Over the next two months, I will be posting blogs to provide further context to the five points which form my manifesto for board member of the European Youth Forum. This is blog one, detailing my first manifesto point: lead the new normal.
Lead the new normal
What does it mean to “lead the new normal?” To me, it means reflecting on our experiences from the past six months, learning from our experiences, and implementing those lessons so that we can emerge from the health crisis as a more effective team of youth organisations. In doing that, we strengthen our ability to advocate and campaign for others to respond to this crisis in a way which safeguards young people’s needs and rights.
The process of reflection and lesson learning should have member organisations at its heart. At least one board member should have the responsibility of leading a process which engages member organisations in identifying how the European Youth Forum can improve its ways of working, based on the lessons we are learning from the crisis. I propose that the process replicate the format of the governance review. Below are three ways I believe we need to change in order to lead the new normal:
- We can become more adaptable and resilient by reducing our dependence on physical meetings. This does not necessarily mean reducing physical meetings, though that may be necessary in the short term, but it does mean making sure that if a member organisation or representative is unable to attend a meeting, they should be able to perform basic functions, like voting, remotely or by proxy. It also means increasing our interactions between statutory meetings, as detailed in point three. As a board member I would advocate for reducing our dependence on physical meetings and increasing our interactions between statutory meetings.
- We can become more productive by utilising the best parts of technology to cut down the agendas for the Council of Members and General Assemblies. Activities which are not improved by a physical meeting, should take place virtually ahead of in physical meetings. This would either reduce the length of the Council of Members and General Assemblies, or it would increase the amount of time that can be spent networking, campaign planning or in workshops- the most valuable parts of physical meetings. As a board member I would advocate for activities like voting on amendments to take place virtually ahead of physical meetings, which would then enable physical meetings to have far more personal interactions.
- We can become more connected and interdependent as an organisation by meeting more frequently and less formally, but virtually. New delegates should have the opportunity to join a virtual new delegates group where they can meet other new delegates, create a network of contacts and meet frequently throughout their first year. The board should run more virtual consultations and dialogues to give member organisations opportunity to input into discussions. I provide more detail on how the board can become more connected, transparent, and accountable in my third manifesto point to be released in the coming weeks. As a board member I would advocate for a step change in the amount of interactions between meetings so the European Youth Forum is not characterised by two statutory meetings per year, but by continual interaction between youth organisations and the European Youth Forum throughout the year.
Over the past six months, we have been forced into a radically new way of working. There are many negatives to this change, but there are also some positives. In order to lead the new normal, we must first show that we, as the world’s largest network of youth organisations, can rebuild for the better.
This crisis has taught us what it is possible to do, we must use this time to push forward to a new and better way of working. I am committed to advocating for a more adaptable and resilient, more productive, and more connected and interdependent European Youth Forum.
This April I visited Brussels for my fifth and final assembly meeting as the UK Young Ambassador to the European Youth Forum, which I attended alongside Lucia Jones. At this meeting, which brings together around 150 young representatives from across Europe, we usually discuss and pass resolutions on continent-wide issues as well as elect people to represent us on other platforms and advocate for youth rights. At this particular meeting, we discussed a couple of policy papers which essentially did as they say on the tin – one on demanding urgent climate action and the other on better youth representation – though perhaps surprisingly the second one did not pass through this time round for more technical reasons. We also admitted a new organisation, the Junior Chamber of International Europe, to become an Observer member, and were treated to a speech from the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium on why young people were important and the future (Shock! Gasp!).
However, it now being late May, I have since suffered the excruciating pain of another round of exams, and am struggling now to write beyond the clichés of an essay. Luckily though, the subject which I would love to talk briefly to you about now are clichés – specifically those which are dredged up time and time again within the world of youth advocacy, apparently present across the whole of the continent, and in my opinion deeply dangerous to the future of improving our lives. I have already mentioned one of these clichés – that youth is the future – and at the heart of the statement it is not at all wrong and incredibly true. But claims like this, which also include statements like better rights are the answer to our problems, and that more funding is the solution, though they hold a lot of truth, are unoriginal and a sign of uninspired thinking within our networks. Unfortunately, I’ve seen (and written) ‘social media’ or ‘networking’ or ‘funding’ on a group Flipchart as the solution to our current problems more often than I’ve had hot dinners. It is true that social media is an issue, for example, the European Youth Forum has 144,000 followers on Facebook and rarely musters more than a dozen likes on a post – simply wanting more of what we already have shown to be ineffective is ineffective. Within discussions, these lazy solutions to problems shut down debates at the same place they have for decades. They stop with a cliché, not a point – giving us long-standing soundbites which politicians can regurgitate to us with very little consequences compared to supporting a solid policy position. Therefore, we must really all push to challenge ourselves everyday on not reusing the same jargon for the issues we face as, eventually, it will lose all of its meaning.
In all honesty, I must now tell you, though you may have already gleaned this from the descriptions above, this meeting at times did get a little tedious… albeit with two very significant exceptions. The first was the election of our very own Pegah Moulana, one of the most skilful, committed and engaging young people that currently represents the British Youth Council, who was re-elected to the Advisory Council of Europe to help oversee certain aspects of that organisation including the European Court of Human Rights. In particular, Pegah has these past two years already been working on improving the condition of young refugees and fostering Middle Eastern-European dialogue. Her election this year coincided too with a proposed 100% cut to the youth programme of the council, so now more than ever we need to be sure to support her to hold up the infrastructure of protecting our rights. This is especially important in the context of this being one of the only European institutions which isn’t tied to the European Union. If we can do so, I am certain her work will continue to show that international youth advocacy does generate real-world positive change and can bring people together who otherwise would have been separate.
The other exception was the address made to us by the 23 year-old Yasmine Ouirhrane who was 2019’s Young European of the Year. She told us of the racism she received growing up in rural Italy to an Italian mother and a father who had immigrated to Italy, and also facing discrimination throughout her life as a woman. However, she harnessed the negative energy people had dealt out to her and reshaped it into a passion for creating a fairer and more equal society at a European level. Now living in France, she was instrumental in organising the huge Yo!Fest last year in Strasbourg as well as working with disadvantaged groups in the city year round. Her example is one which we should all seek to emulate as it shows that if you want to improve society at a European level we must change lives at a local level with community projects – not the other way round. It is without a doubt the culmination of all the local projects across Europe which drives forward the positive change in our society – and that the European Youth Forum must always stand to protect the vital funding, and political support, on which many of them depend.