Below you can read a very informative interview with Alenka Blazinšek Domenis, manager of Nefiks.
Intro question: What is the social innovation Nefiks about?
Nefiks is about young people obtaining skills away from school or university Nefiks works with young people aged 14 to 29, which is also the defined age range of young people in Slovenia. Nefiks helps you to record all the skills you gain from extra curricular activities, from non-formal education, and from voluntary work. Basically, you can get these skills anywhere apart from school. All these skills help you with your personal growth, with job-hunting, and with your CV.
Why did you (or your partners) start this social innovation?
The idea came to me during my NGO work. It was developed in the 90’s and it comes out of youth work. Youth work is a big field of activities, volunteering, advising young people, and providing workshops. It takes up a lot of time of the people involved, but they didn’t have any tools to bring all those experiences to future employers to prove that they knew how to lead a team, work in a team, organize activities, and that they also knew how to do expert work and so on. My colleagues went to Finland and they saw that there was a small book that people could write in and then confirm with a stamp and sign that somebody had done something. So they brought the idea here and made a book. It started with the activities of youth work. It was designed in a way so that young people could acquire competences all non-educational fields. It was designed for youth work but has been developed in a way that means anyone can write something in it.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
I think it was the need which brought this. It was a question of how we could show to the employer that we knew something and that we could also demonstrate the knowledge and skills. It was a collaborative process of two people at first, which then led to the formation of an organization.
What were you afraid of in the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
I don’t think there was any fear present in the beginning, because they had nothing to lose in bringing that out and they also had good support from The Office of the Republic of Slovenia for Youth. This is an independent body within the Ministry of Education. With the development Nefiks had a lot of other tools which did the same but didn’t exist for very long. The biggest fear was that the Ministry was giving out money for all these tools but none of them were as resistant or had a long history or as many functions as Nefiks.
What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from scratch).
Nefiks grew in another youth organization called Mladinski ceh, which also had a lot of other projects. One of those was Nefiks but at one point this project become too big for one NGO. It took up too many resources, too much finance, and too many people. At that point, it became a spin-off and became the independent institution, NGO Nefiks. Our main aim today is to organize all the activities that allow young people to meet employers.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
That is still a work in process. No matter how long Nefiks exists, we are still fighting for attention. When young people search for a job and suddenly connect with Nefiks, they are very happy because they can make a record of all their past experiences. A very strong point is when young people really need Nefiks. No matter what we are also trying to promote, with Nefiks already in high schools and universities they usually write to Nefiks when they are looking for jobs. And we also never get financing for the tool itself but for the projects around the tools. Young people believe in an idea when they need it. (NB – consider re-writing this section, it doesn’t really make sense)
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
It is a process because it came out of a need but then the reality changed. We adjust the system all the time and in the meantime it has also become an electronic system. We don’t only do this, but we also adjust the idea to the needs of young people and also link it to the employment market. It is an on-going process. Also, young people who are in a situation, who need Nefiks, work closely with us. In our organization young people also have power.
How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DIY fundraising?
The inventors of Nefiks, Društvo Mladinski Ceh, got support from the Office of the Republic of Slovenia for Youth. Later on, the Ministry of Education remained a supporter but not with big financial assistance. We had to search for projects all the time to support at least one part of Nefiks. We also have dedicated IT people who started the tools and they are trying to maintain these with us and provide insights. Recently, we got an EU project, financed from European Structure Funds (ESF) and we developed the Nefiks tools system for acquiring competencies towards the platform for meeting young people and employers. We struggle all the time.
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
It was a very intuitive process. It was never a very planned process. This was the background for our NGO. Nefiks is not the only thing we do. We build strong activities around Nefiks (employment club, career club, the ‘Kolegice’ project for young women). Nefiks grows with these activities. We also have a group of Nefiks tutors. These are young people who promote Nefiks and they give us feedback on how to make it even better for young people. This is a very spontaneous process that would be difficult to scale.
How do you change the whole system?
The idea is that they have to collect skills and knowledge in one portfolio. But young people only realize this when they are searching for a job and I guess with Nefiks they at least get to know this. Our influence is limited to the network. Also, the youth organization starts to write down the content they can develop within their framework when they are working with them. Our greatest achievement was when Nefiks was presented at the EU Summit in Belgium in 2014. The international community gave Nefiks credit for being a good tool and a good system.
What it the one piece of advice you can give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy?
You have to believe in what you are doing. Our experience shows that you cannot enrich it. You have to believe in it because of its costs. We believe in Nefiks because we see that many people have better positions in the job market. Many who use our system are also more self-confident. Many young people are even happier because of it. If we didn’t believe in Nefiks, the project would not survive because it works with very low financial support. We also need to have other activities to financially and logistically support social innovation.
Interviewed by Maja Novak
Alenka Blazinšek Domenis is the manager of Nefiks. She believes in sincere enthusiasm and in people.
Through many different ways of voluntary work (learning assistance, leisure activities with children and young people, organizing projects, working with the elderly, helping disabled people, conducting events) and in the mentoring of volunteers in the field of non-formal education, she learned respect for diversity, working with people, gaining pedagogical qualities and motivation for spreading awareness of the importance of volunteering.