“Who will do it, if not us?” - Establishing a Cooperation Partnership project

“Youth workers unite to empower youth and the youth field – Youth worker is a lifestyle” is a Cooperation Partnership project financed by the Erasmus+ Youth programme. Nine national youth worker associations from across Europe are working together in this project to create something for the European level.

On behalf of the project, Edgar Schlummer from the Estonian Association of Youth Workers, spoke to us about what has been happening with this project and where it is going!

Edgar, where did the idea for this project come from?

As you will hear from my answers, this project is the supportive frame, the possibility and the process, the timeline and the resources to achieve an aim. The project is the vehicle to drive us to an end result and it is built thanks in part to the Erasmus+ Youth programme.

It all started in discussions during the 3rd European Youth Work Convention in 2020, when the Bonn Process and the European Youth Work Agenda were being born. The simple (not simple) thing that we are doing is establishing a ‘youth workers alliance’.

As the youth sector on the European level, we talk a lot about ‘youth policy’. One of the important pillars of youth policy, in terms of its values, is making the young people the centre of attention, and this is achieved widely through youth work. However, it seemed to me that we rarely spoke about ‘youth work policy’! During the 3rd Convention, I was hearing ‘youth work policy’ being talked about a lot and for me this was an exciting step forward.

During the different panels and working groups it came up a lot that we, the youth workers, are there with young people but we are not really represented on the high level, maybe on national level but not so much the European level.

Usually if there is talk about young people and youth strategy, there is logically the representation of the young people and then the stakeholders, and of course the decision makers. There is a lot of talk asking for somebody, an invisible somebody, to be the bridge between the young people and these different parts – this invisible somebody is the youth worker!

We must take the first steps. Who will do it if not us!

The final wording of the Convention Declaration says that youth workers, as part of the community of practice, are one of the important things that need to be better united and have greater level of communication between themselves across Europe. There needs to be a more systematic approach to exchanging experiences and to create dialogue with various stakeholders, not only at official events but in a long term ongoing supportive way.

So, during the days of the Convention, a group of participants from twelve countries got together and we concluded that we needed a European network for youth workers. We understood that we should not be expecting the Member States or the Commission to create something for us, this is our job.

Of course, we need support and recognition from the policy side, but we must take the first steps, we realised that, who will do it if not us!

Can you tell us about the project?

At the Convention, we were twelve organisations representing twelve countries, it was this group who initiated a memorandum about creating a network. For several reasons, just nine of us took this forward to an operational level. It should be noted that the other three organisations are still in our scope.

The main focus, as I said, would be the creation of a European network for youth workers. After many initial meetings we knew this was not going to be a quick process! We would take our time to realise what we really need and what it should look like, to work out its main aim, how it will be organised, should it be legal or non-formal, and so on…

The Estonian Association of Youth Workers took the coordinator role and we applied for and got the Erasmus+ KA2 Cooperation Partnership funding. This began the more structured part of this process – I am talking about the project but it is better to say process because it represents the way we started to move.

We explored how to value ourselves as youth workers and our work and how we can better promote the values of youth work.

One of the things we started with was to explore the issue of recognition of youth workers. Is recognition a real need of national associations or what about countries where no association exists? How do we get this information? There have been plenty of studies asking similar questions about recognition, though none recently. We decided to look at the situation now, asking the questions we wanted to explore.

Then we wanted to be sure about the structure itself, we started to analyse the aims of the possible network. We explored different examples like ERYCA and the European Youth Forum, what do they give their members or what do the members bring to the network. We wanted to be built on good values.

What has been happening so far in the project?

Apart from the discussions, research and partner meetings, the project is supported by a number of training activities. We built a MOOC and four training courses into the project. For the MOOC we brought together all our collective information about the needs and the process of developing a network. This included the creating aims and introducing the legal aspects, understanding the necessary support measures, especially from the national level, and of course our research on recognition.

Out first residential training course was at the beginning of the project, it was hosted by the Maltese Association of Youth Workers. It was a chance to get to work together for the first time and explore the topic of recognition while being physically together.

The next training course was in Greece hosted by Hellenic Youth Workers Association and the topic was on ESG – Environmental, Social and Governing. We wanted to employ a business model based on sustainability with a suitable management system for our network. We wanted a model that was suitable for us but one that would also be a guide for our members.

The third training course was about strategic communication and was in Portugal organised by its Youth Workers Association. One of the biggest issues with recognition is that we don't have the ability to speak about what we do in a way that is understood. So, with this topic we tested what is wrong and why it seems that nobody understands us! We explored how to value ourselves and our work and how we can better promote the values of youth work.

We want to represent youth workers ideas and needs in a more focused and united way.

The final training course will be in September 2024. It will be a staff training exploring the incorporation of digital tools into our work for better management, and about how to produce better communication quality within the network.

What's the connection between the Alliance and the Bonn Process?

For us, our connection with the Bonn Process, and to the European Youth Work Agenda, is that this idea was born out of these two concepts.

The European Youth Work Agenda and part of the final declaration of the Convention highlight the need for stronger support of youth workers and stronger recognition of their role. These written words are very important ones. So our response to this is the establishment of the Alliance.

On the 18th and 19th March 2024, we will hold a seminar and involve the main European stakeholders. At this event we will announce the beginning of the Alliance and from there we will be starting to actively involve others and start to provide services for our members and others. Incidentally, we are already communicating with potential future members of the network, so anyone from a youth workers association reading this please don’t hesitate to contact us.

We want to represent youth workers ideas and needs in a more focused and united way. It will be up to us to follow how Member States are actually implementing youth work policy and look at what we are going to do to support it! We want to work towards the recognition of the profession, support the quality of youth work, and promote youth worker self-development. In the longer term we would like to see ourselves as part of the decision making processes at the European level, which means us contributing to the implementation of the European Youth Work Agenda.

Background information

Youth workers unite to empower youth and the youth field – Youth worker is a lifestyle

“Youth workers unite to empower youth and the youth field – Youth worker is a lifestyle” is a KA2 Cooperation Partnership project financed by the European Union Erasmus+ Youth programme and is funded through the Estonian National Agency.

Project Partners are:

  • Estonia, ENK: Eesti Noorsootöötajate Kogu
  • Czech Republic, Ceska Asociace Streetwork
  • Greece, Panellinio Somateio Symvoulon Neon
  • Italy, NINFEA: National Informal and Non-Formal Education Association
  • Malta, Maltese Association of Youth Workers
  • Netherlands, Beroepsvereni Ging Kinder- En Jongerenwerkers
  • North Macedonia, Sojuz Z Mladinska Rabota Skopje
  • Portugal, Appjuventude – Associação Portuguesa de Profissionais de Juventude
  • Republic of Serbia, NAPOR: Nacionalna Asocijacija Prakticara/Ki Omladinskograda

More information on the project can be found here:https://enk.ee/eng/
To get directly in touch with the project you can contact: info@aywa.pro