Implementing the European Youth Work Agenda in Sweden

Andreas Björk works as a Development Manager with special competence regarding youth work and youth leisure in Sweden. He works for the Swedish Agency of Youth and Civil Society. We met him earlier in the year and he agreed to share with us some of his insights into what impact the Bonn Process is having in Sweden.

Andreas, can you give us a little bit of background about you and your work?

My name is Andreas. I work for the Swedish Agency of Youth and Civil Society and within this agency is also the Swedish Erasmus+ Youth programme National Agency. I mainly work with youth leisure and youth work in Sweden.

What is the current situation of youth work in Sweden?

This is an interesting question, because when I talk with people about youth work in Sweden, some people say that Sweden does not have youth work and others say that Sweden has a great tradition of youth work. I would say these different opinions are because of the differences between youth work, youth leisure and social work, all of which are oriented to young people.

Youth work in Sweden consists largely of open meeting places that serve as the basis for young people's participation and informal learning.

Social work is often about dealing with the problems young people face and youth leisure provides free open spaces for all young people. Youth work itself includes both of these aspects. In many ways, the boundaries between these three concepts, youth leisure, youth work, and social work, are not always easy to define and their boundaries seem to be constantly shifting. I think that together they are trying to describe a kind of hierarchy of support that young people might need to enrich their lives. I would therefore say that in Sweden, youth work consists largely of open meeting places that serve as the basis for young people's participation and informal learning.

An important step here is to define “youth worker” or “youth leader” and we do this with the help of the European Charter on Local Youth Work. The idea for the Charter came out of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention (Brussels 2015). The motivation was to create a common ground for youth work across Europe and its aim is to contribute to the further development of local youth work. It transforms a number of political documents into concrete guidelines regarding what is needed in order to establish and maintain quality in local youth work.

This has played a quite huge role in uniting the different actors within Sweden to a common goal. So, I would say if you want to know what we are trying to implement in Sweden, you should look at this Charter. It describes quite well our goals as both civil society and the Agency, and how we try to come together.

How are you connecting with the European Youth Work Agenda in Sweden?

In Sweden we have a common national working group for different European projects, including the European Youth Work Agenda and the European Charter on Local Youth Work – mentioned before. Having one working group is important for us to ease the process of coming together to discuss many things about youth work and combine the discussions. For example, we discuss things like what quality means, what it should be and how we should implement it. So, I would say in Sweden it is the work of this national working group that tries to make these European developments more accessible and understood.

In the working group we are around twelve different organisations. What I try to push for, and what I think is really important for the development of youth work in Sweden, is that these organisations do activities together. When we create a common understanding between us, we reinforce youth work.

The Bonn Process is hugely important for building a quality concept of youth work.

We are meeting twice a year to make an action plan for the next year. For the year of 2023, we sat down and we came up with the general aim, then we came up with our strategic areas and within these strategic areas we created goals. Only then did we start to brainstorm activities. One of these activities was a seminar for national politicians, where we trained them in the basics of youth work. Another one was educating Charter Ambassadors - we would go to different municipalities and teach youth work practitioners about quality youth work. And another was talking with teachers that teach youth work in a two-year programme that we have between high school and university. So that's three activities of around twenty that we planned.

What is the significance of the Agenda and the Bonn Process at the local level?

This is also a good question and I think that we should put it into the context of what we want to achieve in the country, what kind of movement of youth work we want to create. In Sweden, I would say it is more important for us to focus on the quality concept of youth work and through this we can relate to the Bonn Process and the European Youth Work Agenda. Once this is achieved, then I can see the bigger picture and I can describe it to those I am working with at the national level.

On the local level the concept of quality is abstract and therefore it is harder to see the bigger picture. The Bonn Process is hugely important for building this quality concept not just in Sweden but in Europe as a whole. The Bonn Process can therefore be difficult to grasp at a local level, but it is central to building the comprehensive foundation that is needed to create something common.

Where do you see youth work in five years' time in Sweden?

As a first step I would answer this not from a Swedish perspective, but from a European perspective. The Bonn Process is really important when we talk about the relations between different countries for the European development of youth work. I think in five years' time youth work across Europe will be more cohesive.

Europe today is more connected than ever before.

If we are trying to build a Europe where young people have the same rights regardless of where they grow up, we should build youth organisations that take care of young people in the best way regardless of where they are from. And here we have lessons to learn from each other, especially the lesson that we need to create common values. Europe today is more connected than ever before and changes in one country also affect others. Young people in Europe live in an ecological system and if we are to adapt to give them the best conditions, we must co-create. And this, I think is maybe for me personally, one of the biggest goals and I also think that there is something beautiful in this.

When it comes to Sweden, we will hopefully have better connections between youth organisations, young people and the community of practice as a whole. This will make it easier to engage in Erasmus+ and to find these common themes where we can work together with others within the Youth programme. I would like to see us creating more effective networks for exchanging information and learning about different countries.

Andreas Björk

Andreas Björk works as a Development Manager with special competence regarding youth work and youth leisure in Sweden. He works for the Swedish Agency of Youth and Civil Society.