Impact case: Thuis Wageningen

News overview

Changing the future together

For seven years, the Thuis Wageningen initiative – run by and for the people of Wageningen – has been bringing local residents together for social activities and work. From Dutch and international students to born-and-bred locals, they share knowledge and material goods and, most importantly, spend time together. Together they organise a range of activities including workshops, language café meetings, a book stall and a clothes exchange. The focus is on joining forces to tackle social issues, establishing ties between different worlds in the process. Thuis also initiates new cooperative activities between citizens, governmental bodies, knowledge institutions, businesses and social organisations.

Different worlds

Wageningen is a city of contrasts. Students of many different nationalities study at the university, and many residents have a practical education. Thuis founder Elsje van de Weg observes a growing rift between rich and poor and between practically and academically educated people. While these groups have much to offer one another, they seldom meet because they live in different worlds.

Tackling problems

Wageningen, like every city, faces societal issues, including a polarising society, climate change and growing inequality. Often, these complex problems lack ready-made solutions and call for new partnerships and experimentation with new approaches. Everyone has a role to play in shaping the future: citizens, government, knowledge institutions, businesses and social organisations alike. However, cooperating with residents is often overlooked – and that’s where Thuis comes in.

Sharing is key

Thuis was founded on the principles of a sharing economy, to make as many people as possible feel welcome. Money plays an important role in our society and greatly influences our choices and opportunities. But at Thuis, instead of paying with money, you can spend time helping out with activities as a volunteer. Or you can pay with material goods by donating something needed at the centre. This approach makes Thuis Wageningen accessible to the broadest possible group of people and creates a shared sense of responsibility.

“I got in touch with Thuis when the international women’s choir was looking for rehearsal space. We had no money. We were given space to rehearse at Thuis, and in return we did volunteer work as hosts.” – Arantza, Thuis visitor

Facilitating change

With this vibrant meeting place as a basis, founders Elsje van de Weg and Tutku Yuksel have increasingly acted out of a conviction that residents must be mobilised in order to achieve change. The spaces Thuis rents out in the building attract different groups of people, who then connect with each other. Thus, visitors from all walks of life become more involved in improving their own living environment. And Thuis is able to help the municipality and local organisations get residents involved in developing ideas. But Thuis Wageningen is more than just a meeting place. It carries out projects on its own initiative and on behalf of others. It also supports community projects with knowledge, funding and networking. Meanwhile, the municipalities and organisations develop plans that enjoy broad support in the city.

Identifying issues

The Thuis team believes in tackling social issues in an experimental way. They use the design-thinking method, an interactive process for solving complex problems that starts with users and their needs. They employ it with visitors wishing to set up citizens’ initiatives, entrepreneurs with new business concepts, and municipalities aiming to develop policy. And since money should never get in the way of a good idea, the rules of a sharing economy apply here too.

“Thuis is connected to the people and sits at the heart of the city. It takes huge investment to establish short lines of communication with residents. But because of that, Thuis is now connected at all levels of society, and a huge network has formed.” – Yanina, a trainee at Thuis

Evolving with DOEN’s help

The DOEN Foundation has been supporting Thuis since 2015. DOEN’s assistance has helped it to grow from a great meeting place into a professional social enterprise. For years, Thuis has facilitated social projects free of charge; now it also carries out paid work, in a first step towards financial independence. Its contribution to an inclusive and sustainable society ties in perfectly with the DOEN Foundation's aims.

Growing as a social enterprise

Thuis’s focus for the future is to increase its professionalisation. Staff have already brainstormed with clients and local residents about the services it offers. Hence, the enterprise knows it’s worth and what it can offer companies and municipalities. With experimentation at the basis of its activities and a diverse group of visitors as a source of creativity, Thuis is working towards becoming a financially independent enterprise.

“Thuis realises that it occupies a unique position. It maintains close ties with the residents of Wageningen while also understanding how the system works. It has so much to offer and has packaged it so well that it can now offer it as a service.” – Safka Overweel, DOEN Foundation programme manager