After I already write a report in German, I did it now in English as well.
What was the meeting about?
The overall aim of this meeting was to build a community or network around the European Solidarity Corps (ESC). It was the first gathering together to explore options and discuss how this network should look like.
How did I get there?
In 2018, a EUSurvey was promoted through the ESC newsletter. I took part in this survey and indicated my interest in becoming involved in the process of shaping an ESC network. As a consequences, I received an invitation by the European Commission for the ESC Peers kick-off meeting in October 2018. I accepted this invitation but unfortunately I never received an answer. That’s why I tried to contact different people e.g. via the contact on the European Youth Portal, the eurodesk website, the European Commission directly and the Hungarian national agency. To my disappointment, nobody could help me so I didn’t expect any answer anymore.
But in January 2019 I received an email by the European Commission, apologise for the previous confusion and inviting me to the kick-off meeting in March 2019. Later they explained that they had to cancel their first planned meeting and postpone it on March 2019.
Among the young people who responded to the EUSurvey, phone interviews were conducted with those most enthusiastic about participating in and contributing to the ESC community. Finally, 15 participants coming from different regions in Europe, fields of activity, age brackets, status, and backgrounds were selected. Additionally, Erasmus+ National Agencies nominated 6 members of the EuroPeers network run by a cooperation of National Agencies from the already available pool of alumni of Erasmus+ Youth activities. So in sum, we were 21 young participants from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Scotland, Spain and the UK. We came from very different backgrounds plus we had a big age gap from 18-30 years old (I was the youngest with 18 years) but we shared the same values which made it easy to work together.
During the third and the fourth meeting days we were joined by 19 participants from selected National Agencies responsible for youth, ESC hosting organisations and EU stakeholder organisations to take into account the input of organisations and national agencies.
Our hosting team included four members of the European Commission namely of the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC). In addition, the working and discussing methods were guided by a participatory-leadership-instructor.
The first three days we worked in the building of the European Research Council Executive Agency in the north part of Brussels. For the closing seminar then, we gathered in the building of the DG EAC and had lunch in the European Commission building.
Day 1 – 25th March 2019
After the security formalities and some small talk we started at 9:30h with a world café format about possible needs of a future network. The main question was “What would be important to do together in the ESC group?” and our thoughts were i.e. to promote the ESC, to form a strong alumni network, to address existing problems and to support recent volunteers when they have problems. Though, it was a bit difficult because it was still unclear what exactly the European Commission expected from us and the future network. That is why, in the end of the first day we came to the essential question towards the members of the European Commission “Who are we?” The answer “Who do you want to be?” was very surprising to all of us. In addition, the hosting team pointed out many times that this network is our network and that we should think broadly to create something new.
In the evening, we had dinner in an Ethiopian restaurant with many interesting and inspirational conversations and discussions.
Day 2 – 26th March 2019
The morning of the second day started with another world café format about the structure of this network. Especially in this case it was very difficult and unusual, to break out from guidelines and rules that normally dominate our daily lives. But it’s also very exciting to explore the limits of the horizons. Nevertheless, in the case of a possible structure the already existing structure of the EuroPeers helped a lot as a basic idea on which we developed further improvements. A big discussion on the topic about paid work and workers showed up but we soon recognised that this just belongs to the future work and not to a kick-off meeting.
In the afternoon, we were asked to take a look on the draft for the new website design of the European Youth Portal. After this, the representatives of the European Commission explained the process how the ESC was set up before we continued our discussion on the structure and collaboration until 5pm. Still, it was not that easy to bundle 21 different ideas and intentions to one overall idea and by the end of the second day we were all really tired.
Day 3 – 27th March 2019
On the third day it was the day where we already should present our first outcomes especially the structure towards the representatives of the national agency (NA) and hosting organisations (HO). That means that now there were not just only 21 different ideas in the room but around 40 and our discussions were very intense. Every NA and HO had another ideas and eager to build on the base of already existing structures. As a consequence we discussed the same points that we 21 already discussed on the previous days another time which was kind of frustrating. But here, the European Commission outlined again, that this is our network and we should not be bounced back by the NA’s and HO’s conceptions. However, at the same time the NAs and HOs were very cooperative, willing to help and asked us how they can help us.
After lunch we continued our work in the frame of the Open Space method. In total, we had 24 different discussion topics i.e. the network’s objectives, the name of the network, the support of current volunteers, the using of the EuroPeers network and how we can make the network attractive for others to join. Since I didn’t know of the Open Space method and was in the coordinating team for it, I learned a lot from it. In the end of the day, we wrapped up the different outcomes of the Open Space method and by 7pm we had dinner in a Brussels restaurant where we continued our discussions. One of the big question was (and is it still) who exactly should be part of the network. Is it just an alumni network or is everybody who registered at the ESC automatically part of it? And what about the Erasmus+ participants? Another big question is about the exact objectives of our network.
Day 4 – 28th March 2019
With all these questions we started into the last day which was supposed to end around 2pm after lunch. Again, I was in the coordinating team and we had three main topics to discuss: the name of our network, the next elegant steps and who is going to present our results at the European Youth Week in Brussels on the 30th April 2019.
Firstly, we couldn’t agree on a fixed name for the network. There were lots of voices who said that the European Solidarity Corps is already a network and doesn’t require a name. In the end, we agreed on a working title “European Solidarity Corps network”.
Secondly, we founded eight different groups for each working field:
- Marketing & Communication (How can we promote our network and the ESC?)
- Manifesto (Values & Objectives)
- Feedback & Best practices (How can we use the already existing structure?)
- Mentoring (How can we support the recent volunteers?)
- Events & Training (How can we realise trainings and events?)
- NAs & HOs (How can we work together?)
- European Commission (How and who communicates with them?)
- ESC Peers (How can we 21 work together in the future and realise our ideas?)
I decided to be part of the marketing & communication team and we already started to work on the same day after lunch.
The third topic for the last day was about to select these people who are going to present our results on the European Youth Week in Brussels on the 30th April. Since the representatives of the European Commission said, everybody who would like to come to the Youth Week is welcomed, it was not that difficult to find an answer.
Finally, after we closed the meeting we had lunch together in the cafeteria in the building of the European Commission.
To sum it up, the ESC Peers kick-off meeting was inspiring, intense, motivating, energetic, demanding, talk-reaching, conflictual, tiring, confusing but at the same time one-hundred percent and over all positive. The feeling that “we are the beginning of something” (quote by the representative of the European Commission) is great and it was a pleasure for me to work with completely motivated people. Against my expectations this motivation among us is still high and within my group we are working together via Mattermost, Skype and Google Drive. In addition, I see it as a big chance to learn from my team members as they are all experienced in project working. I am also looking forward to present our ideas to other young people at the European Youth Week in Brussels.