Europeans are currently facing major challenges that must be dealt with in the near future. These challenges range from global issues such as climate change, financial crises and side effects of globalized economic markets, to the unequal distribution of vital resources on the European level, such as the expansion and integration of the European Union. They also touch upon democratic participation and legitimacy of the needs and opportunities of individuals, decreasing self-determination and identity aspects of a person.
People are ready to face these challenges only when they take their lives into their own hands, if they can control their actions in a continuously changing environment, when they can establish the meaning of their lives and see the purpose for their actions. However, in order enable people to act this way and respond to these challenges, someone has to start the initiative. In fact, there has to be a lot of people with new ideas and strategic mindset, where they can discover problems easily and turn them into opportunities. Moreover, they have to be able to share their experience and knowledge with others, to participate and break new grounds. This mindset can be achieved by empowerment and entrepreneurial attitude.
One particular approach to forming this mindset, which is also very attractive one, is to create a structured approach to youth education and youth work, where youngsters can grow up to become responsible adults themselves in the future. But in order to implement this they also need skilled youth workers and mentors, necessary tools and proven methods. Evidently, rather than developing a whole new approach or a method, it is more efficient and sustainable to use tested and implemented best practice methods, which is considered to be proven and tested knowledge based on a comprehensive research or a practice. In other words, a valorisation of existing best practices. So the most promising tools and methodologies will end up in the existing empowerment programmes on participation or entrepreneurial activity.
Basically, this project investigates which approaches and methods can empower young people compared to others, which are particularly effective and whether they can be converted into practical tools and delivery methods. The project also studies the best ways to maximise the distribution of the knowledge within the European Union by making it accessible to everyone in the field.
The project starts with the initial phase where tools, methods and models are evaluated at national levels among project partners, and assessed by experts, practitioners and experienced young people. In the subsequent phase, these approaches are discussed in the context of an international meeting among all partners and the most promising tools are selected for practical implementation. As a result, project partners use the selected tools and methods in their sphere of influence and evaluate them.
The results of this process is discussed and evaluated in the context of a final international conference, which is held in Weimar on 10 and 11 September 2014, with participation of external experts, practitioners, academia and policymakers. What emerges from of this research will then be used as a guide for the possible training program for youth and social workers. Finally, the training series are hosted for interested professionals on the basis of the findings obtained from the research project. The project results will contribute to increased European competitiveness and accelerate regional economic growth in line with the Lisbon agenda.
In general, these are the operational objectives of the project:
- By the end of the project, ready-to-use work materials are created, which are proven to be effective to stimulate young, inexperienced people to be more active and involved on shaping their lives and their environment.
- At least six proven tools and methods are critically examined and the results are documented accordingly.
- By the end of the project at least 40 professionals on youth education, youth work and volunteer young adults are trained to use the most effective tools and methods.
- At least two thirds of trainees want to take the acquired methods and use them further after the end of training.
In the Spring of 2013, with the approval of our research proposal, we began to realize which approaches would be the best choice for our project. As a result, we chose two promising concepts on which we based our subsequent work. First, Empowerment, attracted us as a concept of strong natural persuasiveness. And the second concept, Entrepreneurial Thinking and Acting, an inspiring approach, which is considered ironically slightly suspicious, became the centre of increasing public interest throughout the European Union.
Then, we came together to develop a common understanding of these concepts, of their characteristics and preconditions. Throughout the process, it took us four international online conferences, a wiki project, many written documents, discussions and meetings with experts, until we achieved a relevant consensus by the middle of July 2013. Most of the complexities of our work were discovered within the exploration of abstract levels, which we all found to be a very hard process.