Marine Quenin

This description of Marine Quenin's work was prepared when Marine Quenin was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2017 .

Introduction

In a society where discussing about religion in the formal and unformal education systems is taboo, Marine is opening new public conversations with teachers in schools and other professionals engaged in education. She empowers them to approach this topic peacefully and demonstrates why knowing and understanding religions is a necessity for everyone to grow as an effective citizen.

The New Idea

In a French society very much shaped by the concept of “laïcité” (secularism), Marine is enabling new conversations about religions, a highly sensitive topic that is typically cast in a negative light by the media and addressed only when tensions or crisis between religious groups arise. Thanks to a carefully crafted approach that facilitates dialogue about religions from a knowledge perspective rather than from a personal belief one, Marine’s organization Enquête is building the confidence of everyone to evoke this topic and thus ensure that any individual, starting with youth, can understand the multicultural world he lives in and develops as a citizen who respects and understands the others around him even though they may come from a different cultural or religious background.

In order to carry out this imperative shift in mindsets and behaviors, Marine is spotting education professionals that can be leveraged and empowered because they play a key role to create a greater cultural understanding and are incentivized to act because they face challenging situations. This is the case of teachers in schools whose mission is to form mature citizens, but also social workers working with families from mixed cultural backgrounds or youth in civic service. Enquête then builds tools and approaches adapted to the needs and specificities of the different professions, always building on a careful articulation between secularism and knowledge about religious practices.

Marine is sharing this approach by working through many different networks to build a fast-growing community of changemakers to advance the vision of a society that can peacefully talk about religious customs and differences while understanding the marks of the religious heritage and culture that are still present in everyday life (in France’s case, the Judeo-Christian heritage). Since the 2015 terrorist attacks in France that stressed the urgency and importance of the work of Enquête as a forerunner, Enquête has faced a growing demand, receiving invitations from media, TED X Paris or to take part in innovative research or anti-radicalization programs. Enquête has also been a Laureate of a presidential program “La France S’engage” that rewards the most innovative projects serving the common good.

The Problem

France is a country of multiple cultures and religions. Rarely seen as an asset, religious differences are often a source of tensions between communities and individuals who tend to mutually misunderstand each other’s, fed by ignorance and misconceptions. These prejudices were sadly highlighted by the murder of a young Jewish man by a violent gang in 2006 because he was Jewish and because “Jewish are rich”, which made the subject of the movie 24 days.

Since over a century, France has a strong tradition of secularism as year 1905 marked a clear separation between the Church and the State. While secularism is a concept that aims at protecting individual freedom of worship, it is often poorly understood, seen as a constraint, and leads to religions being a taboo subject that is hardly discussed in the public space. According to a recent survey from Enquête conducted by Opinion Way amongst primary school teachers, while a majority acknowledges that understanding religions is a key element of overall culture and is critical to understand history and citizenship, 61% of teachers are either ill-at-ease, afraid or hostile to evoke the topic of religions with children. Teachers indeed lack preparation and tools to evoke this subject through an educational angle and generally fear parents and kids’ reactions, and 37% of them don’t even consider this topic should be evoked in a public school.

However, for anyone living in France, not understanding this heritage is an actual barrier to understand the society one lives in. From the sound of church bells to the calendar, holiday schedule and city names, historical and religious references are everywhere. Even more importantly, this knowledge is key to be fully empathic and respectful, and understand that the other’s faith and religious practices are not a threat. Yet a growing part of the population does not master these cultural references, which leads to challenging situations for professionals like school teachers, social workers, health workers as well as more generally companies and collectivities.

The devastating terrorist attacks in France in 2015 and 2016 reminded the need to build mutual understanding between citizens and highlighted the latent and growing demand of education professionals to get supported and equipped to open the dialogue about the topic of religions. To be understood as a positive framework, “laïcité” indeed needs to be articulated with concrete knowledge about religions.

The Strategy

In order to leverage different professions to advance its mission, Marine builds tools and approaches adapted to the needs and realities of practitioners, carefully articulating secularism and knowledge about religious practices. The starting point has been with teachers and educators in charge of after school programs with a key target of children between 7 and 11 years-old, a strategic age group due to their mature conceptual abilities, open mind and an eagerness to learn.

The solutions developed by Enquête are grounded in a deep understanding of teachers’ programs and practices and effective learning for kids based on a user perspective. On the teachers’ front, Enquête has carefully analyzed current education programs to identify when and where are the best opportunities to address religious issues and building strong arguments in order to incentivize and build the capacity of teachers around these issues through focus groups, workshops and action research. This knowledge is being deepened and updated on a continuous basis and a doctorate student is currently conducting a thesis on how secularism and religions are taught in school in France in collaboration with the renowned national research center (CNRS). Topics addressed range from current barriers faced by teachers, benchmarking existing initiatives and refining the tools from Enquête. A sophisticated toolkit including 7 key topics – secularism, vocabulary, literature, great personalities, time, space and citizenships – has been developed with in-depth and user-friendly content so that teachers can include religious topics in all subjects from history to vocabulary and literature. A ground rule is that teachers and facilitators adopt in all circumstances a neutral position that does not promote religions nor is against religions. This neutrality is a key element to enable conversations in a peaceful way. To build the teachers’ confidence to evoke this topic with kids, Enquête also provides methods and tools, such as storytelling, to reassure and convince the parents.

To develop adapted resources for teachers and kids, Enquête has demonstrated great creativity, working with innovative education organizations like the Savanturiers, an education program of Ashoka Fellow François Taddéi among others. A key pillar of the approach is to build on the innate investigative capacity of kids (hence the organization’s name Enquête that translates into “Investigation”). In addition to the core pedagogy, a set of fun games, contents and tools have been developed from the “Challenge tree” pedagogical game that is a great introduction for all ages to understand knowledge gaps and trigger lively conversations, to a quiz game on religions. The former is distributed through a partnership with Canopé, The National Education’s official editor, gaining a nation-wide traction with over 1300 sets of games been sold in 2016 and the latter is distributed in mainstream libraries to maximize exposure and public awareness. 800 have been sold in the 4 first months of commercialization. In addition to this, to make the topic appealing and engaging, while reaching indirect targets, kids get to build a game like the Game of the Goose that they can then bring home and play in family or with their friends. Other projects being currently developed include commentated pieces of art, the creation of a fun cartoon with very short series for TV and teachers/educators based on the story of 4 kids. So far over 2,600 kids have participated in Enquête workshops.

This core approach has also been translated for teenagers who can pick investigation projects and are kindly challenged to come up with their own analysis and suggestions. For example, a group of Muslim teenagers who were upset with the fact that their high-school had a Christmas tree were asked to design a questionnaire, interview experts and key people with different perspectives and come up with their own informed conclusions about whether this could make sense. Another youth project on “Why, in a secular country like France, do most of the public holidays have Christian origins?” led to the production of a web-documentary by the young people.

Marine has designed a two-fold strategy to demonstrate that it is important, urgent and doable to address the topic of religion. On one hand, she builds the capacity and create tools for practitioners - over 3,800 have been trained so far, a number that will increase fast now that the infrastructure is in place - and on the other hands, she tries to influence current systems such as official teaching and training programs of National Education. Since 2015, Enquête has received a special authorization to take part in new teachers’ training (6 out of 32 High Schools of Education or ESPE at a national level) and to position secularism and religious practices as a mandatory module. Enquête has also been invited to contribute to the national plan of teachers’ training. In addition, Enquête is also offering training programs for continuous training of current teachers and has created an e-learning training platform in 2016.

Beyond formal education, Enquête has developed a wide and active network of networks to broaden its influence and engage various professionals. Its active partnerships include a wide range of organizations, such as the National Federation of Social Centers (social workers), the National Federation of Soccer that has identified the lack of understanding about different religions as a key issue, scout movements, the national civic service program initiated by Ashoka Fellow Marie Trellu Kane so that the 2,000 annual volunteers can be sensitized and equipped on this topic, after school programs for single parents such as Momartre, a project led by Ashoka Fellow Chantal Mainguené, etc. In order to mainstream its training program, Enquête has developed a e-learning program in 6 modules for trainers and professionals in collaboration with the European Institute in Religious Sciences (IESR). Most tools, contents and testimonies are open source so that they can be used by many professionals. The “Kawaa Growing Together” is one of the open source tool available to all: a template for a one-hour interfaith exchange amongst adults to trigger a conversation and knowledge on religion. More than 200 sessions have been organized in 50 cities and the network is growing.

Thanks to its unique expertise and credibility on the topic, Enquête has also been identified to take part in new programs such as an anti-radicalization program launched by the prime minister office in priority communities. It is currently piloting an experiment in the city of Trappes, a community that has the highest departure rate of youth for Syria in collaboration with 3 schools. Religious practices are also a taboo topic for cities and collectivities that feel an increasing pressure but do not know how to deal with it and do not want to “interfere with private matters”. However, this is an explosive time bomb.
Managing the growing community of trained professionals is a current focus of Enquête through regular mailings, newsletters, content updates, etc.
As an entrepreneur, Marine’s philosophy is to always surround herself by more knowledgeable people and aim for excellence. She has successfully engaged a diverse team, board of directors and support committee representing different religious backgrounds, experts and influencers. Among others, an expert in the teaching of religions in a secular context and in education systems that plays a key role in teachers’ training program, a member of an expert group of moral and citizenship teaching, an entrepreneur who is expert in pedagogical games and newspapers for youth or the Ashoka Fellow Christian de Boisredon who is an influencer in the media sector.

As Enquête’s qualitative work already gained solid legitimacy, Marine aspires to spread her vision in new networks, such as the Jewish and Catholic schools, and seizes the momentum – the 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks in France stressed the need to deeply address the roots of interfaith issues – to convince more partners and scale up.

The Person

The eldest of 3 siblings, Marine was born in Reunion Island before growing up in the city of Lyon. Influenced by her grand-father who was a businessman and her parents who left the corporate environment in their 50ies to manage a wine farm, Marine knew early on that professional fulfillment was important even though it could mean taking risks. Since very young, she has developed a keen interest for others and a social engagement at the risk of being seen sometimes as a “leftist” in her family. After graduating in Political Sciences in Paris and International Relationships in the UK, Marine joins the newly created Foundation of a leading audit firm for a year; after a year, she felt the need to live hands-on experiences in the field and thus quit to travel around the world in search of new horizons and new models. After discovering Latin America, she spent 3 months working with an organization of Mother Teresa in the Philippines where she lived in the slums with a family. While this is a deep experience to understand poverty first hand, Marine is increasingly convinced that new solutions that address the roots of the social issues are needed.

Coming back to France, Marine joins SAMU Social, a municipal humanitarian emergency service present in several cities founded by Xavier Emmanuelli, a visionary French doctor and politician, co-founder of Doctors without Borders, to launch the international activity. Marine actively develops the international program that grows from 4 to 13 legal structures abroad from the Congo to Russia and heads the organization for 4 years. In 2008, Marine joins the newly created Social Entrepreneurship Chair of ESSEC Business School to launch and manage its social incubator Antropia and designs CAP ESSEC, an innovative diversity program that enables students from modest economic backgrounds to prepare and enter College.

After becoming a mother, Marine develops a growing awareness about the fact that kids grow in a multicultural society marked by a Judeo-Christian heritage that they increasingly do not understand. Prompted by a series of questions from her 4-year old daughter ranging from ritual habits of her friends to “Why are we in 2017?”, “Why are they 7 days in a week?”, she discovers that these topics are not been addressed at all by the teachers whereas they are in official school programs. From then on, Marine is consumed by the idea to build an initiative that would enable a healthy and peaceful dialogue about religions. In 2011, she quits her job at Antropia to launch her organization – Enquête – which became one of the incubated projects.