The Greek philosopher Diogenes once said that the foundation of every state is the education of its youth. Despite the antiquity of this statement, his words are still relevant today. However, fast forward to 2020, what does Diogenes’ statement mean for the education of our youth in a modern world where nation-states are exposed to global challenges?
According to Jean Constantinesco, EU Policy Officer within the political section of the EU Delegation to the African Union (AU), younger generations are the biggest victims of economic shocks, societal unrest, environmental degradation, and political conflicts. Moreover, these problems no longer pay mind to borders.
Yet, if Greta Thunberg has taught us anything, these risk-exposed generations are also the biggest drivers of change. In fact, if given the space, they can become high potential problem-solvers.
“The stakes are high for our youth in this globalized game. And still, despite all that, they receive limited seats at the game table. And when they do, it’s often tokenism.”
Think big, start small
Viewing this pressing gap in youth development as an opportunity, Constantinesco moved against the tides and mobilised efforts to make the 4th Africa-Europe Youth Summit in Abidjan a pretext to reinvent the game by first rewriting the rules… with the help of the youth this time.
“The previous editions of the Africa-Europe Youth Summits had representatives from Youth Organizations, but we thought more could be done to truly open doors to young people.”
To redefine their approach for this fourth edition, the Summit organizers issued an open call for applications from African and European youth motivated to participate in the debates. 120 young applicants were selected and invited to define, on equal footing, their shared concerns regarding the development of their respective regions. These concerns were then translated into key political recommendations reinstituted in the Abidjan Youth Declaration.
However, this was only a first step according to Constantinesco. “The last three Youth Summits also adopted declarations full of great ideas. However, there was no follow-up or process in place to test these ideas in real life.”
Thus, to deepen the results of this fourth Summit the inaugural AU-EU Youth Plug-In Initiative (YPII) was launched. 36 Young Fellows were competitively selected to define, over the course of five intensive weeks, innovative solutions on six key priority clusters11. Business, job creation and entrepreneurship 2. Culture, sports and arts 3. Education and skills 4. Environmental preservation and climate change 5. Governance, political and democratic inclusion, and activism 6. Peace and security. identified in the Abidjan Youth Declaration.2
“The YPII’s objective was to present fresh ideas and concrete projects in a Youth Agenda that we presented along with the Abidjan Youth Declaration to the Heads of State at the 5th EU-Africa Summit.2Took place between 29-30 November “The results were impressive!”
Impressive indeed. The EU-Africa Summit gave the projects enough visibility to benefit from an initial €10 million in funding to implement some of the proposed pilot projects with a “think big, start small” approach. And it doesn’t just end there. A fresh batch of 42 youth experts have been chosen from 29 African and European nationalities to form the AU-EU Youth Cooperation Hub— a body mandated to oversee and measure the impact of the pilot projects, with the use of funding at their discretion. These projects will be implemented and monitored over the course of the next three years. The first results are scheduled to be presented this year at the 6th AU-EU Summit to the Heads of State.
“Not only have we included our youth in the debate, but we have created a space so they can test their innovative ideas, prototyping on a small scale but with maximum impact and visibility.”
The Hub encompasses 7 projects involving 17 countries with 7 civil society consortiums. The 42 Young Experts are split in 6 thematic clusters.31) business, job creation and entrepreneurship, 2) culture, sports and arts, 3) education and skills, 4) environmental preservation and climate change, 5) governance, political and democratic inclusion, and activism, 6) peace and security. For example, the Culture, Art and Sports pilot project brings together Somalia, Kenya, Italy, and Sweden to develop a digital platform to facilitate market access for young creatives.
“Often more versed in technology than older generations, these youth also bring a strong digital mindset to the table. That is why we are forming a digital cluster as well… to bring out this young and unique Afro-European digital savvy.”
Youth inclusion… a lesson in youth cooperation
Constantinesco believes that what has been an experiment in youth inclusion could potentially draft a new chapter in youth cooperation, inspiring the EU to replicate this initiative in collaboration with other regions such as Asia & Latin America. This approach also fits within the new EU leadership motto of opening new pages in international partnerships.
“Creating understanding and collaboration with other youths from different countries, different cultures and different socio-economic backgrounds is a must. This is not about one culture dominating another, as we have done in the past.”
The next generations will need to connect and work collectively while recognizing that each country and culture has its own experience and insight. Who knows, maybe cross-regional youth inclusion and solidarity will constitute the next stage of the Erasmus program.
“The friendships made between the youth continue to thrive even beyond the hub… and the potential of such friendships has no limits. That’s the beauty of humanity!”
Do you hear that Cédric Klapisch4Director of the 2002 film, “Auberge Espagnol”. The movie is about a French economics graduate student studying for a year in Barcelona, Spain, as part of the EU funded Erasmus exchange programme, where he learns some important life lessons from sharing a house with a group of students representing different European nationalities. The film underlined the lasting impacts the Erasmus exchange program has on creating a sense of solidarity among European youth.? If not, then the Paris Peace Forum in November 2018 did when it recognized the Cooperation Hub as one of its top 10 governance initiatives.5The Paris Peace Forum invited the Cooperation Hub again in November 2019 to animate a panel with significant endorsement by major actors such as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, International Trade Center, President of the UN General Assembly. Though the hub is yet to reach its full life cycle, this nevertheless marked a great victory for the EU, the AU, and the many youthful participants whose energy and resourcefulness moved an entire system to “think outside of the box”.
“We started all this with no instructions from the top to set this up. This was a creative bottom up initiative started by young AU and EU staff members, in what you could call ‘start-up mode’. This is proof that small efforts coupled with tenacity within big systems can generate far-reaching ripples.”
Lessons learned for future initiatives
What started as an impossible idea for Constantinesco has now given him and those involved hope of pushing forward by institutionalising this pilot initiative with the launch of new hubs. However, before making such a move, he imparts his knowledge on some key lessons for future initiatives.
“Expand the pool of youth implicated. Make sure to adequately align the knowledge and experience of different age groups for different phases. Make them think in concrete terms by promoting a solution focused approach. Grant them decision making powers, particularly on the use of funds. And make it sexy & fun so that everyone craves being apart it!”
With that said, Constantinesco parts with one last recommendation that he believes makes all the difference.
“Don’t give up.”