10th September 2021 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
What I learned from my Youth Advisers
Not all of my ideas work out (ask my Embassy colleagues), but like many of the better ones the Youth Advisers group started with a nagging question that had been bothering me for a while. I often talked about the need to put young people here at the centre of my thinking, but how often was I actually meeting and listening to them?
There are many different ways to answer this question – and I’m certainly not the only one to have spotted it. I decided to see if I could persuade a small group of young people (online given the lockdown) to advise me personally, to answer my questions and to help steer the UK Embassy on how to better support them and their peers in BiH. I thought if I was lucky we might get ten.
The response definitively disproved the idea of apathetic young people, with 270 high quality applications from every corner of the country. Each applicant set out how they were already making a difference in their communities, and explained a key challenge facing young people in BiH today. A team of Embassy staff then had the tough task of sifting the papers, before I made the final choice. A huge thank you from me to Ajla, Arijel, Igor, Jovana, Kristina, Nedim, Petar, Selma, Suljo, and Valentina, for their ideas and commitment throughout ten monthly discussions.
So what did I learn from all this?
Frustrated not apathetic. Even allowing that this was a self-selecting group of motivated 18-29 year olds, time and again I was impressed by their energy and drive. We had honest discussions of the reasons for many of their peers leaving the country, and how they themselves wrestled with such decisions. But the desire to change and improve this BiH shone through. For each and every issue we discussed, from migration to education, they presented answers as well as questions. I wish BiH leaders were listening more to them and their suggestions.
Young people, everywhere. I started by thinking of ‘young people’ as a niche audience or issue. I came to understand that as an Embassy we should look at them as a priority perspective in every single issue we worked on, not just scholarships, or youth focused projects. They can be – and often already are – the drivers of change that BiH needs, its entrepreneurs, military officers, freelancers, judges, artists, politicians, educators, law enforcement representatives, architects, journalists, medical professionals, climate activists and much more. Not a single objective for the UK Embassy in BiH has gone unaffected.
Blurring the lines. This was a group that made me feel lazy. Everyone seemed to have multiple areas of interest and action, mixing studies, activism, writing, music, national sports representation, European Youth Parliament, civil society groups, scholarship programmes and a lot besides. All of which reinforced to me the need to pay closer attention to BiH’s young people, in each and every field.
Let them have their say. Perhaps the most important lesson. Their voice is what matters. So here are some final thoughts from the group:
“What we are all looking for is exactly this: for someone to ask us about our problems, listen to us and finally implement our ideas and wishes. Simple as that.”
“The group definitely inspired me to continue working on my personal development and showed me that youth ideas and commitment can really lead to bigger things and positive changes in my country.”
“Young people certainly need great projects like this.”
“There is a strong divide between the decision-makers and young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who represent a particularly vulnerable group, and it is of utter importance for young activists, scientists, artists, and all others to reclaim their space and influence in politics, education, sports, and other fields of society, with the aim of establishing a fairer and more just BiH for all of us.”
“Dear young people, take on leading roles without hesitation because leaders are not only those at the top, leaders can also become those who helped make a certain idea come true.”