Farewell speech at the Council of Members of the European Youth Forum //
Brussels, 26 April 2014 //
Dear members, dear board, dear colleagues, dear friends,
We just saw on the screen young people having fun while learning to love, learning to grow up, and learning to be free.
Different movies, different periods in time, different decades but a lot in common with what our organisations stands for and work every day.
And a lot in common with our personal history.
The moment when we came of age and not only we explored the world but we became aware that all of a sudden the world is ours and we have a role to play in it together with the others.
I am sure a lot of us had such moments connected to their organisations.
Then let’s make the same exercise abstracting from our personal stories and applying that to the organisations we represents.
Which organisations have among their goals or include methodologies where young people are at the centre, where young people learn about many things in a fun way, where young people learn how to be positive agents of change in the society and act in it?
It might be seen as an obvious statement. But actually it is very important to remind us what is our core business.
I wanted to start this moment of farewell going back to the basics, looking at the substance and simplicity beyond the wordily jargon we have constrained ourselves: youth empowerment, non-formal education (NFE), youth work, etc.
Where we come from? Who do we work with? Why?
…And, above all, why youth organisations are still very much needed in the XXI century and consequently why the Youth Forum still has a long way to go to continue fulfilling its mission as a Platform.
This is not rhetorical set of questions that, as an alumni-to-be, I want to share with you.
It is instead linked to our strategic goals.
Given the current situation we are in.
Given the fact that many times, in the past 5 years, we had to justify the very basic need for the existence of youth organisations in Europe.
Given the fact that many of our organisations are shrinking in numbers.
Given the fact that the funding by the partners and especially by the public sector is constantly at stake.
And here we don’t want to refer only to matters related to European lobby.
We want to refer to what the Youth Movement experiences at all levels, from, let’s say, local scout sections to World Youth gatherings.
Let’s make a step back and look into the situation of young people.
At the Forum, we have been good in displaying the worrying data, so there is no need here to make a lecture about the statistics on youth unemployment in the various countries and of the related risks of social unrest.
We often used the mantra of the lost generation to describe it…
Which is pretty much correct.
However, what probably we have done in a less structured way is to look at the consequences of those statistics in the longer term. Not just what they mean for the economics but for the society in some decades time.
I was recently in Japan, and they had their first “lost generation” already a while ago, in the 90s. So it is a good observatory to foresee potential scenarios for Europe’s future.
It seems that things there did not really turned out well for the current post-post lost generations.
An endemic number of young people in Japan are precarious working poors, often homeless, sleeping in Net Cafés, or simply withdrawn from the society tout court, such as the case of Hikikomori which are young people deciding to close themselves up in the room of their parents house and they don’t come out for years if they ever come out.
More worryingly there are the suicide rates, the highest in the world.
Basically a huge portion of the current and future Japanese society is growing not only poorer but also hopeless.
Without making simplistic transpositions of the Japanese situation to Europe, we can grasp that what is at stake in our continent it is a similar challenge, which is for young people to grow in a hopeless environment and become a hopeless generation.
This worries me even more than the rhetoric of the lost generation.
Because the discourse of the lost generation could even assume that if we loose one generation we can still pick up the next one.
However, if in Europe we grow up a demotivated, hopeless generation without a vision for the future, just navigating the present, then this will have a domino effect on the next generations as well (as observed in Japan) and the risk for the entire society is incommensurable (also taking into account demographics which is something we have not yet paid enough attention at the forum).
In a nutshell, if young people will not have life-dreams, Europe has no future. That’s why we need to start a new politics.
A Politics of Hope that can take up the past and rather than use it for nostalgia projects it into vibrant new ways.
What is Hope?
Hope is something that is housed in the same family of Utopia.
Hope is being able to envision a “then and there” alternative to what is missing or flowed in the “here and now”.
Hope demands us to take a leap of the imagination into a space, a future, even a subjectivity that does not exist yet in order to envision and work for a different kind of collective belonging.
It is a call for a social revolution.
Because seeking Hope means being willing to not only settle for but actively disrupt the present.
Who are the most well placed to make such a revolution?
The best equipped to build hope in young people today are still youth organisations.
I will explain you why.
Let’s go back to our initial thoughts on what we actually do in a youth organization:
We learn to love, we learn to think, and we learn to live together.
Through youth work young people build a personal and collective sense of belonging and project positive change in society.
This is much more than providing some skills useful to find a job, as some try to constrain us to describe what we do in order to obtain funds.
This is even much more than what we are self-aware and what we claim that we are actually doing.
We have been for years claiming that we are not the future but the present. However, here and now, in a Continent that is lacking the vision for the future, and where the individuals starts to see the future as bleaker than their parents we must actually be not only the Present but also the architects of the Future.
Somehow, we are already – in an embryonic manner – starting to build such a narrative – with campaigns like www.loveyouthfuture.eu .
We need to go further, rediscover the basics and build from within.
We shall take all the experiences and practices matured by youth organisations in the past hundred years and rather than use it for nostalgia, project them into vibrant new ways.
In order to achieve this we need investment, time and dedication from all the members in order to strengthen their work on the ground and to make such revolution really starting.
This needs to be played also at other levels.
We have not yet mentioned the Youth Forum as such so far. And this is probably the moment.
The Forum has a key role to create this new Politics of Hope for Europe. The Forum must be the glue to translate it towards the institutional and policy field and permeate all generations.
We said already that this wouldn’t happen if things were not really going to happen on the ground. But this won’t happen also if the member organisations won’t invest time, dedication and, above all, their best people to the Forum, breeding the next generations of delegates and forming new and brave young leaders that the platform needs in order to grow projecting the past into new and vibrant ways.
The Politics of Hope encompasses therefore different levels. It should operate at the level of society, institutions and the level of organisational development.
It should also work at personal level.
As I am finishing my mandate, I truly feel all the things I have experienced and learned in the past years at the Forum will be the backbone of what I am going to build in the next part of my professional and personal life.
I will try to apply as much as possible the Politics of Hope to myself and project me into the future.
I will build this on the legacy that I leave to the forum. And it’s perhaps important to spend few words on this legacy.
For sure it is not an easy task to draw the main lines of what has been achieved in those two mandates… 5 Years… 1825 Days… 43800 Hours.
But if I would have to resume the things I am really proud of I would mention at least those:
1. The match between Political Priorities and HR Allocation:
We changed the way the Human Resources are allocated in the office to adapt the employees to the flexibility and change of the priorities and working areas, which are decided by the members every two years. This was a long cultural change in the working environment, still on the making but already steady.
2. Recognised Brand of the Forum:
We translated the work of the forum into a more easy language and immediate visualisation. Contributing to build the brand of the Youth Forum (For Youth Rights.), which is enduring and makes the values of the Forum immediately understandable both by young people, institutions and donors (we increased the overall budget of more than a million euro in 5 years).
3. Raised public profile of the Forum:
We increased the Forum already high level standing in Brussels and beyond. The Forum has now regular contacts with the highest decision makers of the EU (Presidents of the Commission, Parliament, Council). We are now meeting Heads of State and reach out to wider public through its annual Political Festival (the YO!Fest).
4. History as Legacy:
We leave the Forum with a written History book. History in a fast changing organization, where because of the age the turn over of volunteers and staff is happening often, it is extremely important to ensure continuity while being projected in the future.
I have of course more legacies that could be mentioned but those are the first four that comes to my mind.
…Dear friends and colleagues,
This has been a fantastic journey, one that will not be repeated and therefore unique. A Jules Vernesque “Voyage Extraordinaire”.
I like to think about it, as one of those explorations of the unknown seas of the late XVIII Century.
I started five years ago feeling a bit like the young captain that Conrad describes in one his best novels, the Shadow Line, enthusiastic while a bit hesitant but still determined for the greater duty ahead.
The extraordinary fact of this journey is that it was not done alone.
First of all it was done with an amazing crew.
Secondly it was done with all of you, members, and board.
And yes, sometimes as in those good old sailing stories, we also encountered all together sea monsters, white whales, big storms and enchanting but menacing mermaids.
I would really love to be able to mention personally all those that made this travel such an amazing experience. But on the other end I also feel I will forget someone and therefore as an old and good collectivist I would like to thank you all.
All the members’ organisations and all their delegates that I have met at any point in time and space.
All the volunteers in all the various boards that have been succeeding in all those years.
But above all the amazing crew that made the sailing in all kind of weather and circumstances. I refer, of course, to all the employees of the secretariat at any given time during those intense years.
There i would still, however, like to make a special reference to those who shared more closely with me the joys and the sorrows of leading the navigation. Especially the various Financial Directors and the Heads of the Policy and Advocacy Department that succeeded during the years David Whali, David Ferreira, Klavdija Çernilogar, Sarah Ulfhielm, Alix Masson and all the Assistants to the Secretary General that I had, with a special thank to John Lisney who has been supporting me in this journey the longest and to whom I would like to express my deepest gratitude.
Before getting emotional, I would like to reassure you that I don’t feel like I am going in the near future to just sit in the explorers’ club and spend the rest of my days smoking cigars, drinking whisky and speaking about past adventures.
I am rather ready for start the next exploration, and preparing the boat to sail for a different but hopefully not less amazing mission.
It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to the new adventures of the Youth Forum!
Thank you very much