50 years of IJAB – 50 years of international dialogue and cooperation

IJAB was established in 1967 as a nationwide organisation for international cooperation in the youth work and youth policy field. The chief motivation for this was reconciliation and understanding, an urgent necessity after World War II, along the wish to stimulate curiosity, a sense of adventure and an interest in the world beyond Germany’s borders. Half a century later, the international youth work community is facing a set of quite different challenges. We live in a globally connected world without physical or virtual borders, and are confronted with a rise in nationalism and isolationism. IJAB is responding to these trends with a long-term European and international approach that allows young people to grow up to become true citizens of Europe and the world.

Lothar Harles, Chairma of IJAB and Marie-Luise Dreber, Director of IJAB
Lothar Harles, Chairma of IJAB and Marie-Luise Dreber, Director of IJAB BildImage: Stephanie Bindzus | IJAB

Five decades ago, the then federal youth ministry and national child and youth welfare organisations decided they needed one central point of contact in Germany for foreign youth work organisations and youth policy experts. And thus, IJAB was born, the “international youth exchange and visitors’ service of the Federal Republic of Germany”. The new organisation would promote international youth exchanges and youth policy cooperation and lead to more international partnerships. Its work always had a European perspective, too, so in 1988 the National Agency “JUGEND für Europa” was integrated into IJAB to enable synergies in the field of youth exchanges with Germany and EU Member States. In many cases IJAB helped set up bilateral youth offices and youth exchange coordination services such as the German-Polish Youth Office, ConAct and the Foundation for German-Russian Youth Exchange and provided support during their initial phase of growth.

IJAB’s work is founded upon innumerable international civil society partnerships at the local, regional and national level which have made a major contribution to the original goals of reconciliation and understanding. Strong backing exists in the form of intergovernmental agreements and accords and accompanying talks at government level. Their official character and the binding nature of the agreements and the funding they entail are exceptionally valuable to the committed organisations and groups working in this field.
The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) has backed IJAB’s work from the very beginning in the shape of institutional support and project funding. Since 1967, IJAB has been working with its member organisations, national child and youth welfare providers and foreign partners to promote peace, acceptance and tolerance as well as cross-border learning opportunities.

Thanks to visa waiver arrangements with many countries, increasingly easy and affordable international travel and ever stronger relationships between countries across the European Union and beyond, exchanges between young people and experts have become commonplace. In today’s globally connected, highly diverse world, youth exchanges are all about participation, personal development, education, tolerance of diversity and a dialogue on youth issues across Europe and around the world. Over the years IJAB has accompanied these developments in a highly innovative manner, for instance maintaining an extensive range of digital sources of information and advice, offering quality development assistance for international youth work providers, training experts and encouraging a greater international orientation in child and youth services. In 2007, IJAB adopted a new name: the “youth exchange and visitors’ service” became the International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany, henceforth a professional platform for the international youth work community.

IJAB’s long-standing mission – to promote dialogue and understanding through cross-border cooperation – appears to be in jeopardy today. The incidence of armed conflict and hostility in many parts of the world is increasing dramatically. Terrorist attacks around the globe are stirring up mistrust and fear, and Germany is no exception. Thanks to the financial crisis, isolationist tendencies and most recently the UK’s decision to exit the EU, the future of the European Union is more fragile than ever. Xenophobia and racism are threatening social cohesion in Germany and beyond. Democracy as a social model is being thrown into question. In light of our mission, we cannot sit back and watch as these developments unfold. We are approaching current and future challenges with determination, working with our existing and new partners to make a substantial contribution to solving these problems and translating the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development  into reality. This will require much creativity and power of persuasion.

For us, IJAB’s 50th anniversary is an opportunity for a clear show of courage at a series of events to promote dialogue and cooperation, openness and diversity, and tolerance and acceptance. We are calling for the courage

  • to not back down when faced with apparently overwhelming challenges,
  • to help make the world of tomorrow a peaceful and humane place, and
  • to replace contempt with compassion.

This is not a journey to take alone; rather, we invite IJAB’s many members, partners and interested individuals to join us. It will be good to have you on board!

Lothar Harles and Marie-Luise Dreber
Chairman of IJAB and Director of IJAB



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