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The Power of Making

By Makers Unite

At Makers Unite we have designed an effective social inclusion program based upon the co-creation of products that matter – driven by stories that matter. The stories come right from the heart. They are tales of new hope: the inspiring stories of newcomers.

Impact is our goal and inspiration is our motto.

The discarded life-vests worn by migrants crossing into Europe were what sparked our inspiration and continue to act as our primary working material. We started by upcycling them into everyday products, which, due to the inherent story each piece carries, encourage conversation about the relationships between newcomers and our society. We believe that a dialogue of trust & understanding can be sparked between newcomers and locals through the act of making thing together. This is what inspired the programmes & workshops that paved the way for what is now Makers Unite. But what is it that we’re doing exactly? Continue reading to discover our colourful roots and how we came to be one of the pioneers of the CRISALIS project.

It all began with an inspirational workshop between newcomers and locals in February 2016. Collectively, the diverse group of participants brainstormed what to do with the thousands of abandoned life-vests left on Greek shores of Lesbos. The session resulted in a campaign called Re_vest_Life, which upcycled the life-vests into small, yet symbolic ribbons. The campaign aimed to connect refugees and locals whilst experimenting in re-formulating the symbolism attached to the life-vest material by upcycling it. The kick-off of Re-vest Life happened on King’s Day 2016, the national holiday that marks the “orange madness” or oranjegekte, populating the streets of every major city of the Netherlands with thousands of people dressed in orange celebrating the birth of the King Willem-Alexander.

Over the weeks following King’s Day, The Re_Vest_Life campaign evolved into the Makers Unite collection: a variety of upcycled commercial products for travel & daily use. However, we noticed that Re_Vest_Life campaign was also acting to empower newcomers in taking steps to rebuild their lives in their new Dutch environment. This inspired the core team us to develop a program where newcomer participants could express their needs and find the next step in their career. And so, the Makers Unite Creative Lab was born!

During 6-weeks of the programme, participants get to know each other and receive personal and professional training that serves their diverse career prospects. Crucially, everything is done under the umbrella of creative thinking. The program aligns participants with the unique demands of the Dutch creative industry and its flexible and multidisciplinary nature through creative assignments, field visits, and professional master classes. Newcomers find their next professional step: education, traineeship or employment within the creative industry in the Netherlands.

“The creativity boost at the beginning of each session is really important. It helps us to bond and get to know each other” said Noor, an artist, designer, and mom of a five-year-old. Noor is right. Each session is designed to initiate with an activity that connects the participants on an emotional level with the intention of bringing out their talents. Opening a communication channel among participants and using creative workshops to inspire us all, helps the team to get to know the person behind the title of ‘refugee’. The talents are noticeable when a safe, fun and easy-going environment is provided. Makers Unite provides such a space.

Photo: Nichon Glerum

One of our favourite elements of each programme are the weekly ‘production hours.’ They are especially sentimental to us as this is really how Makers Unite started. Each week a new the group is lead through different processes of the production of our life-vest collection, from cutting & preparing the life-vests to helping brainstorm designs for new products. These sessions are made special by the level of connection and sharing that the participants bring to them. Participants are invited to share music and stories while they work, creating an inclusive atmosphere that encourages personal exploration. The unique traits and talents that are uncovered during these sessions are what helps us match them to their next professional step.

An important activity of each session is done by ‘check-in’ at the beginning. We share our state of mind, expectations of the day & how our bodies are feeling before proceeding with the activities planned for the day. Closing the session is similar, but this time through ‘checking-out;’ sharing thoughts & reflections within the group after the activities. How do we feel now and how did we find the session?

Makers Unite has now been a reality for over 2 years. Our ongoing program and several workshops have proven that making products together initiates fruitful conversation and develops trust. Moreover, we still have the same hunger of knowledge, to share our learnings and also learn from others, with the firm intention of making always making our programme better. In the quest of looking for new ways to approach social inclusion, we had the opportunity to meet and engage with other organizations with similar values. Progetto Quid, a female led social company based in Verona, Italy and The Language Project, a Greece based organization using tools of cross-cultural communication as a solution to provide help to vulnerable social groups.

Progetto Quid, The Language Project and Makers Unite, have all conquered many obstacles that come with growing an entrepreneurial social enterprise. Progetto Quid, now has over one hundred and twenty employees, many of them women who have had a past of violence and that encounter themselves at some point vulnerable and with no working opportunities foreseeable in their future. We connected with Progetto Quid and The Language Project during the ChangemakersXchange program of 2016, in Palermo, Italy.

Since then, there has been always a good intention to collaborate together, utilising the unique talents each enterprise brings to the table. Progetto Quid has the know-how to evolve and scale production in a sustainable way. The Language Project has been able to use art therapy, creative writing and non-spoken language as tools that bridge cultures. Makers Unite has developed the know-how of the principles of co-creation and self-development. The CRISALIS project presents the perfect opportunity to unite our strengths and co-create a project that is truly meaningful to all of us.

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