Knut Ove Børseth

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Norway
Fellow since 2016
This description of Knut Ove Børseth's work was prepared when Knut Ove Børseth was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016 .

Introduction

As a rally professional at an international level, Knut Ove Børseth had many fans. He early identified that many of them belonged to a vulnerable group of youth at risk of dropping out of school and isolated from society, looking for a sense of belonging. Knut Ove identified with this group and realized that he could use his position and knowledge from earlier experiences to help them steer in a positive direction in life.

The New Idea

Knut Ove founded Drive for Life in 2011 to engage troubled youth, otherwise at risk of dropping out of school, through an empowering team framework using adrenaline-filled sports where young participants get to choose their activities, set their own team rules and build a supporting peer-community. By providing a safe space for teenagers to experience a legal high, Knut Ove succeeds in attracting hard to reach youth, while preventing them from seeking that thrill elsewhere. Drive for Life’s programs seeks to promote renewed motivation and building vital life skills.

The use of adrenaline-filled sport works as a gateway to the core of Drive for Life’s programs: a robust community with teams at the centre, combined with a systemized methodology seeking to allow youth to become productive members of society. When entering a Drive for Life program, each person gets introduced to a social network, a safe yet exploring space, with strict structures and pride. An approach seeking to prevent crime and other anti-social behaviour, while supporting the participants in school and preparing for a future where they stand stable at the centre, rather than on the outside of society.

Drive for Life’s methodology is tailored to each participants’ journey and creates new interactions between local sports clubs, schools, parents, child service, businesses and role models, in ways previously missing. Knut Ove mainly works with children who are about to, or already part of, government services. Focusing on those who others perceive as troublemakers, he creates an engaging way for the participants to constructively interact with their surroundings through the program. Hence, Drive for Life effectively shifts the perception of dropouts in a more positive direction, highlighting their potential and willingness to actively be part of and contribute to society.

While the goal is to prevent school dropout and thus the risk for long-term exclusion from society, it goes further to empower the participants by offering ways of continuous involvement beyond the program. Already, the model is scaling and are currently establishing in neighbouring countries, recognized as new and unexpected yet effective way to engage those others have failed to reach for decades.

The Problem

High school dropout is of major concern in many countries worldwide, not least in a knowledge-based society like the Norwegian, with a labour market more and more dependent on knowledge- and service delivery alongside a declining oil industry. A relatively large proportion of Norwegian students drop out of high schools; one in five drops out or fails to complete high school within five years, and among vocational students as much as one in three. Youth outside of education, employment or training, equals a cost of approximately 7 million NOK over a lifetime, without taking into account societal costs from benefit schemes and social interventions. Among the young people who are unable to cope with social pressure across Norway, many currently fall through the cracks in the system and some enter criminal paths, and their potential goes unnoticed.

In order to combat the social, mental and economic strains caused by school dropouts, a range of government services have been carried out over the last decade. Many of the school dropouts are in contact with the governmental child protective service at some point during their childhood and thus included in the approximate five percent of Norwegian children receiving this support. Although a considerable amount of money is allocated for services aiming to support them (13,9 billion NOK in 2012), statistics shows that those who have been in contact with child welfare services still have lower living condition compared to the rest of the population. It is not uncommon that this same group is diagnosed with learning or behavioural disabilities, such as ADHD and ADD, indicating the need for schemes and programs with lots of structure and trust to reach them.

Conventional programs carried out by child protective services, schools or local sports clubs towards this target group tend to be reactive and paternalistic, often using a top down approach. Many times they are treating the symptoms of the problems once they have arisen, instead of listening to the group and trying to understand their needs. This often results in difficulties to attract the most troubled youth. Governmental schemes often seek to support as many as possible with “one-size-fits-all” programs that does not take into account their creative sides. As a result, each individual’s unique circumstances and needs may suffer in favour of what works for the majority. With the current situation, young people remain in the system for years without gaining motivation or skills to navigate through life. This is ineffective, costly and most importantly, does not inspire the young generation and give them the confidence needed to take advantage of their own resources.

The Strategy

Drive for Life seeks to support troubled youth to get on a more positive track in life in two main ways; through an appealing framework and by fostering empowerment and the youth’s sense of agency. Overall, Knut Ove seeks to shift the general perception of viewing these youth as troublemakers in society, by showing their unique leadership potential and willingness to thrive as citizens.

Knut Ove and Drive for Life speaks the language of the youth, which do not only enable them to reach those in need of their support, but more importantly to understand their needs on a deep level. By using adrenaline-filled sports, branding and rolemodels, Drive for Life manages to catch the attention of the most troubled youths, often seeking a sense of belonging in the “wrong crowds” or in anti-social behavior. Adrenaline-filled sports, such as motorsports, horseback riding, biking and climbing, are used to attract their interest and serve as entry points to the program. Moreover, well-known rolemodels, such as Knut Ove himself or ambassadors such as the Prince of Norway, are tied to the programs as part of Drive for Life’s branding strategy, seeking to build an attractive, dynamic and “cool” community feeling. When entering a Drive for Life program, each participant becomes part of a wider social network, a supporting team and firm structure, reinforced by a sense of pride and safety where they get the chance to practice mastering social- and life skills.

Drive for Life gathers teams of children and youth for weekly meetings at local sports clubs for the duration of at least one year. The program works with a carefully selected group of 5-7 children, to give each child the attention needed and to cater to the many participants with ADHD, ADD or similar diagnoses. This relatively small number has shown to be effective because it makes the participants feel responsible for being present at each team meeting and helps to build trust and pride. The selection of new members is done together with the municipality, school and child service to ensure that it is they select the children and youth who will benefit most from the program. Drive for Life divides them into two different age groups; 10-14 or 15-18 , recognizing that the younger ones are in more need of regular routines, play and trust-building, while the older ones are more responsive to discussions about society, safety and inclusion. They also use what they call “youth-to-youth agency” where one participant per meeting designs, prepares and demonstrates the activity to the rest of the group. The belief behind this is that children themselves are the best teachers for other children. This has proven to be extra efficient when working with asylum children, where children demonstrate through play, without speaking the same language. Drive for Life recently extended its program portfolio to also work with integration of refugee children through activity days at refugee centres, carried out with the Norwegian Red Cross and Salvation Army - to combine their experiences from working refugees with Drive for Life’s methodology and strong community. Building on the same principle of agency, former participants are recruited to become junior team leaders and support new team members on their journey. Through Drive for Life’s Leadership Academy junior team leaders are trained in leadership skills alongside more senior team leaders.

The core of Drive For Life’s work lies in getting children to work in teams, develop leadership skills and enhance their empathy. Together with the team leaders, the children agree on a number of activities for the coming months, like climbing, biking or go-carting combined with more regular games such as playing cards. They also agree on a set of goals and team rules, for example be on time, respect their surroundings, be a reliable peer, attend school and follow public laws. The rules, along with the team outfit, aim to stimulate good behaviour and lawful activities and apply everywhere - before, during and after each team meeting. At each team meeting the group also discusses a specific topic related to key life skills, such as the importance of collaboration, responsibility and trust. They may seem basic for most, but these are in fact the types of skills that these young people miss out on by not belonging to a social group or network. To further strengthen the effect of the program and ensure that it integrates effectively into every aspect of the youth life, teams are unified by a common team outfit, connected to well-known role models and get access to the Drive for Life digital community for continued contact, play and sense of belonging.

Drive For Life builds one-on-one relationships with each child that goes through the program. When entering the program, each child signs a contract with Drive for Life, signing up to be part of the team and the honouring the obligations that entails, similar to professional sportsmen signing agreements with new clubs. Parallell to this, each child’s wellbeing, interests and individual learning style is given careful attention resulting in tailored individual plans developed together with the child, family, school and child protective services. This approach effectively puts the child and her needs and motivation at the centre, while bringing together key supporters around each youth. The same group meets up regularly in a coordination group over the duration of the program, to follow up and evaluate the progress. Drive for Life also engages teachers and parents on how to best work with this target group. Besides being part of the active support network, the parents are encouraged to personally bring their child to each team meeting to enable regular contact between the team leader and the parents. It also room for direct feedback in case any issues arises, as well as motivates a wider support from the families.

The municipalities working with Drive for Life has experienced a lot of value from the program. 87% of the participants stay at least one extra year in school as a direct result of the program, and many of them has shown strong progress in the ability to take charge and responsibility for their own life. Drive for Life recently initiated a collaboration with one of Norway’s leading research institutions, in order to measure long term social impact both on an individual and societal level. More broadly, Drive for Life aims to spark a mind shift in the institutions working with at-risk youth, including schools and public child protective services. Through demonstrating effective and new ways to approach this group of youth, he pushes them to think more creatively around how, when and where to engage the youth. All in all he pushes them to think outside the box. Drive for Life programs does not only lead to lower drop out rates, safer and satisfied youth, less criminality and unemployment and functioning families and school classes, but most importantly empowers a new generation of youth to take control over their lives. Ultimately, Knut Ove aims to turn society’s perception of troublemakers on its head. He points to the unique talents they fail to acknowledge and develop in the existing narrowly defined system by proving how they can take control over their lives.

To date, Drive For Life is spread throughout 36 municipalities in Norway and five in Sweden. Today more than one thousand youths have participated in Drive for Life’s programs, contributing to more than 200 million NOK (equivalent of 21,116 million euro) in socio-economic net value. Knut Ove’s goal is to grow the current size by five times over the next couple of years, aiming towards a social net benefit of one billion NOK, including growing the organisation further in Norway and Sweden but also scale its activites to new markets. Currently Drive For Life is piloting shorter programs in Latvia, Spain and Belgium and seeks to scale up their efforts in Europe and US over the next couple of years.

The Person

Knut Ove was born with a competitive and entrepreneurial mindset. He grew up on a remote farm in mid-Norway, where it is easy to feel isolated and bored. Many of Knut Ove’s childhood friends never found “their team” which sometimes led them to take wrong paths in life. Knut Ove was lucky enough to have supportive parents who gave him the opportunity to explore different sports and activities from an early age. It was from these experiences he fell in love with handball and later motor sports. During his teenage years, Knut Ove played handball on a professional level, but was equally engaged in the young enterprise organisation, leading several initiatives and started his own car dealership. His natural talents for sales got him headhunted to a real estate agency where he quickly progressed to become the leading salesmen at the company. At the age of 20, while doing his military service, Knut Ove got a knee injury that hindered him to continue his second career in handball. His strong interest and passion for athletics led him to pick up on motor sports again, which he had learned many years earlier and worked with a weak knee.
Through the support of his family, a good team, a lot of persistence and a talent for motorsport, Knut Ove won the European Rallycross Championship. Already early in his rally-career Knut Ove met several at-risk youth and identified a wish to belong somewhere among them. He saw that rally driving and other adrenaline filled activities caught their interest and attention. At the same time he saw a gap in society where current governmental schemes targeted towards this group didn’t always succeed in reaching those needing it most. He saw the same trend among local sport clubs, not managing or wanting to attract these “troublemakers”. In the years leading up to his success, he had become sort of a celebrity in Norway with more and more fans showing up for the races. A large part of his fan base was part of the at-risk youth - a group Knut Ove could identify with in many ways. Realizing that many of them did not get same support from their surroundings that he had been lucky to receive, he understood that they needed an extra hand. From speaking with and getting to know his fans better, he understood that they were looking for the same sense of belonging as he had felt many years earlier. Knut Ove thought he had enough experiences to empower these youth to make good desitions. He started to invite them to his team meetings and tent, preparations for races and gave them caps and give-aways. Each time he and his team left a race with the van, he felt the desire to do more for this group. This desire grew bigger with time.
In 2005 Knut Ove realized that the lessons learned over the years could be used to build a solid support system for at-risk youth. He could for instance use the predictability, goal orientation and structure he knew from elite sports as the basis for his programs as well as his experiences from starting and working with businesses. He started to contact municipalities, schools, parents, local sport clubs, organisations and governmental agencies, to to learn how they could work in a more holistic, collaborative and positive way with the youth. With the help from his wife at the time, a teacher and pedagogue, they started to design a program that combined the best of their common skills and experiences. After struggeling to find the first funding to cover a pilot program, they finally came to a breakthrough in in 2008 to start the first pilot.
The large breakthrough came in 2011, when FERD Social Entrepreneurs and The Crown Prince Couple’s Fund in Norway elected Drive for Life as part of their portfolio of social entrepreneurs. This was when Knut Ove started working full time on building the organisation to what it is today: a fun, empowering and effective program for at-risk youth.