“People Need You!” Project Wins Presidential Grant
Last week, the “People Need You!” social project contest developed by ITMO University’s Student Volunteer Center won the Presidential Grant Contest. The project has been conducted for five years already; “People Need You!” is a countrywide full-cycle educational program: the participating teams go all the way from a concept for a social project to its implementation, from finding partners to seeing the first results. As part of the program’s practical and educational modules, participants gain theoretical knowledge and practical skills in implementing socially significant programs and contribute to the level of social assistance in their region. Andrei Zlenko, Director of ITMO’s Center for Social Design and Entrepreneurship, speaks about the project’s history, and what awaits its participants in the future.
From humble beginnings
In March of 2018 the program will celebrate its 5th anniversary. The program aims to provide students with opportunities to implement their volunteering initiatives as real projects conducted in collaboration with nonprofit organizations. At first, “People Need You!” took the form of a contest in which students would develop a project, implement it, and demonstrate their results in the finals. Today, “People Need You!” is a full-fledged educational program that takes place from February to September. The center recruits volunteers from the different regions of Russia and provides both on-site and distance education. As part of the program, its organizers visit the different regions to conduct workshops and lectures on project management in the social sector, and instruct the students on how to create teams, find partners and interact with nonprofit organizations, as well as conduct fundraising activities and implement projects. The educational module lasts two months - from February to March; upon completing it, students form teams (usually consisting of one to ten members) and create projects. To start working on them, the teams study the prominent issues in their regions and develop mechanisms to solve them that they later implement as part of their activities. Staff of ITMO’s Center for Social Design and Entrepreneurship and outside experts help finalize the best projects and filter out those who’ve failed at the educational module.
“It’s important to us that our teams complete the educational module and master its content. The teams that have successfully completed all educational stages and written their projects proceed to the implementation stage where they carry out their projects in collaboration with nonprofit organizations of some kind - foundations, educational establishments and others, which they seek out on their own or with help from the project’s organizers,” explains Andrei Zlenko.
Andrei Zlenko with a participant of the “People Need You!” contest.
The point of partnering up with a nonprofit organization is to gain access to the project’s target group, as well as expert support. The students implement the project and get additional competencies from a list of soft skills; some even get to train their professional competencies. For example, many teams develop projects that have to do with their future professional activities: educators develop programs for children and young people, ITMO students work on computer applications for the social sector.
“Sometimes, students come to us with little knowledge and skills in the field of social entrepreneurship, and by the end of the program their level of competencies improves greatly, and they also acquire new ones. At both the beginning and the end of the program, we conduct testing in an unconventional format. Studying the dynamics of the teams’ and individual participants’ growth is very important to us,” comments the Director of ITMO’s Center for Social Design and Entrepreneurship.
The finals where students present the results of their projects traditionally take place in St. Petersburg. For instance, if it’s an IT project, the team demonstrates a prototype, an analysis of their target audience and feedback from the recipients. After the presentations, the jury selects the best teams.
According to Andrei Zlenko, 35-40% of participants usually make it to the finals and get certificates and useful contacts among nonprofit and student organizations. Also, many teams merge and start working on new projects, becoming independent entities of the social sector (any project or participant can continue getting support and guidance from ITMO’s Center for Social Design and Entrepreneurship).
“People Need You!” award ceremony
“This is not the first time the “People Need You!” project participated in the presidential grant contest, yet this is the first time we won. We probably didn’t have enough experience before. Now, it’s safe to say that we do, that there are incentivized universities and organizations that are ready to collaborate with us. When we applied for the grant, we analyzed the applications of the spring contest, attended all of the events that had to do with getting ready for this one, and communicated with the previous years’ winners. In other words, we took it very seriously,” says Andrei Zlenko.
The purpose of the “People Need You!” project in the context of the presidential grant lies not just in conducting the contest. Over the five years of the project’s existence, the organizers have decided that they want to pass on their experience to other regions and conduct the contest on a regional level, as well. For that, they’ve selected regions where there were representatives of universities who’ve agreed to act as regional representatives of the “People Need You!” project and participate in the program and there’s enough incentivized youth. These regions include the Tomsk Oblast, the Samara Oblast, the Krasnodar Krai, the Republic of Bashkortostan, the Republic of Mordovia and others.
“As part of our grant project, we will launch a year-long program to create regional offices of the contest, assemble their teams and train them.. We aim to create a model that we can replicate and implement in various regions. Over these five years, we’ve faced a problem: we can’t cover the regions on our own, so we need regional offices. This year, the project’s participants offered to help us. We also have the idea to conduct the finals in places other than St. Petersburg. It is very important for students, as the finals are a platform for students to exchange their experience. In different regions, they work on different problems using different technologies and approaches, so, when students encounter obstacles, those can be solved by means of communication,” explains Andrei Zlenko.
“People Need You!” finals, 2017
Last year, the project to win the finals was the one by students of St. Petersburg State University. The project’s goal was to develop a cultural and leisure program for children who spend their free time in St. Petersburg’s yards. As many parents can’t send their children to summer camps, children play in the yards where there are only playgrounds at most. The project’s participants developed a cultural and leisure program; the time and place is announced in advance, and then the team comes to a particular yard to organize activities for children and parents who live nearby. For every location, an individual program is developed.
“This case is very interesting, as the participants had no clear idea of what they wanted to do, yet they’ve completed the full cycle of education, found a pool of partners, including investors, and they still hold these events. Seeing their progress was most important for me. Now, we plan to invite them as a successful team that can share their experience with the contestants,” explains Mr. Zlenko.
This year, ITMO students became winners of the Digital Technologies track; their RAIcare project is a web-application for optimizing management processes at care facilities. RAIcare helps organize care for each resident in accordance with the InterRAI international requirements. Also, the app gives recommendations on how to tend to the elderly at a particular facility. The system is nothing new, there are already similar examples abroad - the team based theirs on international practices.
The team members chose a single care facility and consulted its staff during their work on the project. As a result, they’ve developed a prototype that was assessed by the facility. In future, they plan to introduce it to other facilities, as well. The project has a commercial aspect; the team has already found potential customers and opportunities to receive funding.
Program for school students
In St. Petersburg, the project’s organizers also conduct a program for school students - this is the third year it has taken place. Some of the participants win small grants, some are featured on TV, but what’s most important is that this program offers great career guidance.
“People Need You!” finals, 2017
Student of the Year
One of the program’s graduates, ITMO Master’s student Roman Malushkin, has recently become the winner of the Student of the Year award in the “Best Volunteer Service Management” category. Roman and his colleagues decided to make the work of medical centers, blood transfusion stations and volunteers more comfortable, and help donors avoid lines and stay informed about the upcoming blood donation events. As a result, they’ve developed a service that will soon be adopted at different organizations.
“The “People Need You!” program is a special environment; once you dive in, you become a part of a great social mechanism where everyone supports each other. For instance, our mentors - Andrei Zlenko, Yuri Kuporosov, Alena Stepanischeva - support us by correcting the documentation for contests and grant applications, as well as helping us make contact with organizations we can collaborate with on our projects. I’d like to note that they continue doing so even now, though the 2017 program is over. During the “People Need You! Camp” accelerator that took place in spring, we got to meet participants from all over Russia. This way, we could get feedback from representatives of different regions, which is very important for up- or down-scaling a project. Not only does participation in the program enhance one’s organizational skills, but it also promotes social accountability, which is most important in our day and age,” concludes Roman Malushkin.