-sectoral, and youth-based approach (tailor-made method).
Poland’s intervention (Equal Labor Market) experience points out that individual support was needed for different age groups of the NEET target group and that one strategy is not effective for all young people as they are at different stages of their lives. The UK’s intervention (Talent Match) experience revelas that the development of young people who have lived chaotic lives and experienced trauma is not linear; it is important to work with them flexibly and for as long as necessary, without postponing meetings or having setbacks. It is important to point out that in a similar case there must be no time limits, otherwise support for a young person cannot be provided. In order to ensure an individual approach, factors such as the availability of the service (e.g., electronic registration; the proximity to home; local level; a lack of preconditions for participation; and additional incentives to maintain motivation, in addition to support and ensuring mobility) are also highlighted. Denmark’s intervention (Building Bridge to Education) experience describes how an individual and tailor-made approach also supports young people’s motivation and increases the likelihood of sustained education or training. Holistic views and strategic partnerships are the most mentioned key factors (23 interventions). In the Latvian interventions (KNOW and DO), it was highlighted that the establishment and strengthening of local strategic partnerships was key to ensuring that the strengths of local partners were fully utilised to reach and support the target group. This also included the development of a national information strategy and a common methodology for actions targeting young people at the national level, to ensure a common and shared approach between partners.
Furthermore, some interventions raised the participation of young people in the creation of the service as an important issue, and the commitment to the experience of the participants was more important than focusing on the achievement of the goals. Secondly, a specialist working with a young person was identified as an important party, whose knowledge and competence either created or limited opportunities for young people or networking practices. In the Slovenian (Project Learning for Young Adults (PLYA)) intervention emphasised that an inclusive partnership approach was important from this perspective, in which all major stakeholders (including participants themselves, as well as parents, support services/organisations, social partners, and schools) must be involved in designing and implementing career plans and accompanying solutions together. Luxembourg’s (National School for Adults (ENAD)) intervention suggested that common cooperation and mutual support among learners not only develops a positive work environment, but also enables learners to develop teamwork skills. Slovenia’s (Project Learning for Young Adults (PLYA)) intervention highlighted that more emphasis needed to be placed on soft skills, which increase the learner’s self-confidence, self-control, and the communication skills that benefit people throughout life, in both relationships and in the wider community. In the Lithuanian (Open Youth Center “Gates”) interventions, it was pointed out that to involve and support more youth, we must be able to provide the services they consider necessary for young people, not just following the priorities formulated by policymakers. The opportunity for workers and young people to experiment with new methods, tools, activities, and services, and the freedom to learn through experience is very important. Spain (PULSA Employment) also highlighted an innovative methodological approach whereby young people’s skills are assessed through informal activities outside the classroom (e.g., theater workshops, group games, and robotics).
Based on the descriptions of the interventions, it can be pointed out that although the services are aimed at everyone, there is a need for greater cooperation between different actors, in order to create more specific services based on the needs of young people. Most of the interventions are related to the European Commission’s recommendation to create quick support opportunities for young people on the basis of existing systems, but, at present, there is an opportunity to create new opportunities based on lessons already learned on the principle of social innovation. Given that social innovation represents new ideas and the way new solutions work, the interventions analysed offer better solutions to the social problems and challenges we face, making NEETs more effective for young people, society, and the community.