Pedro Calado, High Commissioner for Migration and National Coordinator of the Choices Programme (Programa Escolhas). Portugal
In this interview, Pedro Calado talks in depth about the Choices Programme (Programa Escolhas), which promotes the social inclusion of children and youths of the most vulnerable communities in Portugal.
Pedro Calado graduated in Geography from the University of Lisbon, with a specialisation in education, holding a Master's degree in Geography from the University of Lisbon/University of Sheffield, with a specialisation in "Exclusion, Society and Territory". In 2011 he took the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Programme.
Consultant and external evaluator in various organisations, such as the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, he is also a founder and volunteer in various organisations of the third sector.
Mr. Calado is currently working as the High Commissioner for Migration, and the National Coordinator of the Choices Programme.
He has been the Choices Programme delegate in the European Crime Prevention Network (EUCPN), and the award winner, in 2003, of the European Heinz Roethof Prize, conferred by the European Union.
In December 2014 he collected on behalf of the Choices Programme the ‘Juvenile Justice without Borders’ International Award, given by the International Juvenile Justice Observatory.
Which are the core strategies that the Choices Programme implements in order to prevent risk of exclusion amongst young people?
The Choices Programme (Programa Escolhas) is a national programme of the Portuguese government for social inclusion under the Ministry of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, and is part of the High Commission for Migration (www.programaescolhas.pt). The Programme was created to promote the social inclusion of children and youths of the most vulnerable communities, particularly the descendants of immigrants and other ethnic minorities.
The participants group is composed of young people, aged between 6 and 24 years old, coming from the most vulnerable socioeconomical contexts, including immigrants descendants and individuals who belong to Roma communities, which are encountered in one or more of the following situations: involved with school failure, truancy, and early school leaving; NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training); connected with deviant behaviours; subject to guardianship measures; or subject to promotion and protection measures.
A main strategy of the Choices Programme is that it considers the target groups to be its biggest resource, as part of an empowerment approach. The individuals engaged are perceived as key actors instead of victims. According to our external evaluators, it is the ability to believe in those at risk of social exclusion, their resources and capacity for change and resilience, that has been the base for the Programme’s impact. Furthermore, by “not perceiving these children and youngsters as victims, but as actors, the intervention focuses on the construction work itself, strengthening positive identities, overcoming forms of vulnerability and recreating strong social ties”.
To engage these individuals, the Programme has established five main axis of intervention: school inclusion, vocational training, civic participation, digital inclusion and empowerment. Following these five priorities, the local communities must gather local will and apply for specific actions that are supported by the Programme through local projects implemented in the communities. This is the second very important aspect: the Programme’s governance model.
The external evaluators of the Programme describe the interventions as “circular” (a mix of top-down and bottom-up), with learning processes that make it possible to identify common principles and solutions for the work in the Programme, while maintaining the possibility of designing tailored made local interventions. Through a network of local projects, covering the most at risk population groups and communities, the Programme mobilizes more than 1000 local partners that deliver day to day actions, making our effort more efficient. Rather than a pure top-down or bottom-up model, the Programme has managed to create its own model, the “Seven P” governance model.
Ultimately, the main intention, in partnership with local stakeholders, is to support and foster the development of resilient children and youth, through the provision of structured opportunities to exercise civic participation and pro-social behaviours in communities.
Which validated models, proven effective in other countries, have been taken as the main references for the Choices Programme?
When the Programme was being designed, the model developed in Canada served as an inspiration, namely the experiences of the Canadian Council through the National Crime Prevention Centre, concerning social development, for those organisations saw that “when children were developing their capacities, crime wouldn’t progress”.
The relatively long term existence of the Programme has allowed for the continuous development of a reflective capacity that has facilitated subsequent adjustment to structural changes over the last decade. The Programme is constantly looking at best practices nationally and internationally, in order to improve its practices in different areas, and 14 years after its implementation, it is now being recognized as an inspiration for other countries, which is something that truly honours our efforts.
How does the partnership model used by the Choices Programme function?
The partnerships are considered as one of the Programme’s seven basic principles.
It was during its second phase (2003-2005) that the intervention model was redesigned, moving from a rather centralised model to a bottom-up Programme focused on projects that were planned locally and based on the mobilization of local institutions. These local organisations were challenged to design, implement and evaluate the projects.
Now in its 5th phase, the 141 local projects, supported by the Choices Programme throughout the country, gather over 1000 different organisations engaged in the local consortiums, where, on average, eight partners integrate each local consortium. The most common partners are: schools; non governmental organizations; local authorities (city councils and parishes); private companies; security forces, among others.
Through these local consortia, the involved partners articulate information about individuals that need further support, guiding them to the local projects. When designing the project, all partners need to clearly identify what their main responsibilities and contributions during the project cycle will be. In each consortium, besides the regular partner profiles, one leading partner and a financial manager partner exist, although in most of the cases the leading partner is the financial manager.
Added value, resulting from the engagement of local partners from different sectors, can be highlighted through the following aspects: deep knowledge of local issues and local needs; engagement of stakeholders with considerable experience and knowledge of local work in partnership, with strong potential to convert this know-how into the better conception and implementation of an intervention project site; greater exchange of information and knowledge generated by the consortium working climate. Furthermore, the level of resources gathered is increased by over 24.500.000€ by an integrated management of contributions made by the local partners.
This partnership model has allowed room for knowledge and skills transference, chiefly as a result of involvement of local partners. Local governance is clearly highlighted as being effective by the external evaluators: “The Programme manages to locally be set up as a promoter and enhancer of partnerships to diagnose, plan and intervene, arguing in a register of community partnership, actions and even sharing of resources trying to overcome obstacles such as the unavailability and sometimes the lack of technicians or spaces in the neighbourhoods or schools.”
What challenges has the Choices Programme faced in instigating the involvement of communities, and in general civil society, in the Programme?
Through the local consortia, the different partners coordinate information about individuals that need further support, facilitating their access to the different actions and resources available. This close relationship with the community allows for the identification of those who are in need through the informal guidance made by the community itself.
One of the key aspects that facilitate community engagement is the presence of local institutions, community workers and community engagers.
Among several aspects worth highlighting, one can identify the proximity and flexibility of the interventions. In this scope, there are several engagement strategies and participation mechanisms at the local and central level which make possible, and foster, participants’ active involvement, namely:
- Small Grants initiative: the Choices Programme allows 50% funding for youth initiated and guided projects, encouraging them to mobilize the extra 50% and developing further support from the local community;
- Community Engagers: youngsters (aged 19-35) who work as representatives and facilitators of the local projects;
- Review of project plans and reports produced by technicians and local partners: making sure young people are involved in running the projects, and gathering their opinion as a deliberative power within the local projects;
- Local Youth Councils (LYC): based on participative democratic methods, each project has its own LYC, where the youth has defined roles within a common framework;
- National Youth Council (NYC): a national body that supports the decisions of the National Co-ordinator of the Program, mobilizing 25 local representatives, selected locally and elected by peers on a national scale.
The participants are invited to take an active role in the project guidance and implementation. Those initiatives, besides helping the projects to better direct its action to the community needs, contribute to a greater sense of belonging amongst the participants.
How does the Programme involve families in the support of young people?
Family members are considered to be an important target-group in the projects intervention, and therefore there are specific actions which seek out their engagement, in order to garner better results regarding the parental supervision process. The Programme involves families in its projects together with the young people, encouraging:
(1) The promotion of affective relationships between parents and children;
(2) The creation of more positive expectations for the parents in relation to their children’s’ future; and
(3) The young people’s opportunity to participate and contribute.
Besides the specific sessions and home visits performed by the local project staff, relatives are invited to participate in a wide range of activities, from community engagement to digital inclusion initiatives and courses.
In this line of action, our projects have promoted very interesting activities with an intergenerational dialogue as an important focus.
There has been a non-exclusive focusing within the Programme on providing entrepreneurial and employment assistance to at-risk youths. In the climate of economic recession, what measures has the Programme found as most effective? What have been the main challenges in improving employment opportunities for youths from minority backgrounds?
Each generation of the Programme has improved on its predecessor, learning from its practices and adapting to changing needs. The recent focus on employability and entrepreneurship (4th and 5th generations, since 2010) answers the challenges presented by the new socio-economic context of the country, and builds on the best practices of the past, while exploring new solutions for the future.
It’s in this climate of economic recession that innovative approaches regarding entrepreneurial and employment initiatives are most needed. Our focus has been on Inclusive Entrepreneurship methods. That’s why the Cabinet Resolution that defined the 5th generation established the opportunity to fund a further 30 experimental projects (15 in 2014 and 15 in 2015) with a clear focus on employability.
These are annual experimental projects based on creative and sustainable responses, with a clear focus on employability, job placement and business development. They are particularly designed for young people living in the most vulnerable areas, mainly comprised of descendants of immigrants and ethnic minorities. The specific call for proposals for 15 annual projects on inclusive entrepreneurship resulted in 263 applications from all over the country, including the autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira. Following the final pitch presentation, the jury evaluated the projects and selected those for implementation.
Regarding the projects implemented in 2014, by typology we have approved the following initiatives:
- 9 business oriented initiatives, from which 7 are related to the provision of proximity services: sewing, household repairs, cleaning, low cost tourism, gymnasium/bar/social art gallery, organization of events and exhibitions, gardening and car cleaning;
- 2 are related to commercialization of products, one in the agriculture field, the other in the manufacture and sale of biscuits;
- The remaining projects are focused on transition models for active life.
One promising project under this specific call is a Youth Hostel in Lagos, Algarve Regio. This project aimed to open a youth hostel by adapting a deactivated primary school. The consortium consists of a local NGO with years of experience in education, training and social support for at risk children, disabled people and the elderly; the local municipal government; the local office of the national Institute for Employment and Vocational Training; several local public schools; and a private design and communication company.
With a low cost model, the hostel aims to serve young people (from schools and other organizations) with particular attention given to groups from vulnerable communities (from other Choices Programme projects). Opened in June 2014, some of the key actions in its development have been:
- The Municipal Government signed the transfer of the rights of the use of the space of the former primary school;
- The carpentry programme from the local centre of professional rehabilitation of disabled persons crafted the bunks, beds, tables and chairs for the hostel;
- The local office of the Institute for Professional Employment and Training approved 6 internships that could turn into full time employment. The individuals were selected in the nearby social housing neighbourhood;
- The private communication company designed the logo and image of the hostel;
- Hotels from the region offered used equipment.
Regarding their performance in 2014, these projects involved over 1000 participants, created over 100 jobs, and fostered the creation of 12 new small business initiatives.
Mostly, these are small scale solutions, mobilizing resources that were available but neglected.
Why has the Choices Programme made digital inclusion one of its main areas of focus?
The focus on digital inclusion emerged in the Programme’s second generation, in 2004, in response to the growing recognition given to ICT and to the need to foster skills development in the context of the information society.
Structured in five main axes, the Programme’s fourth measure is specifically aimed at promoting digital inclusion, focusing on the accessibility, development and certification of ICT skills. Under this axis, projects were able to apply and implement Digital Inclusion Centres, set up free of charge resources, and bring them to territories and people that wouldn’t otherwise be able to benefit from them. In general, the strategic lines of activity within the digital inclusion centres are: ICT certified training courses, promotion of ICT skills and competences, ICT exploration through informal activities, school homework, job readiness programmes, information searching and other leisure activities.
In order to better support the work done locally by the projects, the Choices Programme has established protocols based on Corporate Social Responsibility. In the educational field, the protocol with Porto Editora (Portuguese publishing company), provides free access to an interesting eLearning platform (www.escolavirtual.pt), in the form of interactive classes, named the “Virtual School”, contributing positively to the overall rate of success achieved in the last school year. Within ICT training initiatives, partnerships with Microsoft for the use of the Digital Literacy curriculum (www.literaciadigital.pt), and with the CISCO Networking Academy, allow us to implement the IT Essentials curriculum, providing an introduction to the computer hardware and software skills needed to help meet the growing demand for entry-level information and communication technology (ICT) professionals.
Between January 2013 and December 2015 these 107 Digital Inclusion Centres engaged a total of 30,553 unique individuals in 163,147 registered working sessions dedicated to digital inclusions activities, issuing nearly 10,000 ICT certificates.
What impact has the Programme made over the years on youth crime prevention in Portugal?
To gather the numerous impacts of a programme with such far-reaching results has always been one of the biggest challenges and difficulties. Evaluation within the Choices Programme primarily manifests from the collection of results of the local projects. There are countless results, but especially important are the stories of lives that have changed as a result of direct actions by the Choices projects.
Alongside the local impacts that are monitored by each project, some national indicators are monitored by the Programme itself. Therefore, every three years, an external academic research centre produces research through a complex and multifaceted indicator regarding the risk of exclusion of children and young people. That indicator reflects the changes in the risk associated with youth crime, youth pregnancy, early school leaving, and several other indicators. The Index of Children and Youth Exclusion Risk (2009) is a very powerful tool for a global assessment of our impact.
Considering the global, mainstream approach of the Programme, and even though some results are not exclusively linked with the Programme’s work, it is undeniable that several national indicators do reflect the success of the Programme’s intervention since 2001. That is clearly highlighted by external evaluations and several external reports (MIPEX, 2011; Handbook on Integration, 2009; PISA, 2010). Therefore, with a national perspective, and since 2001, it is possible to identify a continuous decline in juvenile crime rates.
In a more qualitative approach, the final external evaluation report highlights the following results: “Close monitoring, knowledge of the local projects, monitoring and information system innovation, quality and dynamism of the central staff, remarkable flow of interpersonal communication between projects, effective mobilization of information technologies and knowledge, importance given to innovation and experimentation methodology, high number of promising practices related to projects are elements that materialized in the overall quality of Choices Programme and that make a difference compared to other interventions, both in the national or, in some areas, in the international arena”.
Globally, and considering the wide and in-depth approach that the Programme enhances, the results have been recorded in the following way by the external evaluators:
1. Widespread intervention towards promoting preventive and educational attainment with results largely achieved;
2. Strong intervention and impact on personal, social and civic dimensions presented as a promoter and promotion of other fundamental results;
3. Positive impact upon the referral to vocational training and the labour market;
4. Commitment to promoting digital inclusion, in some cases as an aim in itself, in others as a strategy and contribution to personal, social, educational and technical empowerment;
5. Intervention with families geared towards promoting the appreciation of the schooling of their children and in improving their parenting skills, however, with results below expectations.
Having been the Choices Programme’s director for most of its trajectory, are there projects which you would say have been the key milestones or highlights, and why?
We work to gradually disappear as a Programme. Our focus on problems that are being tackled in Portugal is clearly valued when in some communities the problems are solved. In that sense, a milestone appeared in 2012 when, in one of our communities, the local partners contacted us in order to end their project. The local school had just recorded the highest scores in the national exams for the region, and there were no further NEET situations. The community was ready to continue by itself, independent of our support. These are the milestones that we really work for.
In your opinion, what are the key reasons for the Programme’s endurance through political changes and the economic situation?
We truly believe that the Programme’s endurance is based on our monitoring and evaluation system and, specifically, on our capacity to demonstrate the project’s overall impact and its positive cost-benefit analysis. We are absolutely focused on evaluation as it is seen as an essential structural part of the Programme’s working method.
Through the development of a permanently accessible online platform (AGIL), providing accurate analysis of the results of each project, and overall key indicators simultaneously, the Programme has been able to show its overall impact and its cost-benefit value, proving that investment in prevention is not only important, but also an effective saving for Portuguese society.
The International Juvenile Justice Observatory has recently given the Choices Programme the ‘Juvenile Justice without Borders’ International Award for its work in the promotion of the social inclusion of children and young people from more vulnerable socio-economic contexts. In which ways do recognitions like these help the purposes of the Programme?
The ‘Juvenile Justice without Borders’ International Award is extremely relevant, particularly because it comes from the International Juvenile Justice Observatory, an observatory with a wide scope of action and a global dimension regarding the Choices Programme intervention areas.
The focus on early prevention, localism and the ability to promote resilience, have been basic principles of the Choices Programme from its origin. This award recognises the added value of this intervention, giving us, above all, even more determination to continue on this path. This award will reinforce and take to an upper stage the activities built over the last years, and raise awareness of the importance of investing in the fight against social exclusion and in the defence, promotion and realisation of human rights and democratic values, especially in the most disadvantaged communities in Portugal.