By Giovanni Zambello in Bulgaria
Eighty-one representatives from 41 national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from Europe gathered last week in Lozen, Bulgaria, for the 20th European Youth Cooperation Meeting (EYCM), the biennial meeting of European Red Cross Red Crescent youth leaders.
Established in 1978 as a meeting of European Youth Directors to promote discussion and experience sharing, this year the EYCM went way beyond its original purpose. Youth representatives attending the four-day-long meeting were asked to reflect on the status quo regarding the network to which they belong, and to analyse its purpose and mandate to see if it is still relevant.
“The recently-approved IFRC Youth Policy clearly states that regional networks play a key role in promoting youth leadership,” said Flavio Ronzi, IFRC Youth Delegate in the Europe zone office. “However, the terms of reference for the network have not been updated in more than five years. Since then, we’ve had the adoption of the Youth Declaration, Strategy 2020, as well as the Youth and Volunteering Policies, which by themselves represent huge developments and changes within the universe of Red Cross Red Crescent Youth, and must be reflected in the network’s mission, strategy and plan of action.”
Heather Fitzke has been working on developing new volunteering opportunities for young people in the British Red Cross for the last two years. “I think the primary role of the European Red Cross Red Crescent Youth network is for National Societies to share experiences and ideas, but also to reflect upon what we are all doing, to make sure that we have a shared purpose and a powerful voice,” she said. “Only if we keep having a relevant scope and take actions based on existing needs in member National Societies, can we call ourselves a network. Otherwise we will just keep perpetuating ourselves for the sake of it.”
Most recently, the British Red Cross has been working on increasing the role of young people in decision making, with a strong focus on social media which, through a virtual youth advisory panel, tries to reach out to young volunteers and calls on them to make their voices heard in important decisions and events, such as the IFRC General Assembly.
“I think that good practices like this can inspire other National Societies’ youth within the network and empower them to overcome similar weaknesses in their national contexts,” Heather said.
Through brainstorming the existing strengths and weaknesses of the network, group discussions and team activities, youth representatives at the meeting worked on rethinking the mission of the network, updating its terms of reference and identifyng the priorities that will feed into the network’s strategy and plan of action up to 2014.
"When I joined my National Society, the internet was still not widely used and there were very few online tools available," said Marine Ronzi, who works as youth focal point in the Monaco Red Cross. “Since then, bridging the digital divide became one of our top priorities and with the new communications tools that we developed, we are now proud to show some good results in terms of new youth volunteers that have joined the Monaco Red Cross, and new donors that are supporting us.”
“The digital divide is still a reality in many countries and National Societies in the Europe zone, and I believe that we as innovators and fast-learners, can play a crucial role to share much needed knowledge of information and communication technologies and help bridge this gap. Our Youth network represents an invaluable platform to share such knowledge and learn from one another. But for the network to keep existing and working effectively, it is time for us to take stock of what we have been a able to achieve through it, and adapt ourselves to meet the new and emerging humanitarian needs of a fast changing Europe.”