A diverse round of participants gathered at Berlin’s Centre Français for the interim meeting of the Innovation Fund projects. It is hardly new that governmental youth services and voluntary organisations such as the International Association for Education and Exchange or the German-Polish Youth Office undertake international youth work – but what to make of the participation of the local job centre in the city of Hamm or the educational institute of industry and commerce in Hesse? This should in fact come as no surprise, because it was already evident at the time of the Innovation Fund’s call for interested projects that there were high hopes that new partnerships, e.g. with schools, job centres and the private sector, might give the programme a fresh impetus.
“Your experiences are important to us,” emphasised Albert Klein-Reinhardt, who is responsible for European and international youth policy at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, as he delivered his introductory remarks. “That also includes your experiences with issues that didn’t go so well. Many believe that supporters want to read ‘sugar-coated’ project reports. That’s not the case. We need to know about the full range of your experiences if we are to succeed in giving international youth work a sharper profile as a distinct field of action.”
Among the innovative approaches presented was the selection of specific target groups. The project Zusammen kommen wir weiter deals with cooperation between schools and other types of educational establishments, as Thomas Hetzer from the German-Polish Youth Office explained. “We work with all types of schools – except grammar schools.” Twenty youth exchanges are planned for this project alone, including an exchange with street children.
“We work with young people who have essentially dropped out of all formal structures and no longer go to school – not just temporarily, but not at all,” said Andreas Haupenthal, describing the situation in his project Perspektiven in Europa. Haupenthal works for Palais e.V. in Trier, near the French border. “It’s hard for young people here to even travel to another part of the city for a job interview,” said Haupenthal. “Working up the motivation to go to France with us therefore makes them tremendously proud. The experience reduces anxiety and increases their willingness to be more mobile back home. Travelling to nearby towns is then no longer a problem.”
Embedded in an overall strategy, close to stakeholders
International youth work is no longer a field that is invariably relegated to the margins. Albert Klein-Reinhardt pointed out the favourable stance taken by the Federal Government on international learning in its 2013 statement on the 14th Child and Youth Report. More concrete steps would be taken, he continued, announcing that “cross-border exchanges and encounters” had already been chosen as the theme of the youth strategy for 2015 to 2018, under the heading Handeln für eine jugendgerechte Gesellschaft (Action for a youth-oriented society). The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth is also currently working on a mobility initiative as part of European and international youth policy, he added, including a field of action that will focus on promoting the recognition of cross-border learning.
The current lack of such recognition may be put down to structural factors, but it is still an everyday experience for many of those who run international projects. Perhaps this is why participants so gladly accepted advice from their colleagues at the interim meeting. Very specific issues were addressed. “We’d like young people to participate in every stage of a project, including the application process,” one participant stated, while also declaring “Our standards of quality are high.” Are these aims contradictory and if so, how can they be reconciled?
International youth work is part of education
The interim meeting of the Innovation Fund projects was not only a place to share experiences and give advice; it was also a chance to professionalise and, particularly for small, local sponsors, an opportunity to get involved in national debates. Professor Peter Dehnbostel from the Berlin University for Professional Studies provided some dynamic input on the topic of non-formal education and qualification. Only 27% of our education is acquired formally, said Dehnbostel, and the remaining 73% by non-formal means. He pointed out that youth work is part of education and can help to spread a concept of education that is development-oriented rather than requirement-oriented. He also drew attention to the often misleading use of the term “non-formal education”, which by no means refers only to non-certified offerings but also includes those that are yet to be recognised by the formal education system. The youth work field should try to differentiate itself through what it can offer, he said.
Anne Sorge-Farmer campaigned for a future action alliance for recognition, as she called it. A short text should be drawn up expressing a common understanding of international youth work as a part of non-formal education, she argued. The action alliance’s next step would then be to develop strategies for recognition.
Christof Kriege presented the latest developments in the Youthpass scheme. Youthpass certifies the participation of young people in European activities funded by the Erasmus+ YOUTH IN ACTION programme and serves as a tool for recognition with both a personal and a social dimension.
The discussion ranged between the opposite poles of recognised certification and the feared “instrumentalisation” of youth work for the wrong purposes. This discussion is one that will most likely occupy organisations for quite some time as it touches on the essence of youth work, which is characterised by voluntary participation, young people’s personal initiative, and independence from formal constraints. Even young people themselves often seek a certificate for their voluntary work, demonstrating the contradictory nature of this issue.
Positive results, hopeful outlook
When IJAB representatives Christoph Bruners and Daniel Poli, who provide support to Innovation Fund projects with an international focus, asked participants about their impressions at the end of the second day, the answers were resoundingly positive. The participants confirmed that the discussions had supplied plenty of advice and assistance for the remaining duration of their projects. Now they have one more year to contribute with their own projects in their own regions, and in collaboration with their partners, to the further establishment and development of international youth work as a form of non-formal education.
Those who wish to monitor the further development of the projects can do so not only here at ijab.de; a young editorial team has also been set up to report on all individual projects from a youthful perspective. The team attended the interim meeting and will publish its report on http://innovativ-international.de/. Be sure to take a look!