The final day of the Future Forum, 24 June, turned to future leaders: young people. The day touched on several topics of interest within diaspora youth engagement, including entrepreneurship, heritage tourism, building trust and identity. Communications Officer Charlotte Griffiths takes us through the day’s highlights in advance of a full conference report.
During the last day of the Future Forum 28 fantastic speakers and moderators participated, bringing perspectives from different diasporas, government, international organisations, regional institutions, the EU and academia on the potential of youth to drive forward sustainable global development. Each session was dense with information, ideas and inspiration. In the upcoming conference report we will share the main points of discussion from each session, but today, a fortnight after the day dedicated to ‘Youth drive’, I want to share the recurring messages that came up, starting with how the topic was framed…
To kick off the day, we set up a free-form discussion between Elana Wong from UN Major Group for Children and Youth, European Youth Ambassador Adel Ramdani and DG International Partnership’s Head of Section Youth Agata Sobiech to set the scene on how and why to listen to, support and collaborate with youth diaspora actors for sustainable development. The speakers represented global-youth, European-youth and the European Union respectively which led to a thoughtful reflection on the meaning of youth engagement, its potential and its pitfalls, as seen from different youth and institutional perspectives.
In a jam-packed 30 minutes, the discussion moved from the principles and potential of youth involvement in policy making and programme implementation, to very practical reflections on the barriers specific to diaspora-youth and celebration of young diasporans’ unique multi-cultural perspectives. The lasting message from the opening was three-fold:
- Firstly, a whole-of-youth approach is needed to ensure all young people are empowered with the skills, awareness and confidence to take a stance on issues of importance to them.
- Secondly, young diasporans should be encouraged to contribute to all sectors, rather than be pigeon-holed into discussions related to their heritage.
- Thirdly, young people must be systematically considered and integrated in decision making across the board, and not as a secondary consideration or target, both because all policy decisions impact youth and because young people prove time and again their ingenuity, commitment and capacity to contribute to addressing global issues.
“Before having an opinion, young people have to be taught how and what to learn in order to develop opinions. If you just give the space, but not the tools, it is tricky to have an informed input.” Adel Ramdani, EU Youth Ambassador
After the kick-off, we had four targeted sessions including two different entrepreneurship angles, one on Youth entrepreneurship & heritage tourism to launch an upcoming research project with the University of Winchester, the other Youth entrepreneurship & local development. Enabling youth innovation – a question for the ages and “Between heritage country and home” – building trust & identity allowing more open spaces for discussion on two broad areas that repeatedly come up as highly important for young people in the diaspora. From the kick-off discussion to the four sessions, three themes stood out as common to issues and interests in youth diaspora: the importance of the local level, recurring – if sometimes rebranded – challenges for diaspora individuals and communities, and the unstoppable drive of young people.
One of the main recommendations from the opening speakers was the importance of local-level youth engagement in order to empower younger generations as social actors in their immediate surroundings, before connecting to national, regional and even global level development. The importance of ‘local-first’ thinking in terms of youth diaspora engagement was common in the rest of the day’s sessions – although it came in different guises – and is a clear message that we at EUDiF will take away and incorporate in designing future activities.
Most obviously the local-level was discussed during the session Youth entrepreneurship & local development, during which local authorities with a specifically youth-centred agenda were identified as being better able to attract youth diaspora entrepreneurs.
Mirroring this, speakers in Enabling innovation emphasised the need for understanding and having hands-on experience of local contexts in countries of heritage, whilst training and entrepreneurial skills development in the country of residence is an equally important element that can be improved at local-level in Europe.
In Youth entrepreneurship & heritage tourism, ‘local’ takes on a more conceptual importance, with relevance to both physical locations and buildings in countries of heritage, as well as powerful discussions of intangible heritage, in which ‘local’ is cultural and historical, from language to folklore and beyond.
Finally, during “Between heritage country and home” – building trust & identity, the local angle was also apparent in community-building and belonging for younger generations of diaspora. Often with a foot in two (or more) communities, ‘local’ does not have one meaning for young people who are increasingly connected beyond borders by technology.
New generation, old challenges
As the opening session established, we cannot consider youth diaspora as a monolith or in a vacuum, either as separate from youth or diaspora more broadly. Young people in the diaspora are as diverse as older generations, sharing some of their experiences, with the novelties that come from being a younger generation in an increasingly globalised and digital world. Nevertheless, it was clear across the sessions that there are recurring challenges that younger generations face in a similar way to their seniors.
The discussions around entrepreneurship and innovation stressed that weak infrastructure and ecosystems in countries of heritage limit entrepreneurial action. Whilst not new, and certainly applicable to all generations, the speakers explained that for young entrepreneurs – especially those who have spent less time in the local context – such challenges can be more off-putting.
Related to this, the discussions around heritage tourism also flagged the importance of both infrastructure, institutional frameworks and enabling environments to encourage entrepreneurship and investment in the sector. Whilst exploring heritage can be a powerful draw to young people and drive new business, it can only go so far before limited frameworks pose a barrier to expansion or stability. A commentary that is applicable to all sectors wishing to bring in diaspora capital and also featured in the session on innovation.
Segueing from frameworks and structures, the session on identity and trust building delved into serious issues of racism, prejudice, integration and belonging. The group reflected on how each generation experiences these in different ways which can also lead to intergenerational differences, an additional challenge in tackling such complex issues collectively.
Despite the challenges flagged, the overarching feeling on the day was one of potential and enthusiasm from and for youth diaspora.
In the opening session Elana stressed the added-value of youth diaspora perspectives, celebrating the cultural understanding and global awareness of many people who have connections to multiple cultures. This idea of connectivity was more practically celebrated during the technical sessions for its social and economic impact.
In the innovation and heritage tourism sessions youth-affinity for technology was a major point of interest for diaspora and institutions alike. With young people so-called ‘digital natives’, technology, including social media, continues to evolve as a tool of diaspora engagement that can be used to advance sustainable development. Equally, technology was flagged for its use in identity building: to enhance connections with heritage cultures, build digital diasporas and connect over ‘new’ topics such as mental health.
From the different sessions it was abundantly clear that many diaspora youth are actively engaged with their country of heritage, in direct and indirect ways. The initiatives presented gave a taste of the potential and interest of young people to be actors of development. If you are interested in proposing a youth-related action, get in touch to discuss possible collaborations.
A full report on the different sessions of the Future Forum will be produced soon. In the meantime, browse the highlights captured by our graphic recorder in the visual summary, and explore all the EUDiF publications in the library, including the list of youth engagement initiatives.
Words: Charlotte Griffiths