Launch of action plan as Erasmus+ project BE PART – FEEL YOUR PART comes to an end

Blog by Volonteurope Secretary General Piotr Sadowski

On 6 February 2020, Oonagh and I, as well as our colleague Amber Plumbly from Volunteering Matters, attended the final conference of a two-year Erasmus+ project, BE PART – FEEL YOUR PART.

The initiative was aimed at increasing the political and social participation of young people, especially those at risk of social exclusion, on local, regional, national and European levels.

The partners engaged with youth workers, volunteers, trainers and other stakeholders, to support young people’s political and social participation as active citizens in their communities.

One of the key intellectual outputs of the BE PART – FEEL YOUR PART project is a Political Action Plan, entitled “Democratic Participation of Young People at Risk of Social Exclusion in Europe: Time for Action!”.

The Plan and its recommendations result from the work of the BE PART project partners, which began in March 2018, and its aim is to present a set of proposals which formulate concrete needs and requirements for different levels of social and political action in Europe.

They are needed to create an enabling environment in which young people can actively contribute, as active citizens, be it socially or politically, to building stronger and more cohesive communities. In the context of the current situation in Europe, we need this more than ever.

As a consortium of partners in this project, we have advocated that in the current climate, it is often organised civil society which is best placed to act as the enabler for more social and political action amongst young people, including those at risk of social exclusion. They are also often the ones which confront political actions that restrict access to media and information, restrict free association of people and stir populism, extremism and xenophobia. Such negative trends erode European values and if we are to ensure that the European project, based on solidarity, tolerance, respect and understanding, remains strong, then young people, from all walks of life, must thrive as active citizens.

We acknowledge that young people in Europe face numerous challenges: high unemployment rates, lack of future perspectives, loss of social cohesion, pressure to perform, achieve as individuals rather as a collective. As a consequence, we live in a society which leaves young people behind social and European development, which threatens their wellbeing and socially excludes them, which increases in them the feeling of not being a part of society and not being able to initiate positive changes.

Populist leadership styles, which we have seen becoming prominent in Europe, easily find scapegoats for all sorts of problems, in migrants, refugees, the poor, disabled and, of course, young people, accusing them of being apathetic, uninterested. If the results of 2019 European Parliament elections or the rise of political engagement of young people in the Brexit climate in the United Kingdom are anything to go by, then we at the BE PART – FEEL YOUR PART consortium certainly do not agree with such views. Indeed, the experiences of our pilot projects, engaging with youth workers and hundreds of young people in local social action projects across the countries represented in our partnerships, support our view that there are increasing numbers of young people who care about making positive community changes, through social action and engagement.

However, what is missing, is diversity and we need to focus on young people from challenging backgrounds and those not reached by mainstream provisions at various levels, to make sure they have the opportunity to engage, be active citizens, volunteers, to be involved in social action and to play a vital and rewarding part in their own communities.

Initiatives such as the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) is a step in the right direction as long as the programme remains committed to engaging more young people at risk of social exclusion (something that the European Voluntary Service was very much lacking) and many of our organisations are already engaged in various ESC projects, through which we offer rewarding volunteering opportunities to young people from all walks of life.

Through this Political Action Plan, we are making the case for why youth social and political engagement is important, because such engagement is unique, as it results in dual benefits, to youth and communities. Through engagement by all citizens, but especially where a clear role is defined for youth, an environment is created where young people may be more likely to become and remain civically engaged.