The quiet coastal city of Pärnu, Estonia turns into a bustling resort town in summer. This causes a problem, however, for the generation of school-age youth and students living there. They are driven out of the city in summer by a rental market that favours tourists, and move to other cities after graduation seeking learning opportunities and employment outside of the service industry.
Two local organisations recognised this problem: the Pärnu Community Fund, a network of community leaders and local NGOs, and Forwardspace, a network and co-working space for freelancers and entrepreneurs. They saw an opportunity to take an innovative approach to this challenge, and facilitated an experimentation process in 2017. This process followed a certain design and included three phases, namely the definition of local challenges, the co-creation of solutions and the development of these solutions. In facilitating each of these phases, they made use of the innovation tools and resources in the SIC Learning Repository.
Over 40 people participated in this co-creation process, including young residents of Pärnu, local entrepreneurs, community organisations and policy makers from the municipality. Though the organisations that hosted the process were small, they managed to engage with several public offices as well as the local centre for business development, which were considered ‘unusual suspects’. Even the mayor participated in the final event. The groups worked on challenges such as the lack of housing and work opportunities for youth in the region. This was the first time many of these actors worked on a social challenge in a co-creative fashion with several stakeholders, and these unique features brought the social innovation process to the attention of local and national news outlets and was featured on the Estonian national news broadcast.
The experimentation process resulted in a number of solutions, namely:
- Co-Võrk. This solution aims to convince more companies of the potential Pärnu has as a city for them to relocate to, by creating an information portal for these companies where they can find information and services (e.g. real estate, recruitment) about Pärnu and access to a local agent.
- Pärnu Network. It aims to fill some of the gaps in support for small start-ups by creating a community of self-educated entrepreneurs who offer to share their skills, knowledge and learning resources. The solution is two-fold: it encourages self-learning to stimulate (young) people to start their own business in Pärnu, and at the same time offers a platform and community to entrepreneurs in the city to increase support and visibility.
While these solutions are still in the first phases of development and testing, the innovation process put the issue of the ‘youth drain’ of Pärnu on the agenda on local public actors, launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #jäämepärnu (“I’m staying in Pärnu”), which trended in Estonia during the online discussion. It has fostered new collaborations between local public, private and civil society partners, instigating a social innovation movement in this small Estonian community.