From Austria to Australia - young volunteers set the agenda for the new year

Published: 17 December 2012 16:38 CET

By Amy Greber in Vienna

More than 170 youth volunteers from 95 National Societies came together last week at the Global Youth Conference in Vienna, Austria, to participate in developing a Youth Strategy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). As a continuation of the IFRC Youth Policy established in 2011, the strategy will guide National Societies in engaging and equipping young people more effectively as agents of positive change.

Each conference participant served as a personal reminder of the strategy’s importance. It would represent youth volunteers like engineering student Abdallah Abouelaenin, who provided first aid near Tahrir Square at the height of Egypt’s revolution; Lucia Mohlanyane, who encourages a culture of non-violence and tolerance among students in South Africa through football; and Oksana Budnyk from Ukraine, who was eager to follow in her parents’ footsteps by volunteering for the Red Cross.

“You can’t help but feel energized by the passion and commitment of Red Cross Red Crescent youth volunteers,” said Youth Commission Chair Ashanta Osborne Moses, noting the buzz from round table discussions and other activities. “Their diverse input is helping to craft a truly global strategy that will empower youth to be positive change makers and overcome any barriers they may face.”

Activities shaping the four-day event focused on four key themes: youth promoting humanitarian values, youth as innovators, as beneficiaries and – most importantly – as leaders. “Leadership is not about popularity, but respect,” said Matthias Schmale, IFRC Under Secretary General for National Society and Knowledge Development, during a panel discussion, underlining the importance of conflict resolution. “When you find yourself in a situation where consensus is not possible, take time to look at the issue from the other side’s point of view.”

The Austrian Red Cross, conference co-hosts, also offered participants a taste of local culture and hospitality. In addition to leading skill-building activities such as traditional dance and music workshops, Austrian Red Cross volunteers organized a flash mob on a brisk Tuesday evening. Conference-goers—armed with red umbrellas and warm layers of clothing—marched into Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier, assembled into the shapes of a red cross and a red crescent, and surprised revelers with a spotlit display of emblems as umbrellas sprung open and cheers rang out.

Recommendations from the conference are now being formalized into an official strategy that will travel from Austria to Australia, where it will be introduced at the 2013 Global Youth Forum and General Assembly.

“What an opportunity it has been to be here and to be able contribute to the Global Youth Strategy!” said Alina Garleanu on Twitter, where participants shared their thoughts throughout the event. Her message exemplifies the level of enthusiasm and empowerment that the IFRC Youth Strategy seeks to foster.