The Zuidoost (southeast) district in Amsterdam was constructed in the 1960s with the vision of becoming a utopian town of the future, but unfortunately, the neighborhood was not as popular as expected by the residents, which left the district with a reputation of abandonment, struggle, and crime. In the last 20 years, Zuidoost has been the target of renewal projects and currently, it gives around 88.000 inhabitants of 130 different nationalities a home. Hereunder is the biggest community of Surinamese descent in the Netherlands, but also people from South America, the Caribbean, or West Africa, who describe their community as a spark of freedom and emancipation, colorful, festive, and a harbor for stories, life, and entrepreneurship within their own cultural identity.
Due to its distance from the main city, the Zuidoost district is rather separated and forms its own community, which shows a higher crime rate compared to the rest of Amsterdam, since it is still up to this day the most poverty-stricken area.
Together with CommuniCity, the community engagement platform WeSolve has been used as an engagement tool to inform, engage, and co-create in regard to helping specifically young people in the district who were in contact with the police in the past.
Legislation vs. External Circumstances: A Life of Crime?
In the Netherlands, as in many other countries as well a criminal record is customized for each individual citizen, which infirmates criminal activities and in individual cases also notes from the police. These criminal records are placed upon citizens from the age of 12, which means that delicts carried out by minors and teenagers are also taken into account. The dilemma arises with the fact, that oftentimes these crimes are being conducted out of necessity due to growing up in poverty and abuse and not knowing better as a young person growing up in the Zuidoost district. Nevertheless, the criminal record has a great impact on the future of a teenager, since it is being taken into account for job applicants in specific areas such as care work, kindergarten teacher, caretaker, or cab driver.
This legislation is being put into place to protect vulnerable people and the workforce from potentially criminal people and makes sense when seen logically. However, it limits the chances for youngsters who have committed a crime at a very young age and now want to redeem themselves in becoming a better person and finding work to create a better life for themselves.
The Paradox of the VOG
One way for residents with a criminal record to still find employment in certain professions is to apply, either online or in person for a certificate of conduct (VOG in Dutch) by the justice department of Amsterdam.
In theory, the job applicant is being evaluated by the department and either given the VOG or a chance to prove one’s personal growth through an additional letter of motivation.
Within this project, WeSolve firstly has been used to gather personal experiences through focus groups, targeting young people within the Zuidoost Community between 16 and 32 years old and their experiences with the process, which resulted in anxiety, insecurities, and shame in regard to the application process. Even though on the web the process is being stated as simple, a lot of young people shared mistrust towards the city and the police as the only understanding of the certificate of conduct mostly was tarnished by rejections.
This leads to many young people in the district not knowing where to get help and not wanting to apply for certain job positions, where a VOG is mandatory, which results in understaffing within the care and social sector.
WeSolve: Centralizing Information, Knowledge, and Community – Customized
What was missing for the young generation in Zuidoost was a platform, that forsters engagement but also informs and inspires at the same time.
A platform that is customized to their agenda and their needs from the community for the community.
WeSolve presented the framework for this platform.
Within multiple workshops with the members of the Zuidoost community, the platform has been shaped and customized within the design and content due to its great flexibility and multi-functionality.
It was important that the digital infrastructure reflected the spirit of the community as well as inspired growth, and entrepreneurship in an engaging and co-creating way, whilst also providing support and knowledge about social organizations and the VOG process.
The Wesolve platform therefore has been utilized to compartment surveys and collaborations among the people of Zuidoost, together with inspirational content and success stories both in getting the VOG and finding employment as well as starting one’s own company and promoting growth from within.
The people of Zuidoost are incredibly proud of their community and for many it is of great importance to not succumb to the system that is placed upon them by the Dutch authorities and mostly white people but to celebrate their own culture and start projects, educational programs and businesses from within the community.
In the case of this project, co-creation needed to come from within to inspire and inform in a safe space in which differences and past mistakes do not matter.
WeSolve provided an opportunity to understand the needs and challenges of the community and can hopefully provide an option on how other cities can create growth from within.