Implementing the European Youth Work Agenda in Serbia

Jelena Stojanovic is a youth worker from Serbia and is the Executive Director at NAPOR, the Serbian National Association of Youth Workers. She is also the contact person for the Bonn Process in Serbia. Jelena participated in the Bonn Process Exchange Forum in May (2023). It was here that we spoke with Jelena about her work and the impact of the Bonn Process on youth work in Serbia.

Hi Jelena, would you introduce yourself? Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Jelena Stojanovic, I am Executive Director of NAPOR, which is the National Association of Youth Workers in Serbia. I am also the national coordinator for the implementation of the Bonn Process in Serbia.

Tell us about youth work in Serbia! Where has it come from and where is it now? 

The specific thing about youth work in Serbia is that it has been implemented across Serbia for many years already. Actually, if I think about it now, it's more than 30 years. But up until 2009, we didn't even call it youth work. When we established NAPOR, I still remember the first General Assembly and having this, aha moment! OK, what we have been doing for years and decades, it's called youth work and the people doing it are youth workers. So, the first recognition came from ourselves in civil society.

Positive things have been happening even if it is an ongoing struggle. One such struggle is regarding the implementation of youth work at the local level because of a lack of funds. That has been one of the biggest issues I would say. Our definition of youth work implies that youth work is something that is done over time with a group of young people. For that you need long term programme financing but what we are offered is one off project financing. We are in an ongoing battle to change this. As it is now, it is not sustainable and everything that we have done and are doing at national level will be for nothing. We will end up with a youth service that consists of policy and words and no action. This is not the intention of NAPOR at all.

Aha moment! OK, what we have been doing for years and decades, it's called youth work and the people doing it are youth workers.

In terms of the legislation, we have a new national strategy for youth that was adopted in January of 2023 for the period 2023-2030. It was initiated by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and specifically marks youth work as one of its five goals. We view this as a great success for ourselves because the strategy was developed through a wide consultative process that included us. At the moment, we have really strong political support to push youth work further and this is visible in the strategy and through the strategies action plan that we finished writing in May.

We also have the law on youth since 2011. There we have a definition of youth work, but that was all it really consisted of. This law on youth was something that was initially planned to be revised but the ministry decided, together with us, that it's better to start fresh because there are so many changes that we want.

What has been the influence of the Bonn Process on youth work in Serbia? 

At the national level it has had and still has a huge influence. We were waiting for so long for the European Youth Work Agenda to be adopted. Now we have it, and we use it as a powerful advocacy tool to put youth work high on the agenda in Serbia.

It is thanks to the Agenda, that our national strategy dedicates one goal to youth work and because of this there are a lot of changes that will happen at national and local levels now regarding youth work. Everything that we are now planning to include in the law, is thanks to the Agenda and the Bonn Process.

How do you look back on the 3rd European Youth Work Convention in 2020 which kicked off the implementation of the European Youth Work Agenda? 

We started the lobbying process even before the 3rd European Youth Work Convention because we were expecting the Agenda to be established at the European level by the Council of Europe and the European Union.

So as NAPOR, we informed our ministry what was going to happen. We then held really fruitful regular preparation meetings between the ministry, the National Agency for the Erasmus+ Youth programme and us. As a result of this we were all on the same page when the Convention started and when the Agenda was introduced. During the Convention we were asked to form a national delegation. As we had already formed it prior to the event, it was easy to put our priorities together – and then all our successes came out of these priorities.

It was a perfect momentum for us, something we had been preparing for a long time.

It was a perfect momentum for us, something we had been preparing for a long time. We knew it's now or never and it turned out to be a success. The cooperation between us and the ministry means that there are many other plans being developed. In this context we are very much engaged in the political recognition.

What are the other plans being developed? 

For now we have strong support from the Ministry and we hope it will last. But as I said, we really see that it is now or never, so we are pushing several really big processes right now. They are taking all our resources and energy, but it's worth it, even if we only succeed in some of them it will be worth it.

One of the things that we want to do is to get a national qualification for youth workers recognised and accepted. This will open the door for youth workers to be engaged as youth workers in different institutions. At the moment youth work is practised only in civil society, so it's not visible to other sectors. We are also working on the creation of the master studies programme for youth work. This would accompany the national qualifications.

We are doing analysis of different sectors for the possibility to open job places for youth workers in social welfare, cultural institutions, employment institutions, and more.  And we are developing a research mechanism tool for measuring the impact of youth work. This is to provide continuous information that can be used not only at national but also local level, for advocacy purposes, to gain more funds for youth work and better positions for youth workers.

Last but not least, we are developing national standards for youth clubs and youth centres, this is something that we did not have up to now.

And last year, we finished the national programme for digital youth work because we are planning also to organise and to establish virtual youth clubs in rural areas.

If the Bonn Process continues in this way, how do you see youth work in Serbia in five years time? 

If we manage to do all these things, then we will have the first qualified youth workers recognised by the state and there will be job positions being advertised. That is our ultimate goal. Also, and perhaps the most important goal, is to have secure financial support from municipalities for youth work at the local level.

Jelena Stojanovic

Jelena Stojanovic is the Executive Director at NAPOR, the Serbian National Association of Youth Workers, and also the contact person for the Bonn Process in Serbia.