Incubator Blogs: ‘I wanted my research to have an effect on the society I live in’ –Previous SÄRÖ/FRACTURE participants, Part II

University of Helsinki Post-Doctoral researcher Christal Spel & Everest Obatitor wanted to create a place for immigrant youths to meet friends, learn skills & plan a meaningful life with support from mentors. The idea came from Spel’s research, but the pair credit SÄRÖ/FRACTURE for helping them take it into practice.

Christal Spel, a University of Helsinki Post-Doctoral Researcher, and Everest Obatitor had a lot of broad ideas on how to support and improve the well-being of immigrant youth in Finland, but were at a loss with regards to the proper tools and steps needed to take their ideas into structured and sustainable practice. Thanks to their participation in the SÄRÖ/FRACTURE programme in autumn 2022, however, the pair managed to turn their idea to life as a social enterprise.

“We had the idea and passion but no structures to make it sustainable,” Spel explains. “The idea was still on the drawing board, and it could have been anything, so long as it was related to helping immigrant kids aged anywhere from 9 to 18.”

Spel had already taken her first tentative steps by initiating the idea as a project under Think Africa Ry but taking part in SÄRÖ/FRACTURE spurred both Spel and Obatitor them onwards as they succeeded in further clarifying & defining what it was that they wanted to do. Now YEPP (Youth Educational Performance Program) is a registered association that provides peer-to-peer activities for young people of African backgrounds aged 9-18. The association aims to provide a community for young people to make and meet friends, learn emotional skills, and learn how to design a meaningful life for themselves.

Spel says that she learned many vital entrepreneurial skills during the programme, which she now regularly uses to run and continue developing YEPP. Thanks to SÄRÖ/FRACTURE, she finds herself better equipped to deal with matters of finance, marketing, and staffing. “I learned an entrepreneurial mindset and got a ‘we can do it’ -feeling. It was an extremely inspiring experience!”, a glowing Spel explains.

But one of the key benefits from taking part in the programme, according to Spel, is the peer-support she and Obatitor received. “We faced many problems,” Spel sighs. “Without peer support, I would have probably given up by now.”

More than just writing – A real positive effect on society

In her day-to-day life, Spel is a researcher in immigrant well-being. She says that one of her key motivations is the ability to take research findings on the subject into practice through her YEPP project and wishes that more social scientists would interact with and try to create real impact for the people and phenomena they study.

“I wanted my research to be more than just articles in journals. I wanted my research to have an effect on the society I live in,” Spel emphatically explains.

According to her, research in social sciences and the humanities are very important for society and can be great sources of inspiration for new and effective solutions. In addition, a researcher’s skills can be very important when developing activities, and Spel utilises her skills in a variety of ways when working on YEPP.

“Research is very important. The idea and my passion for it came from my studies and research in the wellbeing of immigrants. I constantly ask a lot of critical questions when I’m running the YEPP project, and we are critical in terms of impact, outcome, and evaluation.”

Spel’s work with young people through YEPP has also stimulated and inspired her academic side. She says that she constantly receives valuable information from young people, which has shed light on new perspectives, inspiring her to develop new research topics.

“Now I find myself with even more research questions related to immigrant youths. The more I talk to the kids, the more I learn about their perspective. I need to write new research proposals!” Spel laughs.

After completing the SÄRÖ/FRACTURE programme, Spel carried on to the six-month TREMOR incubator programme, also organised by the Helsinki Incubators. Their plan now is to eventually expand the association’s activities into a full-blown social enterprise. YEPP wants to provide a community for young people to come and share both their joys and sorrows with their peers. As an example of their vision, the pair says they dream of having their own space to organise all the club activities they want to provide.

“We want to give these kids access to a place where they can freely come develop themselves on their own terms but have access to support as well,” Spel lays out. “For example, we’re currently designing a well-being club for them to learn how to manage their emotions. We want this to become a safe place for them to have somewhere they can come to talk to someone if they have problems in their lives.”

The call for the 2023 batch is now open until 22 March, with the programme running from 31 March to 30 May. You can find more information and instructions on how to apply here.

SÄRÖ/FRACTURE will be held both in-person and in English once or twice a week from 31 March to 30 May at various locations at the University of Helsinki's City Centre campus and elsewhere. The programme is powered by the City of Helsinki.