PRISONERS WEAVING HAMMOCKS: LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE FIRST DISCOVERY WEEK HELD AT CERGE-EI

19 of the 22 students on the MA in Applied Economics program gathered at CERGE-EI one week before the new academic year officially began to take part in the Discovery Week. The principal goal of this event was to provide fresh ideas to an organization working with marginalized communities – such as prisoners – who weave hammocks for public spaces.

For the first time in its history, the MA in Applied Economics study program at CERGE-EI commenced with Discovery Week, an intensive five-day program consisting of numerous activities, including networking, teambuilding games and even yoga lessons. The key activity, however, required students to find solutions for Houpací sociální sítě, a Czech NGO, to have more impact on the Czech market.

What is Houpací sociální sítě?

Houpací sociální sítě (in English “social hammocks”) is a special social project focused on increasing job opportunities for Czech prisoners. In selected prisons, inmates produce hammocks which the NGO subsequently sells. Keeping the social aspect of the project in mind, the method chosen to approach the problem was Human Centered Design which is based on discovering the needs of a specific target group, in this case, of prison inmates.

“How can Houpací sociální sítě have more impact?” was the basic question the students, who were divided into four groups, had to explore in less than a week. During the first two days, the students met numerous groups and stakeholders to gather data: from former inmates and prison authorities to public space experts, and marketing and advertising professionals. Having gathered the input, the students separated into teams to cook up specific strategies aiming to stimulate the project.

Public spaces or special design? Anything goes!

On the final day, each group presented their proposals to their peers and a special jury including the founder of Houpací sociální sítě, a senior consultant from innovation consultancy IdeaSense, and the project manager from Czech crowdfunding platform HitHit.

Proposals were as diverse as the class itself: some chose to concentrate on increasing public space penetration, others on adopting a specific hammock design, or on teaming up with a strong partner to increase sales. No idea presented — however creative or crazy it might have seemed — was ever ruled out as inadequate: each proposal was immediately reflected upon by the jury, providing valuable feedback to each team.

Iva Kleinová, the MA in Applied Economics Program Director, said following the Discovery Week: “I am very pleased with how the Discovery Week went. In this program, we focus on developing Data-driven Changemakers. Students will have the whole year to learn the data part, and the Discovery Week was the first opportunity for them to work on their mindsets of being changemakers. Our students took the task extremely seriously and developed valuable proposals in a very short period of time. I hope they keep up that collaborative and inquisitive mindset throughout the year and use it to challenge the professors on issues that interest them.”

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