Convinced by his experience as a social worker that the solutions to social problems lie in the heart of challenged neighborhoods and require a transversal approach to questions of education, employment, self- and mutual respect, Allaoui is creating sport centers in areas of social unrest that promote social interaction and collaboration with social services and corporations. His Emergence concept combines activities structured around three axes:
1) Sports convene people from all walks of life. By mobilizing some of the municipal resources devoted to sports, Allaoui is building state-of-the-art centers in neighborhoods whose quality rivals private sports clubs. His tariffs, about one sixth the price of the largest gym chains in France, are so attractive that people from all over the city sign up. To facilitate diversity in membership, Emergence targets companies and offers great packages that include sports coaching principles applicable to the professional workplace.
Sport is the hook to bring people together from local and neighboring areas, from the city center and the corporate world. In Le Havre, about 30 percent of members come from middle- and upper class neighborhoods. Fifty-five percent of the 1,000 members are women—an important challenge in neighborhoods where men often impose the rules. The center advocates principles of mutual help and facilitates spaces for interaction between people who would otherwise never meet.
2) Social mediation begins the minute one passes through the front door of Emergence. The front desk attendants are professional mediators, whose role is to listen to people’s problems, identify risks, and provide solutions as needed. Emergence is also a recognized reference point for local police, schools, firemen, and health services, to mediate conflicts with locals, especially youth, and engage families and local stakeholders, to avoid judicial proceedings.
To structure social mediation with a focus on prevention, Allaoui has packaged vacation activities for children in a program, Sports and Citizenship, to reflect on how the principles of sports (rules, referee, boundaries, etc.) also apply to life, and creates dialogue between youth and the public services they are raised to mistrust. Already a small but tangible sign that something is changing has emerged: The number of rocks thrown at fire trucks and ambulances has dropped dramatically, and the local fire station has begun recruiting firemen in the neighborhood.
Realizing the impact of prisoner releases on the neighborhood, Allaoui created Package for Freedom, a program to accompany prisoners at their liberation; coaching the prisoners through their return to normal life and employment through sports and insertion.
With his social mediation activities, Allaoui engages all social and public services which play a role in local daily life and have progressively realized the importance of their complementarity: Because of its deep local roots and availability (everyday from 9 to 9), Emergence is the one-stop service that governments have failed to create.
3) Employment is seen as the key to provide sustainable answers to social needs— a tool for social promotion and self-dependency. Allaoui worked early on with local corporate leaders, framing his job training and placement program around the needs and expectations of recruiters. “At your best for a job” is a two-week coaching program that uses sports and professional coaching to prepare people to the professional world. Most importantly, recruiters participate in the program, and believe Emergence will guarantee that candidates are worth their consideration. Out of the 420 people who have participated in the program over the past two years, more than 300 have found permanent positions, with most of the others participating in trainings or temporarily working. Most importantly, the cost is 10 to 15 times lower than similar programs led by the national recruitment agency.
Allaoui has designed Emergence as a place of continual social experimentation to resolve interconnected problems. When he finds the right recipe, he creates program packages that are managed by highly committed staff, and that are easily replicable. More recently he has undergone an audit to standardize a franchising tool he is starting to use to reproduce the center in other cities. Construction and training is underway in Brussels, Belgium, and Marseille, but demands are numerous. Allaoui knows Le Havre’s Emergence will soon serve as a training ground for future managers and program directors, and has received its accreditation as a training center. In the long-term, Allaoui envisions that cities across France will see sport centers as tools to resolve social problems, places to coordinate social services efforts, and avenues to lift neighborhoods out of poverty and exclusion.