Jerónimo Calderon is creating a youth-led movement that transforms social change into a desired lifestyle for Generation Y (ages 16 to 28). By branding citizen engagement as cool, trendy and attractive, Jerónimo creates inspiring and “euphoric” opportunities that engage people previously resistant to youth programs. Jerónimo is impacting thousands of young people across Switzerland, activating their potential and drastically lowering barriers to youth engagement
The New Idea
Designed and led by young people, Jerónimo builds large-scale collective action to bring about a collective shift toward changemaking. Using an interactive and targeted approach and outreach strategy, Jerónimo engages an untapped and previously passive segment of the population. His model has three main components: (i) he transforms the communication used to promote social engagement with Generation Y. The Euforia movement uses messaging about changemaking that is fun, positive and attractive, and is based on current social norms among young people (ii) he multiplies the impact of existing communication channels by identifying and utilizing those channels most preferred by young people—flyers, social networks, flashmobs, web buzz campaigns—and peaks their attention by reaching out at least three times (iii) Jerónimo incentivizes youth action through his messaging: Euforia is communicated as “living an experience,” which appeals more deeply to young people than traditional social involvement.
To reach as many young people as possible, Jerónimo builds an entirely youth-led organization that is grounded in and directly in touch with their expectations and trends. Packaging trainings, peer-to-peer coaching, inspirational tools and online social networks, he empowers a network of young ambassadors who embody the movement, create and manage events, and recruit those who seem too passive to participate. Designed to make passive young people tap into their potential to make change, the Euforia gatherings are “euphoric” moments that facilitate participants to feel joy and excitement when realizing they have the capacity to change the world. During his first three years, the network of 200 youth ambassadors have organized more than 30 workshops and impacted over 1,500 young people.
Euphoria transforms motivation into concrete opportunities by being a one-of-a-kind matchmaking platform with existing organizations offering volunteer work, or supporting the launch of new social ventures. Jerónimo offers tools and projects already developed for young people to use, but lowers barriers to entry. This is in contrast to many organizations that keep the threshold for entry quite high (e.g. you must design your own project in order to participate). By channeling thousands of youth to existing programs, Jerónimo increases the number of participants while leveraging the impact for other youth initiatives. He has achieved great impact with 70 percent of the 1,500 participants actively engaged in a social cause as a result of Euforia. Jerónimo envisions expanding Euforia across Europe, while applying new groups, such as older generations and company employees, to this model.
Studies show that the Generation Y is less active in traditional social activities than previous generations. For example, the Boy Scout movement has lost 20 percent of its volunteers over the last ten years. More generally, over the same period, many volunteer activities have declined in Western Europe. Switzerland has seen almost 10 percent (Federal Statistics Institute of Neufchâtel, Switzerland, 2008) of this generation not make social commitments. Even though young people may still show interest in global challenges, only 10 to 30 percent will likely take action and become engaged. An increasing gap is observed between the offers of commitment and people’s aspirations.
As indicated by recent studies and articles on Generation Y, young people today are seeking more than a consumer experience. They desire personal empowerment and the use of their time and energy in a fun, useful, and meaningful way. A 2010 survey by the Office of Juvenile Affairs shows that 75 percent of Swiss youth volunteers want to learn new skills and develop their autonomy and marketability for the labor market. Additionally, at home, at school or at the beginning of their professional lives, young people lack opportunities and incentives needed to create a lifestyle of social engagement. The Swiss educational system teaches students how to ensure they are financially secure and not dependent on the state, but does not encourage them to take initiative or become involved in social activities.
Although, if some citizen organizations (COs) do offer interesting engagement opportunities, they tend to be disconnected in their action and messaging. Most COs neglect a nuanced outreach strategy due to lack of strategy, time, and resources. Communication strategies are not tailored to various target groups, and consequently, often reach the same active or sensitized groups. Lacking visibility and attractiveness, these COs have a few young people among their pool of volunteers. Programs like Infoklick, led by Ashoka Fellow Markus Gander, or Ashoka Youth Venture, recognize themselves for building great value propositions but often attract youth who have realized they have a role to play in tackling social problems and a potential to develop as changemakers. Channeling more youth toward these initiatives is a key challenge to scaling their impact.
Peer-to-peer communication has been identified as a key driver of sustained impact. Most young people are trusting of people from their own generation. In addition, “cool” has become a necessary criteria to be seriously considered. For this “Yes We Can” generation, it is important to get engaged in global movements and mainstream trends which aim to achieve greater impact.
Capitalizing on his own experience, Jerónimo’s idea is to deeply change the perception and actions of citizen commitment to something attractive and “cool.” To pioneer a fun and trendy approach to changemaking and position citizen commitment as a trendy lifestyle, Jerónimo first organizes focus groups with young people and social organizations on a regular basis, to understand and stay in touch with trends and expectations from both sides. Next, he works closely with professional designers and communication agencies experienced in street marketing and hip-hop language to anchor changemaking messages in youth norms and expectations.
Jerónimo has launched creative communication campaigns on a large-scale, beginning with all the universities across Switzerland, using flyers or social networks. He also engages “favorite” teachers to spread the word or organize flash mobilization, such as covering lecture halls for a few hours with large branded signs to spread Euphoria’s message and ignite interest. For example, the latest campaign, “Primary Screams,” gathered hundreds of people to scream at the same time in the street or at school to let go their frustrations, express their willingness to act for social change, and wake up those around them. Thanks to the originality of his approach, Jerónimo sparked the interest of various media and his messaging had greater public impact.
After the first step of mobilization, Jerónimo gets young people to participate in Euforia activities and learning sessions. From a few hours to five days, they are designed to be fun, transformative experiences of social change. Whether it is through personal development workshops, launching simulations of social ventures, or matchmaking with volunteer opportunities in existing organizations, they aim to restore youth’s confidence in their potential to be changemakers and facilitate a path toward concrete action. Jerónimo has tailored three main types of strategies to fit different levels of commitment: (i) “Imp!Act” gathers 250 people ages 18 to 28-years-old and offers space to launch a social project, get involved as a volunteer, or just show up for a new sense of citizen engagement (ii) “Step into Action” targets younger groups and is designed as a one day forum for high school classes. The first “Step into Action” in 2011 gathered 800 children (iii) “BEAT” events are small workshops on various topics imagined by youth and framed as a toolkit to be easily reproduced. For example, organizing around the topic of “chocolate fondue” to discuss Fair Trade and discover concrete offers of commitment together.
Young people then fully manage the changemaking activities in Switzerland’s main cities. Jerónimo engages them in the long-term in his organization, and creates a two- to three-year evolving path from volunteering to facilitating workshops, leading programs, and taking part in the strategy. By giving them growing responsibilities and providing them with skills and action toolkits, he transforms Euforia’s active members into youth leaders and “changemaker multipliers,” as he calls them, equipped with the necessary skills, competencies, knowledge and tools to proactively shape social change in their communities.
Jerónimo wants to ensure that young people have access to the existing great value propositions of commitment that have already been developed by citizen and youth organizations. To achieve this, he has joined more than 80 organizations—from Greenpeace to Infoklick—that tackle global challenges while offering local concrete engagement opportunities. He improves their outreach to passive youth by inviting the organizations to his Euforia events, but also works with them to shift their practices toward a better adaptation, integration, and recognition of youth in their strategies.
Founded in 2008 while he was still a student, and on a voluntary basis until 2010, Jerónimo now heads a 500,000 CHF (US $561,300) budget organization with five staff and over 100 volunteers. He has launched the changemaker network online to strengthen the movement in one place and aims to reach the first 10,000 participants over the next two years.
Jerónimo is also restructuring his economic model to generate revenues and be more sustainable. Partnerships with top companies such as Credit Suisse or the Boston Consulting Group are under progress to adapt his changemaking activities for business employees, as well as to create a “coaching offer,” with experienced corporate staff mentoring young changemakers.
Jerónimo’s personal situation has always led him to feel a tremendous urge to fight against social injustices. His father is Bolivian and his mother is Swiss. He grew up in Switzerland but spent a lot of time in Bolivia. Instead of following a professional career as a soccer player, he decided at 17 to spend two years in Bolivia and experience the conditions of his family in the slums of El Alto. He trained as a mechanic, and came back with deeply imbedded memories and a great interest in reducing socioeconomic disparities around the globe.
At 23, Jerónimo had a transformative moment during a scholar exchange in Boston. He discovered the potential of strong youth commitment with Howard Sin. He attended a conference on social entrepreneurship and was struck by the gap between the power of social change messages to mobilize young people and their passiveness. In Switzerland, Jerónimo officially launched his idea under the CO Euforia, saying that his movement was born as a “self-help group for cynics.”
Jerónimo has demonstrated how committed he is to his idea and had been recognized for his work. He has changed his career path, and turned down great opportunities along the way to pursue Euphoria, such as a Ph.D. at Harvard and a well-paying job with the firm Total. On a volunteer basis, he has spent days and nights designing the first campaigns and events, engaging hundreds of volunteers, and raising 1.2 million CHF (US$1.35 million) to fund the projects. In 2008, his energy and power of conviction came across during his pilot event which gathered more than 600 participants. Jerónimo has developed Euforia in a pragmatic way. His soccer career taught him the importance of team play and the core values of persistence and passion. Building on people’s potential is essential to him and key to his approach. He has convinced various stakeholders to join him, e.g. the Civic Lab on events facilitation techniques or Infoklick on long-term follow up and impact evaluation. Jerónimo has also hired gifted people to build a competent team to support the growth of Euforia.
Jerónimo has always had an international perspective. He presented Euphoria in Europe with the belief that the issues of youth engagement have no borders. In 2010 he invited Ashoka Youth Venturers from South America to come to the Euforia Youth Summit. In 2011 young people from all over Europe came to Imp!act, sharing their expectations and taking home their willingness to get engaged and support the replication of Euforia events. Jerónimo is beginning the process of expansion by training international partners to develop his events in their countries. Indeed, the openness of his approach is key to Euphoria’s innovation and its capacity to grow.
Jerónimo has received many distinctions and awards. Among the winners of the Ashoka-Staples Youth Social Entrepreneur Competition (2008) he has also been recognized as a Youth Leading Changemaker (2009) by Ashoka Youth Venture in Germany. More recently, he was also selected by the World Economic Forum to participate as a Global Shaper in Davos.