The Voice of Youth: Their Europe

With the YO! Fest2013 taking place in Brussels this week, we took the opportunity to interview both Giuseppe Porcaro, Secretary-General of the European Youth Forum and Sylvie Laffarge, Director Community Affairs EMEA at Microsoft. Read on for more.

Question: What are the origins behind the European Youth Forum & Microsoft strategic partnership? What are your common goals in regards to youth?

Giuseppe Porcaro: It is not common for the European Youth Forum to enter into a partnership with a multinational corporation. The story how the agreement with Microsoft came about is interesting actually. The connection was ignited through our campaign towards a European Charter on Quality Internships and the disillusionment our organisation had after several years of trying to get the business sector on board. When we first were in touch with Microsoft, our shared principles around quality internships were evident, and the company became the first big corporation to sign our charter.

Sylvie Laffarge: We are proud to see here today some of the output of the Microsoft & EYF partnership at the YOFest! Our partnership stems from mutual goals and shared expertise around supporting a quality transition to jobs, engaging young Europeans in e-democracy and encouraging youth to express their voice for Europe’s future. The partnership was instigated in January where Brad Smith, Microsoft’s General Counsel, signed a MoU with the European Youth Forum at the launch of Microsoft YouthSpark in Brussels. As Giuseppe indicates, our initial collaboration was focused around the European charter on quality internships that we were the first company to sign. We don’t intend to stop here!

Q: Today at the YO! Fest, the traditional youth-Led Political Festival, what is the one message you have for European youth?

GP: The Youth Forum has a very strong message for Europe’s Youth: “Make your choice, or someone will make it for you” & “Make your choice in how you want to shape the future politics and economics of this continent through the European Elections in 2014”. Europe’s youth need to build a coherent strategy ahead of the elections in order to give clear indications on how to leave the current crisis behind and put further investment into Europe’s most innovative energy: young people!

SL: Europe needs youth to define the future of the region through their creativity, entrepreneurship & innovation. As the generation that faces complex global challenges, education should incentivise them to use their creativity and unleash their entrepreneurial potential so that they are able to create jobs for themselves and also for their communities.

Q: How does your work contribute to the objectives of both the European community and to national priorities in regard to youth? 

GP: The need to go beyond sectorial approaches towards youth employment and beyond the classical division between national and European priorities motivates this new approach, showcased between Microsoft and the European Youth Forum. We want to prove that the traditional ways of thinking in civil-society / private sector relations are changing in Europe to a point that industry can support causes of civil society to be part of wider advocacy plans that serve the interest all society. What it is at stake here is not just for example, jobs for young people, but the whole development of Europe’s economy, politics and social cohesion.

SL: We firmly recognize that our youth employability and entrepreneurship initiatives can only provide part of the puzzle to help empower young Europeans to realize their potential. We are working together with European Youth Forum, with governments, nonprofits and other businesses to extend this platform of opportunities for youth in Europe. This is both important on the local level, to pioneer projects that engage youth which respond to common national challenges and on the regional level to build awareness and scale in support of the ‘Youth employment package’ and the goals of the European Youth Guarantee.

Q: Why do you think that now is a good time to raise awareness of youth democratic participation in Europe?

GP: Europe is at a crossroad. The recent national elections in many European Countries showed an overall increase in populist discourses, as well as anti-European messages that do not necessarily reflect the reality of the Europe-building process. Indeed the moment for traditional political forces to wake up and return to the spirit of engaging in dialogue with citizens is now, starting with young people. With high levels of absenteeism in elections, the entire fabric of European Democracy is at stake.

SL: We need to act to create conditions which will ensure the integration of young Europeans into society and encourage the political engagement of young voters ahead of the next European elections in May 2014

Q: What are some of the links between technology & youth empowerment in Europe?

GP: It is obvious that today, technology is essential for empowering young people in being autonomous and committed citizens. Digital literacy is not limited to being a native internet or Facebook user, it is something that can empower younger generations to innovate in all sectors and contribute creatively to the progress of society.

SL: Greater connectivity is empowering youth to play a more participative role in their Europe, giving them a more transparent voice, access to new & innovative ways of learning and putting their future directly in their hands irrespective of location or background.

Q: What are the possible benefits of creating business-NGO partnerships like this?

GP: The possible benefits in such partnerships are endless. Firstly, business-NGO agreements can be distinct learning processes. In Europe we are not so used to these partnerships and there is still great resistance in the third sector as they are seen as a potential threat to independence. Partnerships like the one the European Youth Forum built with Microsoft however, is of a very different nature. The very idea that a private company wishes to join a cause that has been built by young people themselves and not vice-versa, paves the way for new ways of alliance building in our advocacy work that has the simple but challenging mission to strive for the rights of young people in Europe.

Q: How do you intend to work together on initiatives that create more opportunities for youth after this event?

GP: This event is only a launch of a wider initiative towards the next elections in 2014: the League of Young Voters. This campaign will engage young people in a dialogue with politicians as well as providing non-partisan information on what it is at stake for young people in the electoral programmes for the next mandate of the European Parliament. Further initiatives to bring together actors from the private sector to support the European Charter on Quality Internships will be undertaken as well as a debate on the skills that are needed to invest in.

SL: This is really only the start of a threefold commitment; through employing technology to support youth civic participation, through the right skills investment to ensure young Europeans make a quality transition into the labour market and through transforming education platforms.

Stay tuned to see how we will together help deliver more opportunities to youth in Europe!

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