Social innovation and labor participation in the Netherlands

This Saturday I participated for the First time in a conference of the Dutch Democratic party (D66). The program held a variety of topics and besides plenary sessions there was opportunity to split up in smaller groups for so called “Fringe meetings”. The new members of the so called “First chamber’’ (comparable with the house of lords in the UK) were presented, there was voting on different topics; for different positions in the party and to position the D66 view concerning issues like nuclear/renewal energy.

With the commission for male/female/human rights – of which I am one of the board members – we organized a fringe meeting on social innovation and labor participation. The meeting was hosted by Pia Dijkstra, one of our representatives in our so called “second chamber”, the Dutch parliament. Jurriaan Pröpper, Anneke van Doorne-Huiskens and Artie Schimmel shared a brief introduction with the almost 100 participants.

Social innovation and labor participation may be one of the most important, if not the most important, topic for the coming years. The economical growth of the Netherlands is with an average of 1,5% behind on the predictions and downsizing of the governmental expenses with 30 billion euro won’t be sufficient to keep our economy healthy. And is downsizing the solution in an context of international insecurity and instability where our country relies strongly on international developments and trade?

In the Netherlands for every person that is working there also is a person not working and labor participation is going down. Scenarios predict that we are moving towards a division of 40% of our population working and 60% not working in 2045. This makes the social system for which the Dutch are famous unaffordable and our economy dropping. So cutbacks are needed as well as are other solutions.

The Netherlands are European champion in part time working. Almost 37% of our working population is working part time and 80% of that group is female (working 25 hrs a week average). So, when we talk about the necessity to increase labor participation to keep our social system alive, women have a key role.

During the Fringe meeting we asked all participants to bring in suggestions to improve participation. And there are no simple solutions here. What struck me was that there were many one issue solutions and even a kind of denial of the importance and complexity of this issue.

As member of the commission concerning the position of women in Dutch society I have the opportunity to talk with the ministers of the Dutch cabinet. This commission is a collaboration between 6 political parties, all represented by the board of their women’s movement. The Dutch Democrats don’t have a specific committee for women and I personally believe that the issues should be addressed by women and men together. That is one of the reasons why I as only man participate in this commission.

In conversations with the ministers we can clearly see the boundaries of each ministry and how this brings limitations for structural solutions that will bring the famous Dutch social system into the 21st century. Members of the commission also have to work hard to keep issues concerning the position of women in Dutch society on the political agenda of their own political party. Naturally there are differences between the democratic, Christian, socialist and green parties, but most of the time members in the commission seem to agree more than their political leaders do.

A question that is on top of my mind is “In what kind of a society do I want to live and what do I value of the Dutch social and economical system? Starting here with an appreciative approach and using an integral perspective I believe we can see solutions that are both effective and contributing to a step forwards. Downsizing might be necessary by it doesn’t solve the real problems.

I value the Dutch society for its innovative capacity and for its social system. In my belief we historically have been pioneers in creating the current western economy and leading in developing a country that has integrated social values successfully into its societal systems. I’d love to cherish what we have accomplished and move forward from there being realistic in redefining what is possible beyond our current boundaries.

We have created a society where care for the other person is integrated in how we have organized our community; our tax system and expenses; our educational and health systems and our and social care. I am proud of the way we take care of our citizens, ‘members of our tribe’, with a social system where every person has access to healthcare and nobody has to live in poverty. I am proud of the Netherlands as a country that created the fundaments for modern trade and finance. And most of all I am fortunate to live in a country where freedom of thought and speech without discrimination of religion, race or sexuality is highly valued and part of Dutch constitution.

As in other countries there are tensions in the Netherlands. People are insecure about their jobs and financial situation; there is an increasing distrust in government and politics (actually in authority in general); populist right wing language and extremism are increasingly accepted; and there seems to be an increasing secularization of, and polarization between groups of different ethnic and religious background. Whether this actually is about ethnic or religion can be discussed. Personally I believe something else is going on.

I would like to preserve what we have achieved and am realistic enough to see that our current solutions won’t last. It is not uncommon to grab on to what we are familiar with in times of uncertainty. It is noticeable that government, companies and other institutions choose for hard measures of cost cutting. It is understandable that people who are feeling the pain are longing for better times that used to be. But we need to move forwards and find better solutions than the ones we already know. Actually we are on the verge of making either a big jump forwards that could make the Netherlands again a guiding country or breaking down with more tensions and more people on the squares like in Tunis, Cairo and Madrid.

With finding new ways I don’t mean to say that what we have to throw overboard what we know and stop doing what we do. However, it is not sufficient if we really want to preserve what we have achieved. This requires patterns of thinking that are inclusive (‘yes and’ instead of ‘no because’), openness for not knowing (postponing of judgment, skepticism and fear) and investment in experiments that could deliver prototypes for transcendence of our current state of being/doing. The latter also requires space for failure and loss of time, money and other resources. This is hard, but it also is the way nature survives.

I believe integral approaches are needed; approaches that connects personal values of individuals into a common purpose for the collective. Approaches that align individual action with what we jointly want to become. I also believe that we need approaches that go beyond de current boundaries of ministries and other institutions. It takes collaborative action with respect for differences between people and groups.

In order to preserve the values and achievements of our nation we need to find ways to keep our social system affordable and need to find ways to improve our capacity to harvest the richness of potential offered by the diversity of people, experiences and knowledge.

We need social innovation in order to keep our social system (or at least the values it was built upon) alive. We need a higher percentage of people participating in the Netherlands in (self) employed jobs to finance our economy. We need to adjust to modern requirements and if it is true that women hold a key position in improving labor participation (and through that the economical health of the Netherlands) it might be valuable to learn to understand what is workable for women to work.

One of the solutions presented in the Fringe meeting was to make changes in our tax system, reduce tax on labor and compensate this with an increase of tax on consumption. I believe this should be seriously taken in consideration, but also belief that as a standalone solution it won’t contribute to sustainable growth.

Four issues should be taken in consideration. First the fact that our social system doesn’t financially support women in the lower income categories to work more than they do now. A lot of subsidiary support falls away when they start working (more) or re-enter into a labor relationship, sometimes resulting in a negative effect for their income to spend.

Secondly, daycare and other facilities concerning work-care balance are not effective enough to have impact. Compared with Scandinavian countries the impact of daycare facilities on higher labor participation by women stays behind. Compared with Germany the effectiveness of the money spent resulting in more and better facilities stays far behind.

Thirdly, education is a key factor in improving women’s chances to find and keep suitable work. Research shows that the impact of proper education and guidance into the labor process is even larger than all other measurements together. There still is a lot to gain here.

And, finally, labor participation by women is not an issue that only concerns women. On the contrary. Our labor process is male dominated with masculine values. These values are not always appealing for women and are certainly not inspiring women to contribute from their female power. Change in culture is needed on order to have more women participating in work processes and to have more value of women participating. And I believe the key for this lies with the male population.

Maybe a new taskforce should be installed to look into these issues from an integral perspective. Personally I will continue to contribute to the discussion and solutions from the roles that I hold as a democrat and as spouse of a working lady.

About Alain B. Volz

Alain Volz M.Sc. (1969) - Social Economy Entrepreneur, founder and director of ATMA - has studied Business Administration and Organizational Psychology. He started his career with Royal Dutch Ahold and has worked with IPMMC and TC&O. For 10 years Alain has been working with Twynstra Gudde Consultants and Managers as senior consultant Human Talent & Change Management. He was responsible for Competency Based Human Talent Management. He is co-founder of the Center for Human Emergence in the Netherlands (CHE), a former member of the CHE alignment circle and founding director of CHE School of Synnervation (currently Synnervate). In 2011 he held the position of partner with the RnR Group in Maarn. Alain is Strategy & Alignment Officer at Dipaliya Women's Association in Tamale, Ghana. In the Netherlands he is board member of the committee for the position of women and minorities in the Dutch Democratic Party (D66 Thema Afdeling V/M Sociale Innovatie). As such he represented D66 in the PVO; a cross party National committee consisting of represents from 6 different political parties (CDA, CU, D66, Groen Links, PvdA, VVD). The office of ATMA is located at the ImpactHub Amsterdam & the ImpactHub Accra.
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