On Sunday, February 19, 2017, the UN-HABITAT Youth Advisory Board (YAB) launched the Berlin Urban Agenda after a week-long consultation process with youth and various German ministries. The Berlin Urban Agenda will serve as YAB’s primary tool for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Local authorities, government agencies, UN entities, and other stakeholders are welcomed to become partners.
Young people at 1.8 billion (per UN) are some of the biggest contributors of human capital in the world. We have a role to play in our own development as well as the development of our communities. This has resulted in us being increasingly recognized as key participants in decision-making and development processes.
However with an increasing rise in population, there is a rise in youth unemployment. Almost 75 million young people are unemployed worldwide (per ILO). With education being increasingly unaffordable for most youth, especially in Asia, the ability to be employed in a sector of their preference is quite low. In such instances, social enterprise has been seen to change the status quo, offering the ability to change lives while creating revenue.
Social entrepreneurship is not a new phenomenon, but it has risen to prominence over the past decades. Ashoka’s definition of social entrepreneurship as “catalysts of system wide social change” excludes a greater part of young people below the age of 18 as a majority of youth-led initiatives are not making “system wide change.”
However, youth led social enterprises have been creating changes that have being changing systems indirectly for years. Youth social entrepreneurial ventures, young people’s ideas and energy can contribute meaningfully in community building, social change and leadership skills, while facilitating their own development.
In South Asia, Mangrove based social enterprises have created over 5000 employment opportunities while conserving the environment by advocating for alternative livelihoods of the like of eco-tourism and organic farming. In Sri Lanka, Mangroves were officially protected and conserved through legislation in 2015 through a Presidential declaration by the current president. Such changes in legislation can be achieved when young people have been able to contribute through long-term action.
In India, youth led solar power social enterprises are changing the face of the power struggle seen in rural villages, with villagers gaining a monetary income through grid contribution. This also results in the end of the vicious cycle of bribing for power connections.
Therefore using social entrepreneurship as a tool to support youth development would result in more innovative and more sustainable community held solutions for social issues. This turn would lead to more equitable and more habitable world for all of us, man and animal alike due to the environmental and social harmony created through social enterprise. In my capacity as a UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board Representative for Asia, I will advocate for social entrepreneurship in urban interventions to empower young people to address our “wicked challenges” through new tools and mechanisms.
Capacity problems, political conflict and a lack of European solidarity: German authorities have been overwhelmed with the arrival of nearly a million refugees last year. But youth and civil society organizations, such as Plan International Germany, have stepped in. A successful integration is the key to stop growing xenophobia and to lay the fundament for a more colorful and resilient society.
“I always thought Germany is the best organized country in the world”, said a young Afghan who fled from the Hindukush to Germany last year. In the last months, that belief has faded. For more than seven months he has been living in one of Hamburg’s “Erstaufnahmeeinrichtungen”, temporary facilities where refugees have to stay until their asylum request has been processed. This spring, the German government extended the duration from three to six months to take away pressure from local authorities, but many cases are still delayed.
Life in these places – often old warehouses or gymnasiums – is rough. Often hundreds of people live in these camps, with little space, limited privacy and a depressing uncertainty about their future. Whereas in 2015 more than 80 percent of Afghans received asylum in Germany, in the first months of 2016 only 70 percent did – and numbers seem to continue declining. In comparison, 99 percent of Syrians are allowed to stay. Afghanistan, unlike Syria, is not considered by the German government as a war zone anymore. As a consequence, only people able to prove that their lives are at risk in their home country are allowed to stay.
The arrival of more than a million refugees in Germany last year confronted German authorities with so far still unsolved capacity problems. Civil society organizations and citizens have stepped in to help improve the humanitarian situation and contribute to what German chancellor Angela Merkel calls Germany’s biggest challenge since the reunification process 27 years ago: the successful integration of the refugees into the German society.
Back to the roots
At the beginning of 2016, the child rights organization Plan International Germany launched their first programs in German refugee camps. Plan International was founded after the Spanish civil war in 1937 to help parentless and displaced children and shortly after the Second World War also stepped in to help orphaned children in the post-war Germany. In 1989, the German branch of the organization was founded in Hamburg. Today Plan operates development projects in more than 51 countries worldwide – all outside of Europe or North America. Now, one could say the organization is turning back to its roots.
Even international refugee experts that used to work in refugee camps in the Middle East or in Latin America are re-allocated to Germany – something they probably would have never imagined to happen. But not only international experts, also thousands of young people in Germany get engaged.
I Spy With My Little Eye
During a workshop in February this year the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) of Plan International Germany decided to contribute to Plan’s work in a refugee camp in Hamburg. In collaboration with a group of young refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria they decided to launch a media project. Throughout the last weeks a group of young refugees walked around Hamburg. Equipped with cameras they took pictures of things that struck their mind or had a special meaning to them. They wrote a short text to describe what the photo meant to them.
The pictures – without the written explanations – were then sent to German members of the YAB who interpreted and commented on them. In Μay, the YAB and the young refugees came together in Hamburg for a workshop and to discuss the photos. The interpretations of the pictures showed impressively how different experiences and expectations influence a person’s perception of the environment.
A young Afghan was fascinated by chalk cases and chalk boards he found in a lecture hall in the University of Hamburg. He was totally stunned by the fact that in Germany, the home country of modern technology, as he said, universities were still relying on what he called backward technology whereas a poor country such as Afghanistan was using white boards and overhead projectors in its universities. The only logical explanation he could think of was that Germans somehow might have a nostalgic relationship with the past.
His German counterpart didn’t even mention the “ancientness” of the learning materials but instead wrote a more general abstract about the importance of education and the power it provides in a globalized world – not at all thinking about the incredulous astonishment the photographer felt when taking the picture.
Keep Your Curiosity Fresh
During the exchange, all participants learned a lot about their counterparts’ backgrounds. The project exemplified important conditions for any intercultural get-together: curiosity, empathy and the ability to openly reflect one’s personal perception of the familiar. They are the foundation of a relationship based on respect and mutual acceptance and key for a successful integration.
By organizing a public exhibition in Hamburg, the YAB aims to share this message, to stimulate the willingness and the curiosity of passersby so that they open their minds to new influences. Mutual learning and the ability to widen one’s horizon will not only facilitate integration, it will also make the German society more colorful, creative and resilient on the long-run. This is the message we should share in times, when right wing populists gain momentum throughout Europe.
Jonas Freist-Held (24) studied Political Science in Berlin and Berkeley, is the chair of the YAB of Plan International Germany and represents Europe in the YAB of UN Habitat.