Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Since 1945, French administrations have been recruiting top civil servants out of a handful of elite colleges who then design national and local policies. Political leaders generally come out of these same schools as well. Conceived to be a democratic ladder into public service, these colleges actually tend to nurture students who come from privileged environments, and whose parents themselves belonged to the elite: only 7% of the three top school’s graduates come from low-income backgrounds . As a result, people who design social policies and programs do not have any first-hand experience with people in underprivileged areas.
Until the 1970s, when the economy was booming and the social ladder was accessible, this was not too much of a problem; no matter their social or geographic origin, people had opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty. Since then, however, the mechanisms have gotten stuck and the welfare state has reached its limit, in particular in poor urban areas around large cities with high concentrations of immigrant, low-income populations. While sociologists and economists have been encouraging policy makers to derive inspiration directly from target populations in order to design effective on-the-ground social interventions and policies, French elites had no experience with the culture or any real incentives to do so. These marginalized populations were additionally often of foreign origin and did not have the right to vote.
Things started evolving in the 1980s thanks to the courage of a few local political leaders who supported innovative social programs and started engaging citizens and social entrepreneurs in developing their local agenda. But while representation and consultation of underprivileged groups and social entrepreneurs has now become a mainstream rule in policy making, strong challenges remain. The French policy-making system continues to work in silos, and decisions regarding similar target populations but aimed at different dimensions of their lives are framed in complete isolation from each other. Not only are poverty, employment, housing, childcare, and health policies and programs working independently from one another, there are financially backed by separate budgets, factors that strongly limit their efficacy.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
A serial social entrepreneur in some of France’s most marginalized and disenfranchised urban areas, Mara Maudet has time and again developed and improved new approaches for the design and spread of more humane, more effective social services. Focusing on underrepresented populations, including immigrant families, single mothers and youth in low-income areas, she has repeatedly identified gaps, recognized opportunities for change, prototyped interventions and demonstrated the impact of user-centered, community-based services. Each of her models has yielded both a higher social impact and a higher cost-effectiveness of public investment, which inspired a broad range of social entrepreneurs, allowed her to gain policy-makers’ recognition and empowered her to influence the criteria of public subsidy attribution. To date, the impact of her approach spans all areas of community development policy.
Mara is one of the first intuitive promoters and leaders in the use of user-centered design. Either when prototyping a new approach to community social centers, improving professional training schemes for high-school drop-outs or reinventing early-childcare to integrate parents’ employment and local economic development, she has always questioned the needs of her participants and placed them at the heart of her work. In doing so, she has played a key role in ensuring the representation of her target populations’ voice in social program design.
Mara also sees the need to break the silos between different administrations that define and fund social program delivery in order to truly empower marginalized populations. Focusing on low-income, immigrant, unemployed single mothers, she is now demonstrating the need to integrate social, family-based intervention with professional training and empowerment: working with hundreds of families in some of the poorest urban areas in France, she is providing a combination of childcare and back-to-work support, with a successful professional integration of 90% of participating mothers. Her breakthrough model is demonstrating the possibility and relevance for several administrations to join forces around a single intervention and define a portfolio of objectives that cover issues such as the family unit, gender equality, employment and urban development policy. As such, Mara is having a deep impact on current policy-making in France and beyond.