In this episode, we are discussing the state of youth civil society in Europe and globally.

Show Notes

Youth civil society was quick to respond to the recent challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. What is the state of youth civil society nowadays? How does it need to be supported? We are discussing these questions with Alex Kent from Restless Development that has published the report on the state of youth civil society and Lucas Stede from the Advisory Council on Youth in the Council of Europe.

Hosts: Lana Pasic and Dariusz Grzemny

The transcript is available HERE

The State of Youth Civil Society - Youth Power in a Pandemic

What is UNDER 30'?

Welcome to UNDER 30, the podcast series by the EU-Council of Europe youth partnership that brings research results, explores trends in young people's lives and themes relevant for youth policy and practice.

The EU-CoE youth partnership is a co-operation programme between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth, created in 1998, connecting youth research, policy and practice.

Lana: Welcome to UNDER 30, the podcast of the EU - Council of Europe youth partnership.

Today, we are talking about the state of youth civil society globally, and in Europe.

How does the state of youth civil society look like?

What are the main challenges?

How are young people dealing with these challenges and what are some of the things that
youth work, youth policy, young people, youth research can do to make an improvement?

We are speaking today with Alex Kent, co-CEO of Restless Development and Lucas
Stede, who is the member of the Advisory Council on Youth of the Council of Europe.

Alex and Lucas, would you like to introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about what is it that you do?

Alex: Absolutely.

Hi, I'm Alex Kent.

I'm the co-chief executive of Restless Development and Restless
Development is a global agency, which is all about youth leadership.

So enabling, empowering, strengthening youth leadership, and so that young people can lead change on the
things that matter the most, things like climate justice and education and livelihood and other issues.

Lucas: Hi, I'm Lucas Stede.

I'm part of the Advisory Council on Youth on behalf of the German National Youth
Council and I'm a representative there of young people, of actually 30 young people.

And, I'm doing this for about one and a half years now and yeah, looking forward to the new mandate.

Lana: Thank you both.

The idea for this podcast actually came about when Restless Development
published its report on the state of youth civil society around the world.

Alex, can you tell us a little bit more about the report and what are some of the main
findings, main conclusions and how does the state of youth civil society look like.

Alex: Yeah, absolutely.

So we wanted to kind of work out how civil society is doing through the pandemic.

I feel like, you know, with so much time, attention, research had gone into different sectors, especially of
course, the financial, but really obviously, health and vaccines actually, how was youth civil society affected?

So what we did is we did a global survey of 900 youth organizations,
really informal youth-led organizations in over 90 countries.

And we also did deep dive spotlight sessions on about 22 of those.

So just get a real kind of global picture of how a youth led change was working out or how it was affected.

And I think there were two, effectively, main things that came out, firstly, that youth civil society is
undeniably threatened and increasingly the threats to youth civil society were exponential through the pandemic.

So, the first just being financial, I think nearly all of them,
so more than 90% nearly all of the youth led organizations.

When I say youth organizations, I mean anything from a mutual aid group to people
volunteering in the neighborhood to make sure that people had the resources that
they need or to help leading hand washing or to help with refugees or with education.

Like any of that grassroots youth led change.

And more than 90% said they were struggling financial losses and that they'd had to adapt.

They'd either closed.

So lots of, we'd found lots of youth led organizations which had shut as a result or they'd had to
lose staff, or they had to kind of adequately change as a result of those financial constraints.

But to like emerging trends, which are coming up through the pandemic, was this increasing challenge to mental
health and wellbeing and the compounded crisis that so many youth activists and, and youth led organizations are
feeling so not only working on the frontline issues, but also having their own, their own issue compounded so
struggling with having to drop out of university education or losing jobs, or having to care for family members.

So really feeling that burnout anxiety, the mental health, and also just having a sense of agency taken away.

So someone saying, oh, you can't hug, you can't gather is having a huge impact on mental health.

Um, then the third issue was increasing divide.

So depending on if you're digitally connected, if you're online, that so many youth civil society
organizations have been able to thrive, if you don't have access to the internet, really, being held back.

And also that gender divide.

So the majority of the ones that have survived are male led as well.

So really it's the girls and women that have been losing out the most.

And then lastly, a kind of loss in trust in governments and
media, the kind of loss in trust in the formal power systems.

So that's the kind of the threaten on the upside, incredibly optimistic.

So actually the majority of those that we survey said that youth civil society is stronger than ever been before.

So despite these huge challenges, most of them are saying, no, we are better and we are stronger.

And I think with that rejection of the formal power and the governments and this
loss of media has been this emerging of like, we are just gonna do it our own way.

We're not gonna wait for you to catch up like creating new ways of making that change, especially on climate justice.

Like the Friday for future felt it quite optimistic about we can create this different world.

On media, rather than waiting for formal media to tell a certain thing and actually not trusting it.

I found that, especially in Macedonia and Serbia, creating new channels, letting
young people lead that narrative spread correct information, So a huge optimism
based on being adapting and resilient as a result of the pandemic, reclaiming power.

So where power's being taken away, actually forming that solidarity with other networks and
especially globally is like a kind of rejection that you are gonna take away that power from us.

Actually, we are gonna continue to build that connection and create this new normal.

And then I think the last one that really came out is really, really powerful, actually
young leaders and youth led change, having this incredible power to reach new audiences.

So using a creative and an innovative, so quite often using art, drama, theater,
a way to create, to access much, many more new audiences in a much more powerful.

So actually, despite the challenges it's come across as really, and it's quite
phenomenal in terms of the power that youth led organizations still have.

Lana: Thank you, Alex.

It actually reminds me of some political philosophy books, that say, that
the crisis actually is a moment for motivation and inspiration, and action.

Is that the case, for the Council Europe as well, Lukas.

You know, the Council Europe works quite a bit on the questions of youth civil society and
the shrinking space, not during the pandemic, but not only it is a word that started before.

So what is the situation when it comes to the Council of Europe state?

Lucas: Yeah.

So I think we made a very good point there, Lana that crisis is indeed giving opportunity
for changes in that, that you can have like really, in these disruptive environments,
the option to change quite big things in a small time, because it is really needed.

But, one thing that young people are basically struggling with is that in a lot of
different governments and, even on the local level, they weren't really able to take part.

They weren't heard.

They weren't engaged with and, they weren't provided with opportunities to really have a say when it comes to the
post-pandemic influence in politics, but, but also in general it was basically mostly older generations deciding
and young civil society struggling with all the points that Alex mentioned, not really able to gather in their
normal forms to meet up, to develop their ideas, to share, to work together and to shape their environments.

And that is a huge thing that affect all of us, like the different member organizations of
our youth representatives in the Advisory Council and all the organizations we are working
together with, but also the national youth councils and their experience and their members.


Looking at the Council of Europe, of course there is a lot of opportunity for change right now.

And there's a lot of need for change as well.

not only looking at the pandemic, but also the war in Ukraine going on, the different political struggles right
now, certain backlash on democracies and on civil rights in different countries that, yeah, were a key part, or
that play played a key role in the last mandate for us and right now, and that actually brought us to the point

that we developed this revitalizing democracy campaign, Democracy Here, Democracy Now, and we really passed
all away for it, even though the member states were eager to look a bit more at, their own topics right now.

And during pandemic and post pandemic times.

But we really saw this problem that was mentioned in different countries and even on
a European level and were said like, okay, we need to focus on revitalizing democracy.

We need to focus on civil society organizations, and we need to focus again
on young people and giving them the opportunity to meet up and change things.

But even beside the campaign last, last mandate, at the end of last mandate we were
working on a recommendation on youth civil space and we had a hearing, we had different
experts and representatives of the member states of the Council of Europe on this topic.

And, we saw the struggles within countries, but we also got lots of notes from
organizations that we're working with that there are these financial problems.

There are these structural problems, but there's also a lack of sometimes basic civil rights to meet up, to
engage, to set your own agenda, have the agency as young people to work on topics that affect you, and that
are important to yourself and that are not set from others, but that you can set for yourself and that you
can really promote on a level and, yeah, work towards advocating for it with different political institutions.

Lana: Thank you, Lucas.

Actually, there were lots of things that, that were brought up
by two of you in terms of the challenges for youth civil society.

So, as Lucas summarized some of them that Alex mentioned the structural, the financial issues.

Our research also shows that there is a huge gap when it comes to how young people are dealing
with the current political, economic, social, security situation in Europe and globally.

So what are some of the things that case of Alex and Resltess Development?

What are some of the things that youth organizations can actually do to advocate young people's participation
and for young people's inclusion in different processes to improve the state of youth civil society.

Alex: Yeah, Um, a lot of things.

So there's definitely not a lot.

I mean, I think.

Um, hearing us talk.

I think the one thing that's really aware and we need to also keep elevating
is that young people and youth led change is totally taken for granted.

Like it is ultimately, it's kind of, it's the society in which we live.

It's the backbone of every neighborhood, every school, every community it's it's,
they're dependent on young people organizing or doing a concert or it's there everywhere.

And it's that really healthy backbone of a healthy society that's able to
thrive and take on the crises, the multiple crises that we've got at the moment.

And it's just, it's not, it's like, what is it?

And everyone's like, don't really understand it.

It's not tangible.

I can't touch it.

So I don't really understand it.

I'm not investing in it and by not investing it or even giving it air time it's kind of, yeah, it's
really struggling, but also I think we need to not fall into the mistake of trying to formalize it.

What the magic in youth civil society is that it is fluid.

It's created it's outspoken and it's creating new ways and not trying to go, okay, I'm gonna formalize it.

It's gonna have a youth sector with ministry.

And it's just like actually seeing that, yeah, what is ultimately
fragile and, and creative and all those things is the power.

The things that we can do.

One is, is this actually just talking about it, celebrating it, really
calling it out when you see youth led change quite often, it's really small.

It's quite often, it's the local thing.

It's when a couple of young people have got together and formed a group,
making sure that they're elderly, their relatives have a newspaper every day.

So it's little things like that.

All gone.


I'm gonna pick up all the, all the waste in my neighborhood or make sure that the local schools, um, have
preschool meals, or I'm gonna call on my local governor to say, what are you doing about the transport system?

It's really small.

And I think it's celebrating those big wins.

Those wins don't get often in the formal media, but trying to get more stories out there
and just letting people feel that the connection powers and that's an absolute number one.

And then there's lots of different things.

Just making sure that young people have a seat at the decision making table as Lukas has rightfully said.

But it's not just a seat into your boring, old structure, which isn't very accessible.

It's kind of rebuilding that structure.

So it's rather than just like, okay, you've got a seat at decision making table.

This is way we're gonna do it.

You know, changing out those heads.

So whether it means tips and assemblies and doing in a creative way, that's accessible
and means young people where they're at, where they care, because there's no doubt about.

Young people really care.

Like there is so many amazing youth led campaigns out there.

You don't, you know, that thing, but it it's like bringing that into the central.

So meeting young people where they're creating that change, and
bringing them in, and then there's just lots of basic things like

don't ask young people to engage at the last minute.

They're busy and like, and also young people don't have, most people struggle with livelihoods in terms of an income.

So don't ask them to come and don't pay them.

Like, maybe that's fine if you are a chief executive like me and you've got a stable salary and of course
I can do a podcast, but don't ask young person with no notice and then not expect them to do it for free.

That's effectively unpaid labor, like just lots of basic things.

Like actually young people, you need to, to pay the respect and make it inclusive and provide
the support and the mentoring and all the financials, all the, all the things, which are
pretty obvious when you think about, but we just see time, time, time again, the bad practice.

And people are like, oh, I need young people involved.

And they quickly kind of call a couple of young people to bring their voices in.

It's like, no, actually, if you gonna wanna meaningfully en engage young people,
there's lots of best practice that we are, we are very happy to share in more.

Lana: Thank you, Alex.

It actually, you know, some of the things that, that you brought
up as you said seem quite simple, but can easily be practiced.

And, also they show the diversity, and breadth of different forms of youth led campaigns
and youth led actions, but also what can different levels from the local level of
governments from youth organizations, et cetera, do to ensure youth led processes.

And Lucas is actually a member of one such body in the Council of
Europe and I'm glad Alex brought this question of youth led change.

So Lucas, maybe you can tell us how this youth led change actually takes place at the Council of Europe youth sector.

Lucas: In the Council of Europe youth sector, the one is we have like a very good system of giving young people
a meaningful way to participate as we are having this co-managed body, where young decision makers and people who
are actually getting selected by the European Youth Forum as one big youth umbrella with different organizations

and lots of different people with different perspectives and backgrounds are involved, but also 10 additional
members are getting selected so that we can fill in all the gaps that even this big youth umbrella, uh, still has.

That's one good way to have like young people involved, having it formalized and having them sitting at
the same table as governmental representatives and co-deciding on topics, on different recommendations
on what kind of projects are needed the most, where, which you need to fund and all those other things.

And I think that's one good way to using like such formal structures and really having a direct impact
and a formalized way to get young people involved and get their voice heard in a process and really
getting institutions working with these inputs and not just shuffling them somewhere in the, in the
border, in the drawer and leaving it there, but really forcing them in some way to work with them.

But that's just a very formal way.

I think it's very hard for most people to get through the structures, get to understand how these institutions work.

What are, what is the scope?

What is the level on how getting people involved?

And that's not gonna catch anyone like off the streets and, you can ask young
people directly to go there and just talk about stuff you need, like a lot of
experience in different structure and organizations to work in such a formalized way.

And I think the most important thing that institutions and countries and governmental bodies
should do is going to young people where they already are and trying to not force them into
structures and not like implementing something and saying, okay, we are going to do this or that.

And then wondering why no one is showing up or something, but
we are looking like, okay, what is, what are young people doing?

Because they are trying to take their own space and they are trying to use the space as given
to them the best way, and then using that input and that experience to taking it into account.

And we have the question or not the question, but the topic of Fridays is for Future, for example, and they
are really saying like what they want and like youth organizations are working for tens of years, even longer.

Different ideas, different topics, writing papers, discussing these things, having it like a, the like little workshop
of democracy from their local level to regional ones, even to like on, on a federal level or even beyond Europe.

And there is all this input.

It's not something you need to create again or where you need to do too much new things.

It's just like working with the things that are already there, strengthening the strengths that
the structures already have and really giving them opportunities, giving them the opportunity and
funding them to meet up, to develop even more ideas, to engage in different processes and, using

the voices that are already there.

And on the other hand, trying to reach out to young people that are not already involved in this structure.

So I think that would be like a good way and that it's something we are trying to do as the Advisory Council as well.

And, at the Youth Department in the Council of Europe, because we are
having these sessions that are funded by the European Youth Foundation.

We are having study sessions on topics with different young people, from different
backgrounds, different organizations meeting up, and really working with multipliers
that can reach out to their local structures again, and draw ideas from there.

And so spreading, on the one hand, the opportunity we have, but also collecting all the knowledge that is there.

We are trying to provide funding to local initiatives, trying to do like a very basic win.

Of course we are not having the biggest funds.

It's not nothing compared, the Council of Europe to looking at, how big Erasmus
is, for example, but still like a very basic and important work that we are doing.

And, I think that's something where we are really building upon to strengthen youth civil society, to
strengthen the processes and to strengthen organizations and getting their voices heard as good as we can.

Alex: I think the best people to lead young people is young people.

And I think it's really, we've, you know, we, we've done this lot, tried and
tested lots of different things about in Restless Development, what works the most.

And it's really investing in young leaders to lead other young people as well.

So it's that sense of like, how do you invest in communities and networks?

And especially through the pandemic, everyone needs a sense of belonging.

Everyone needs their group, whether that might be your local choir group or your
knitting circle, or your debating society, your book club, you need your community.

And those need to be led by young people and not feeling like you need to create something different or separate.

And I think the other that really came across is actually when people are digitally
connected, that doesn't need to be restricted to borders, or to your local neighborhood.

And I think that's incredibly inspiring.

It's like the connection, the solidarity that we were seeing from young researchers in the poor, um, LGBT communities
there, which were really affected, especially during the lockdown with other communities and other places.

And when the pandemic first happened, it affected all of us in the same way.

It was a huge levelizer and that being able to have young people providing solidarity, support,
mentoring, inspiration to other young people across the world is, is a huge force of good.

And I think that's, we, we sped into that because of the pandemic.

So I totally agree with you is Lukas, rather than us creating a separate way, meeting young people where
they are at, they're already doing it, but letting there be an ecosystem where that continues to thrive.

Track 2: Okay, thank you.

There's one thing actually, that probably we can finish this recording with.

When reading the report, Alex, and putting it also in the context of COVID 19 and
what happened and how the youth civil society, what challenges it actually faced.

And, and, what kind of positive outcomes were also there that you talked about?

And I, I tried to read this report also in the context of what's happening
today, actually in the world and how it impacts youth civil society.

I look for example, what happened when the, when the war in Ukraine started and
what happened with the youth civil society was actually the first one to respond.

It was the first one that was very, very responsive.

So it was really good to see in the report that youth civil society was
responsive and it happened in COVID very quickly adapting to the changing reality.

I don't know, going online and so on.

And now with the war in Ukraine it was the first one that actually started
with humanitarian aids, started with organizing places for refugees.

I come from Poland where there is a lot of refugees from Ukraine , and it was young people who were basically there.

It was young people who were the volunteers.

And there's a lot of other changes happening on political level, the economical crisis.

And so on.

What's your vision, Alex.

What will be needed now or what is needed?

What is already kind of important to think about when thinking about supporting youth civil society?

Alex: Yeah.

And just to, to read to what you said.


So young people have been responsive across every single crisis, you know, the war and, Ebola and Syria
that was coming out in the report as well, or the COVID pandemic, but they're not only responsive.

They kind of like the justice driven.

So unapologetically focused on the big issues as well.

So not getting bogged down.

Oh, I've got a shopping list or I need to do this, this and this because my work, my day's really busy.

Like, no, actually there's a climate crisis and that's the only thing that matters or there's a war.

That's the only thing that's gonna matter today.

And just being really focused, which actually, I think.

We could probably all learn from is like, actually what's the big thing.

And I I'm just doing whatever it takes on the big issues.

So I think that's incredibly powerful.

What needs to happen?

I think probably more, we could not be seeing youth as a problem.

So often you hear about, there are so many young people missing out on school.

They've had to drop out.

They're not getting back into an education, what's gonna happen in terms of jobs.

We are seeing growing inequality, we are seeing the job market drop.

All of these things are real, but young people are not the problem.

They are the solution.

And I think the more we can be showcasing that and that this alternative way out of multiple
crises and creating, you know, it's a bit of the world for a while that we were talking about
build back better, but creating this new alternative is youth led, it's already happening.

And the way that we can be celebrating that, bringing it together, showing the real
power of youth seeing rather than seeing, oh, there's a big global challenge here.

And it's because of young people, like it's that one, I think turning that narrative on the
head and just really celebrating this incredibly power because young people are doing it right.

But they're facing the challenges, but they're really optimistic of this new way of the new creative and the response.


So, yeah, there's lots of back plumbing that we need to do to do this right.

But ultimately celebrating, enabling this really positive power to create a new world and
just not, not taking time over it, like young people, young leaders are there already.

They, they are creating another world.

So I think we just need to catch up.

Like, I think the world of structure just needs to get with the program,
and really give that the air time that it, that it needs(inaudible)

Dariusz: Yeah.

I think that the same question goes to Lucas, because you talk about a lot of initiatives, advocacy work of
the Advisory Council in the Council of Europe, when it comes to youth, to youth work, to youth civil society.

What needs to happen now?

Lucas: Yeah, I think I can just directly connect what Alex said.

I think young people really have this in their minds that of course you need to act locally.

You need to act directly and help.

And that's what happened during the pandemic with like this shopping
for neighbors and other things, but also doing like the initial, yeah,

results of, the war that started in Ukraine where lots of refugees were coming and where there
was indeed help needed where, whether it was accommodation, whether it was food, medicine,
all those things where youth organizations were really active and tried to organize locally
and then getting it across different countries, uh, directly to the war and to Ukraine.

But on the other hand, young people are really seeing the bigger picture as well.

It's not, not like Fridays for futures, only looking at what can you do on your own.

That is basically a thing, but it's not enough to look at what can one young person do it's about the bigger picture.

Some bigger things that need to change to really turn the ship around and, get us yeah, get
earth not overheated too much, for example, and yeah, I think I can, can conclude on what
one of my fellow colleagues in the Advisory Council once said during the youth conference.

It's -youthless policy is useless policy.

If you don't let young people participate, if you don't take in the younger generation, the future generation into
account, in developing policies, in shaping the bigger picture and shaping how the future looks like, whether
it is on a local level in changing your city or your, your village to some extent, but also on a federal level.

And even beyond that, whether it's European or global and I think that's something
we really have to focus on and we have to enable young people to participate.

And we do that by strengthening youth civil society by strengthening youth work and providing opportunities.

So yeah, that young people can have work in their own workshops
for democracy, which are basically youth organizations where you

vote for your local leader and where you'd learn how to participate and be an active part and a useful part in society.

And, and you're just not doing it because it's forced on you, but you're doing it because that's how things
work when you're together with different young people and trying to work out what you're going to do next.

I think that's, that's a core value, that's something that
always needs to be pointed out and held very close to the core.

Dariusz: Thank you, Alex.

Thank you, Lucas for your input and all these positive messages.

That's all for today.

And we of course would like to invite you to listen to our next episodes of UNDER 30 podcast.