Service-Learning in Netherlands
Students as Consultants: Learning by Advising
In the Dutch service learning project of the Rotterdam School of Management, groups of three or four students transform themselves into consultancy firms giving management advice to local non-profit social organizations. The learning goals are focused on understanding non-profit management and practicing consultancy. The firms all create their own ‘brand’, and are part of a bigger structure. In this structure, the two teachers act as senior consultants who coach / supervise the students, or better, junior consultants, through their process. An essential addition to the learning process is the intervision between the junior consultants, in which the student-teams are mixed and they help each other with challenges in the process (e.g. how do I get in better contact with my client, how do I convince my client of my ideas). This is especially interesting since students have very diverse backgrounds; different Dutch universities, different faculties within the Erasmus University, and exchange students from countries all over the world. Imagine what happens when a Dutch Nano-biology student, talks to a Chinese business student and a French psychology student about creative ways of involving the client. This year our junior consultants even got local recognition as some of them where interviewed by two local newspapers (see: Dutch / Google Translate English and Dutch / Google Translate English)
This year eight different small social organizations participated in the course. DOK 21 helps to prepare teenagers prepare for working life and wanted to know how to set up new partnerships. Stichting Schutsluis Alblasserdam asked how to engage more citizens in their mission to re-open an old waterlock. Colaitie Erbij Rotterdam, an organization fighting loneliness, wanted our junior consultants to help them activate their partners more. Stichting Rotterdammers met Talent tries to focus on the working poor in Rotterdam and were interested in learning how to reach this group better. By the Ocean we Unite, an organization against plastic pollution, asked our junior consultants to help them with new financing models. Excelsior4All, the foundation of a Rotterdam football club had two consultancy questions; how can we measure impact, and is it possible for us to function as an umbrella organization. The Giovanni van Bronckhorst Foundation wanted our junior consultants to focus on a setting up a new project helping high-potential kids in some of Rotterdam’s poorer neighbourhoods.
The social organizations, or clients as they are addressed in the course, take a very active role as co-producers of the advice. In many cases the service learning starts with junior consultants taking a convenient and comfortable research perspective, but during the course they usually start to get deeper and more emotionally involved with the clients. As the junior consultants have to define and negotiate the whole project with their clients they are put in many unstructured situations that in many cases are out of their comfort zone, e.g. when they have to explain their clients that the organization problem solution is not due to external circumstances but to internal (miss)management.
With some of the organizations the Rotterdam School of Management has an ongoing contact to collaborate on employing staff and students to help the NPO to create more impact. But most organizations are ‘walk ins’ from the local community that know through the grapevine that the RSM service learning project might be a good way to address their organizational issues. As most organizations are rather small over the years is has become clear that an ongoing relation on the short term is not beneficial. On the other hand, with some organizations relations even extend into real research projects that get published in impact journals.
By Lucas Meijs and Philine van Overbeeke