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’The vision is for progress to be made possible under this framework.’

JUGEND für Europa spoke to Barbara Schmidt dos Santos, project co-ordinator for the 3rd European Youth Work Convention

JfE: Ms Schmidt dos Santos, you are JUGEND für Europa’s co-ordinator for the 3rd European Youth Work Convention, a project in connection with Germany’s EU Council Presidency and its Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. What is the Convention all about?

Schmidt dos Santos: At the European Youth Work Convention, a multitude of stakeholders from the youth work field will come together to discuss recent developments, build networks and move forward on common topics. The previous youth work conventions took place in 2010 and 2015, both times in Belgium. JUGEND für Europa has been tasked with organising the third Convention, which takes place from 7 to 10 December 2020 to coincide with Germany’s EU Council Presidency and Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. The original plan was for all participants to be in Bonn for the event; now, it will be broadcasted online to more than a thousand participants from up to 50 countries across Europe.

JfE: What will the 3rd Convention focus on?

Schmidt dos Santos: The first Convention in 2010, whose motto was Celebrating the Diversity of Youth Work, highlighted the many different definitions and faces of youth work across Europe. The second Convention in 2015 was all about finding common ground among these different manifestations of youth work. Even so, developments in the youth field are still happening in a largely unco-ordinated manner in Europe. That is why the 3rd Convention is all about building a strategic framework – the European Youth Work Agenda – to help strengthen and evolve youth work in Europe.

JfE: Tell us more about the European Youth Work Agenda.

Schmidt dos Santos: Calls for developing such an Agenda were already voiced in the final declaration of the 2nd Convention. Post-convention, the idea was referenced in a number of political documents, such as the Council of Europe’s 2017 Recommendation on Youth Work and the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027. However, the documents do not specify the exact nature of the Agenda and so Germany’s Federal Family Ministry decided to take the lead on developing and shaping the Agenda, using the overlap in its Council Presidency and Committee of Ministers Chairmanship as an opportunity to initiate a strategic framework for the whole of Europe. This framework, known as the European Youth Work Agenda, will include both the level of political documents, such as a Council resolution under Germany’s EU Council Presidency that will be adopted in late November by the EU’s Youth Ministers, as well as an implementation process. The Agenda will allow for a more co-ordinated approach when it comes to common future developments, and ensure more structured implementation and more mutual learning between the countries.

JfE: Why is youth work currently in the spotlight of European youth policy?

Schmidt dos Santos: Youth work plays an important role when it comes to assisting young people as they approach adulthood, especially given the current situation in Europe with all its crises and problems, not least the coronavirus pandemic. Young people should be able to shape their lives as they wish, and youth work can be very helpful in that context. Accordingly, youth work is one of the three pillars of the current EU Youth Strategy.

JfE: What aspects of youth work are particularly in focus here?

Schmidt dos Santos: Eight thematic strands have been identified for the European Youth Work Agenda. First, the overall aim, which is 1) implementing the European Youth Work Agenda in the Bonn Process as a strategic framework for the development of youth work in Europe. Besides, 2) establishing youth work as an essential part of youth policies; 3) ensuring and expanding the provision of youth work; 4) strengthening the common ground of youth work through co-operation between and beyond the youth work community of practice; 5) supporting the further development of quality youth work; 6) supporting the ability of youth work to tackle emerging challenges and innovate its practices; 7) enhancing the promotion and recognition of youth work; and 8) ensuring a strong role for youth work in the new normal.

JfE: Whom is the European Youth Work Agenda designed for?

Schmidt dos Santos: The vision is that the strategic framework for youth work won’t just be used by policymakers but by other stakeholders, too, to move ahead. At the Convention, the Agenda will be presented to the entire youth work community of practice so they can move ahead with developing the youth work field. The community of practice represents policymakers, researchers and practitioners from across Europe who operate in a variety of areas, with varying mandates and in several different countries to promote youth work. The Agenda will also involve the European Union and the Council of Europe, the two institutions that play a prominent role in implementing youth work. Finally, it will help initiate an implementation process spanning the whole of Europe.

JfE: So the 3rd European Youth Work Convention is a kick-off event if you like?

Schmidt dos Santos: Exactly. The 3rd Convention will help transport the Agenda from the political level to a grassroots level and kick off a shared implementation process. The final declaration of the Convention will summarise the cornerstones and future perspectives of this process and function as a source of inspiration for the youth work community.

JfE: What is the role of JUGEND für Europa in this context?

Schmidt dos Santos: JUGEND für Europa was asked by the department for international and European youth policy of the Family Ministry to play a supporting role during Germany’s EU Council Presidency and organise the European Youth Work Convention together. As a National Agency and a contributor to the EU’s Youth Strategy, JUGEND für Europa has long played a strong role in the youth work field. We co-operate with a large number and even larger variety of stakeholders across the field, are exceptionally knowledgeable in many areas, and have profound insight into the needs of the community.

JfE: Who else is involved in the preparations?

Schmidt dos Santos: A European Youth Work Convention is nothing that one organisation can handle alone; it’s very much a team effort. We work with a European steering group that was set up by the Ministry and is composed of a large number of key stakeholders from across Europe, including the European institutions, youth associations and representation bodies, and European umbrella youth organisations. They support and help manage the project to ensure that it responds fully to the needs of the various stakeholders. Finally, there are a large number of European partners, our colleagues at the Ministry and, importantly for me, my colleagues at JUGEND für Europa. We have all pulled together to give shape to the European Youth Work Agenda. To this end, three analytical papers were drawn up (downloadable from https://www.eywc2020.eu/en/convention/resources/). We summarised the main statements from these papers and analysed all references to the European Youth Work Agenda in the political documents to produce the thematic strands and fields of action for the Agenda. These are described in the document entitled Growing Youth Work across Europe: Inspirational Paper for Making the European Youth Work Agenda Happen (https://www.eywc2020.eu/en/news/growing-youth-work--prepare-for-the-3rd-eywc-with-this-inspirational-paper.21). Throughout this process, the authors kept reflecting back to the European Youth Work Convention and finally decided what its core function would be: a key milestone to mark the kick-off of the Agenda’s implementation.

JfE: How have the preparations been going, given the pandemic-related restrictions?

Since March this year, our internal communication and all co-operation with external and European partners has been almost entirely digital. As we move closer to the start date of the Convention, of course I would prefer to see my colleagues face to face rather than online, although I will say that our virtual co-operation has gone very well indeed. Despite corona, we even managed to create some real team spirit! When it became clear during the summer that the pandemic would continue for the foreseeable future, we decided to take the entire Convention digital, too. This is where the youth work community’s inherent flexibility came into its own, with all the preparation teams and all of our partners adapting straight away. That has been a really positive experience. It’s fun working in a field that is capable of managing and shaping change so constructively, despite the incredibly challenging circumstances we are in.

JfE: How can people learn more about the Convention even though they can’t actually participate?

Schmidt dos Santos: We have set up a Convention website at https://www.eywc2020.eu/en with lots of information; this is where parts of the Convention will be live streamed, too. During the Convention, there will be plenty of social media action, so anyone can follow the proceedings and get involved. We look forward to hearing from them!