The concept

Albalab participants administer the distribution of food in their neighborhood in Cartagena, Colombia during the Covid-19 epidemic. How to form...

Albalab participants administer the distribution of food in their neighborhood in Cartagena, Colombia during the Covid-19 epidemic.

How to form influencers that can make a difference?

Albalab is a network of social development laboratories that offer learning-based spare time activities for young people in neighborhoods at the bottom of the social ladder, those who, in the absence of other opportunities in life, often end up on welfare or in criminal activities.


We can assume that most of what these young people will ever need to know in order to be able to make a good life for themselves, is now available for free, or at a very low cost, online. As long as they have learned to learn, and have experienced that technology is not only entertainment but is also a tool that may give them what they want in life.


With these tools, and with the social insight they also get in Albalab, they are well equipped to become social influencers who can contribute in developing their communities into safe and good places to live.

What does an Albalab influencer learn?

In the Albalab system, young people are taught three important life skills to succeed in the 21st century, both as individuals and as a society. Surrounded by a flood of information and with a society that is constantly changing, learning to learn is paramount.


Secondly, it is important to be comfortable with technology – both for the demands of working life, but not least to enable a life of continuous learning. Finally, we give the youth an understanding of social and economic development so that they can develop into social leaders who can identify initiatives that will improve the lives of their communities.


See more about the content of these three life skills in the tabs below:

Young people in marginalized communities often succeed poorly in the education system. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean anything for their future – as long as they learn to learn.


There was probably a time when one could learn what was needed to know in working life at school or in college. But it’s been a long time since this was the case. How many of those in the workplace today actually use the skills they learned in school or in college? We have learned in courses and continuing education, we have taught ourselves, and we have not least learned on the job.


Of course, learning everything once and for all will be even less imaginable in the 21st century, given the rapid technological and social development. It is impossible to imagine the professions that will be relevant only 10-20 years ahead. And far less the tools and skills they will be require.


One can, of course, hope for a society that takes care of “lifelong learning” for its citizens, or companies that assume the same responsibility. But we should not count on either – and in any case, neither is necessary. Most of the knowledge will be freely, or very affordably, available online. What will distinguish those who are able to keep their skills up to date is whether or not they are able to acquire knowledge on their own. What young people need first and foremost – and especially in marginalized communities with poor or ill-adapted school systems – is to learn to learn.

The information revolution has made learning accessible to everyone – in principle. Now the the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway, which will automate work on a massive scale. We must ensure that disadvantaged young people develop a natural relationship with technology as a tool to constantly improve their life opportunities.


In less than three decades, the Third Industrial Revolution – the IT Revolution – has completely reshaped how we communicate, let us entertain and stay informed. For the “resourceful” it is also a tool for lifelong, cheap and extremely effective learning. While information technology for people at the bottom of the social and economic ranks, is often used only for entertainment.


Given the problem of theoretical education system that favors young people in “academic homes”, it is crucial that disadvantaged youth can experience the joy of learning and develop technology skills through practical projects. There is much we do not know about the future job market, but being able to apply / adapt / set / configure / optimize technological tools for relevant tasks is a skill employers always will be looking for.


This is the case with information technology that has reshaped the flow of information in the world so far. But now the Fourth Technological Revolution is underway. With technology such as sensors, Internet of Things, robots, artificial intelligence and 3D printing, our physical environment is also about to be revolutionized. It is imperative to involve the young people at the bottom of the social hierarchy in this job. The alternative will be lifelong exclusion with harmful consequences for society.


In Albalab, youth develop the qualities and skills to create better lives for themselves and their communities. But also understanding how social development takes place – and what obstacles it faces.


If education does not teach man to fight for himself, to criticize himself, to criticize the society in which he lives, that education is disastrous.

Estanislao Zuleta

The Albalab concept is based on a holistic philosophy of alternative development for marginalized communities where citizens often end up as passive recipients of social assistance or in crime. We help to form children and young people who have the necessary qualities and skills to help create a better future for their communities.


But that is not necessarily enough. In order for these young people to become real change agents, they must also understand how the community in which they live works, for good and for bad. In this way, in the years ahead, they will be able to identify and carry out necessary initiatives and projects in their communities that they can realize with the help of their skills.


In the Albalab system, young people will therefore also learn about subjects such as sociology, management, history, business economics, philosophy, environment and entrepreneurship. According the the Albalab concept, there obviously will be no theoretical lectures on the subjects but knowledge transfer based on practical examples linked to the actual challenges local communities face. In this way, young people will begin to form a picture of how a society should function and what it needs to  develope in the desired direction.

How to learn in Albalab?

So how will these youths acquire these skills in Albalab? A non-compulsory learning, in their spare time?

The foundation for voluntary learning is the following: All learning should be fun, based on specific projects. The projects are again linked to something the local community needs, the learning is at the same time a status-giving community service. Finally, young people will be able to get paid work as instructors in Albalab and in collaborative companies as they grow older and acquire useful knowledge.

See more about these three pieces in Albalab under these tabs:

The traditional theory-based education in the school can work fine for children who have parents with college degrees. But for young people in families living on the fringes of society, it is often a disaster.


The truth is that the only knowledge that will free us and endure in us, is the one that we have delighted
in conquering.

William Ospina

If we were to develop a new system of learning today, it would hardly be the school system as we know it: 25 students in a room, sitting at desks, listening to a teacher in front of a blackboard, where acquired knowledge is verified in theoretical tests.


First, the need to memorize information today is much less than just a couple of decades ago; Knowledge and facts are just a few keystrokes away on the phone. It is more important to find relevant and correct information – and not least to use it for something useful.


Secondly, we know that knowledge gained through passive learning is largely forgotten after a short time. In order to convert factual knowledge into actual skills one can benefit from in various situations in life, practice is needed.


And practical learning is fun! We know that children and young people can learn just about anything, as long as the learning is fun and as long as they see a purpose for it. As long as they are motivated. To put it this way: If we want youth to lose interest in computer games, the best solution is to introduce it as a subject in school!

Albalab youths acquire knowledge, skills and work experience through specific projects to improve their local community. But just as important, they receive the respect and recognition that is what all people most deeply crave.


Adam Smith wrote that “Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.” It is not money or status symbols that we most deeply crave, it is the recognition and respect from our fellow human beings. And we don’t want undeserved respect and recognition – just as we don’t appreciate undeserved compliments. We want to deserve this – “not only to be loved, but to be lovely.”


An important reason why many disadvantaged young people in marginalized neighborhoods end up in crime is because they find belonging and a role they can play in these environments. And the status symbols they can buy and the identity of being a gang member, will assure them a fear-based respect in the community.


But there are other ways to gain respect and recognition from one’s local community. By being a resource, a pioneer, an “influencer” for healthy values, a social entrepreneur. For some, this comes naturally, for others it may be important to be part of an environment that stimulates just that. Therefore, the project-based learning in Albalab is aimed at solving specific problems in the local environment: for local businesses, sports teams and other civil society organizations. Young people acquire knowledge, skills and work experience by improving their local community. What’s not to like?

Some of the learning motivation in the Albalab system comes from the opportunity to get paid part-time work when the participants have reached certain levels of competence – either as Albalab instructors or in collaborating companies.


Although recognition and respect from the surroundings is a strong driver of learning in the Albalab system, it is undeniable that material consumption is central to youth culture. Being able to afford a trip to McDonalds, having an adequate smart phone, a concert ticket…


These needs increase with the age of the adolescents. And unfortunately, so do the opportunitites to gain money from illegal activities. Youth should have the opportunity to make their own money, the consequences of not having this opportunity can be very harmful. And if the opportunity to get paid part-time jobs is linked to the skills one has acquired, such paid work will also be a motivating factor in learning.


In Albalab, the participants who have reached specific competence levels, will be offered part-time work as paid instructors for younger children. And through the collaborative projects with local businesses, the youth are offered part-time work and internships. Based on the skills and confidence they have acquired in the Albalab system, many young people are able to find other paid work during school or studies as well.