In our growing up years, most of us have learned concepts and ideas not just from our teachers at our schools but also from our peers. In fact, I reckon the ideas and concepts that we learn from our peers make greater impact on us and our learning. ‘Peer to Peer’ learning methodology is implemented by outstanding schools where the teacher’s role is more of a coach who makes space for children to learn from each other. However, this amazing and cohesive learning methodology is limited to some education institutes where the school principals are quiet aware about its benefits. This is where Roman Rüdiger’s exemplary work of building a platform where students from all backgrounds and all schools from Germany can benefit. His platform called the buddY initiative also enables children to develop essential social change making and emotional skills like leadership,creativity and team work. Roman has been able to spread his initiative across Germany. Till Date, buddY initiative has reached over 1,400 schools,over 15,000 teachers and over 500,000 children. We spoke to this inspiring change maker,Here is the chat:
- What is the perspective and background of developing this brilliant model of ‘Peer to Peer’ learning?
The Vodafone Foundation, 15 years ago, already had its program ‘Offroad Kids’, supporting street children in Germany. Their work with these children and young people taught them something important: That prevention matters. So they decided to bring a program into schools to develop social learning for emotional and social competencies. This started the BuddY program even before the organization itself existed – so it grew out of a pilot, if you want. With the program growing in importance, relevance and scale, Vodafone then asked me to institutionalize and create a proper organization – in 2005.
- Can you tell us how you got the parents and the schools to get involved in this model?
BuddY has grown over more than ten years – we now have four programs all focused on developing children’s and young people’s emotional and social competencies well. One of our four programs focuses particularly on parents – to prepare them to accompany their children well during the transition from kindergarten to elementary school. The focus is particularly on parents who had either a negative or no experience at all with the German school system. Our understanding is that the most important learning for children still happens within the family unit – so in this particular program, we accompany parents so they can change their own skeptical and critical attitude towards school , be engaged in their children’s education and motivate their children. Early on, before school starts, these parents get engaged and learn. An extension of that program now also trains and supports whole kindergarten teacher teams to grow and develop in their work with those parents.
With the schools, the important aspect from the beginning was not to waste time and energy in campaigning from school to school, making ‘cold’ calls. What helped us gain entry was that we decided to ‘work from the top’: convince the relevant ministries of education to support our concept and open up access to the schools. Thus recommended, it was easier for us to introduce our program into the schools.
- What kind of challenges you faced in promotion of this concept which your organisation supports?
One challenge is getting financial support that is long-term, so that sustainable project work is guaranteed. We succeed, but, like for any social enterprise, it definitely is an ongoing challenge … Another challenge is: Reaching the ‘sparkling’ multipliers who will take us further through their networks and connections – and not having to cooperate too much with those who are not really that motivated. If you look at the known model of the change adoption curve, it is simply easier to work with the visionaries and the early adopters, however, in terms of pure numbers, there are not that many around … There are many more members of the late majority, and you need to work with them, too – however, this work takes much more energy and is ultimately less effective.
- How did you succeed in making the idea so popular in Germany?Do you think this kind of learning can be applied universally?
There are several aspects here:
Regarding program content, our basic concept makes a lot of sense in itself and therefore appeals to a lot of teachers and students alike, so we have a very large target group.
Regarding institutionalization and funding, a very important success factor has been that the Vodafone Foundation is a very reliable and financially strong partner that has kept us afloat also during geographic expansion into more German provinces.
Regarding systemic change, as mentioned before, in the provincial programs, to effectively ‘change the whole system’, we work directly with the provincial ministries of education, using their communication channels into schools, so we can do effective direct advertising for the programs and reach our target audience at the source.
Regarding leadership, our employees (I’m really just citing them here) claim that they have a ‘visionary’ as head of the organization who passionately ‘burns’ for the cause. I am indeed passionate about the cause and my work, networking and campaigning relentlessly. I am also an Ashoka Fellow – check out Ashoka and their fellows in many other countries on the Internet; all very committed social entrepreneurs.
Regarding your second question: We know from neuroscience that learning works best when positive emotions are involved. With BuddY, we encourage students to self-organize their learning. We believe that that is one important key for unlocking positive emotions. So from our perspective, the idea itself is universal. The more difficult issue in question is the conceptional implementation in other countries.
5. If someone had to initiate similar concept in another country,what would be your advice to them?
In any other country, you have to look at how school and the school system work locally. E.g. in some Asian countries, where the education system is strongly based on frontal teaching, learning by heart, and a rather punitive approach, you would have to think really well how to adapt our program concept to be able to gain acceptance plus implement it well.
So far, BuddY is active exclusively throughout Germany, but of course, if you or your readers, as you are on the road a lot, have own ideas how to implement the program concept in other countries, we’d be happy to talk on the phone one of these days. We can probably provide relevant documentation and content material for adaptation.
6. Can you narrate to us any incident in your journey which strengthened your will to promote the concept of buddY?
Oh, there are many different incidents … Overall, we have received so much appreciation for the concept (we just celebrated our 10-year anniversary with a big event), and keep making the experience that there is a strong demand – so that demand keeps us going: responding, expanding and scaling. Because ultimately, it is scale that really contributes to systemic change – and that is what we are all after as social change makers, aren’t we?