What better reason could there be but IJAB’s 50th anniversary to meet up with partners past and present to look ahead to the future, but also to reflect the history of the organisation? Director Marie-Luise Dreber and Chairman Lothar Harles opened the day’s proceedings by asking “What was IJAB all about over the last few years?” The answers came via an anniversary video and some audio clips, but also from a number of IJAB’s contemporaries over the years. The first input came from writer and UN Young Leader Samar Mezghanni and the Ukrainian Vice-Minister for Youth and Sport, Oleksandr Yarema. Mezghanni’s address was probably the most emotional one given that day – she reminded the audience of how important it is for humanity to take a stand against racism and nationalism. Yarema highlighted the role that youth work plays in this regard.
Down memory lane
IJAB was established in 1967, so finding contemporaries who were around during its first ten years was all but impossible. Sybille von Stocki, in the 1970s a desk officer and later head of the department of European Youth Policy in the Federal Youth Ministry, and Olli Saarela, a long-standing IJAB partner in the Finnish youth ministry, had travelled to Berlin to reminisce about the late 1970s and early 1980s. Von Stocki remembered how strongly youth policy was influenced those days by the western integration of the Federal Republic of Germany – right up until Willy Brandt’s new Ostpolitik. The process that followed had an impact on neutral countries, too. In the wake of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Finland had established contacts to both states on either side of the German border. “I remember it all, but I won’t tell you everything,” said Saarela, but then proceeded to tell the audience a great deal – for instance, that Finland was so impressed by Germany’s science competition for young researchers, Jugend forscht, that it decided to create its own (download Olli Saarela’s speech here).
In 1991 Niels Meggers, head of department at IJAB for 25 years, was travelling through Eastern Europe to drum up interest in a German-Soviet youth exchange. “Our trip was supposed to begin in the Baltic states, but we were told that this could be difficult,” recalled Meggers. That same year the Soviet Union collapsed, resulting in new perspectives for cooperation with its successor states. Arunas Kucikas was an advisor to the Lithuanian president in the early 1990s and closely involved in developing youth work structures during that time. “What we appreciated about IJAB was the way they talked to us. We were considered equal partners – a completely new experience for us, having come from another world,” commented Kucikas. And another development set in during the late 1980s. With the Youth for Europe programme, the European Community opened a new chapter in the history of youth policy. In the years that followed, European unity took shape. The German programme office “Jugend für Europa“ was set up as part of IJAB in 1988. “Our affiliation with the youth work scene and our day-to-day work with our colleagues at IJAB are very important for us,” explained Manfred von Hebel, deputy head of the German national agency for the EU’s youth programme.
Barbara Wurster, a head of department in the Federal Youth Ministry in the early 2000s, also vividly remembered this dynamic period of European development. “Standards were set during that time, especially through the White Paper process. It called for young people to be involved in decision-making, and for that we needed IJAB’s expertise,” she recalled.
For IJAB, the 2000s brought much change. Bilateral exchanges were replaced by thematic cooperation that, it was hoped, would add an international dimension to child and youth services in Germany. “We had to deal with completely new issues and challenges,” reported Marie-Luise Dreber, who was appointed director during this period and continues to manage IJAB to this day. “Digitalising youth work remains an important issue for us. Quality development, training, recognition of international youth work, a more international perspective for local administrations – these were all new areas of activity. And China became a new partner for youth exchanges.”
Looking ahead to the future
“50 years of IJAB” works both ways – backwards and forwards. “International youth work has to respond to the real world,” stated IJAB Chairman Lothar Harles during the final round of discussions. “We have to embrace digitalisation and globalisation as opportunities. We need to give children and adolescents the best possible chances. But as everywhere in life, we can’t do that without proper funding.”
Lisi Maier, who incidentally was celebrating a birthday too that day, had come to Berlin to represent an IJAB member organisation, the German Federal Youth Council. “IJAB is important for us because it’s a strong international partner,” she said. However, IJAB’s members have never been known to keep their criticisms to themselves. Lisi Maier, for one, would like to see members have a stronger voice. Uwe Finke-Timpe from the Federal Youth Ministry is familiar with the special relationship between IJAB’s members, the Ministry, and IJAB as an organisation and service provider in international youth policy. To him, international youth policy is by its very nature closely connected to national youth policy and should play an even stronger role in the child and youth services system. “We need to pay more attention to disadvantaged young people. Also, given the conflicts in today’s world, the term ‘international understanding’ has gained a new sense of urgency,” he concluded.
It was a conference, it was a celebration – and it was a long day for all those who had come to Berlin to attend both. But the day ended on a relaxed note, with plenty of time to raise a glass to IJAB, have a friendly chat and exchange memories. Happy birthday, IJAB!