Between 17th and 19th April, over 250 young people and policy makers from 40 countries gathered in Sofia to discuss what are young people’s needs and expectations for a sustainable and successful future.

Since then, the European Union Youth Conference, organised in the framework of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, has been a newsmaker. The reasons are many, but the most significant is the approval of the 11 EU Youth Goals, that were created as a result of a 2-day working process and dedication of the participants.

The Youth Goals are a set of objectives that will be used by the European Commission as a reference in drafting the new EU Youth Strategy. These goals are based on the opinions and ideas of the 48,389 young people across Europe (including many ESNers and Erasmus students through the #SpeakUp campaign) who participated in a consultation process on the topic “Youth in Europe: What’s next?” The Youth Goals are our vision for the future of young people in Europe!

Here are the 11 Youth Goals. Some of them may seem familiar to you, and that is because many of the goals overlap with the causes and values of ESN.

1.      Connecting EU with Youth

Foster the sense of youth belonging to the European project and build a bridge between the EU and young people to regain trust and increase participation.

One thing is sure: most ESNers and Erasmus students feel that they belong to Europe - a fact confirmed by the Erasmus Impact Study (2015). ESN promotes and supports international student mobility, intercultural understanding, volunteering, and active citizenship - actions that eventually bring young people closer to Europe.

Erasmus+ is a unique tool that promotes EU principles and values. We are the Erasmus generation, for us, the EU means the freedom to live, study and travel anywhere in Europe. The programme itself is the bridge that connects us with the Union. We will always be grateful for the amazing opportunity that we have received from the EU once (or twice, or more).

2.      Equality of All Genders

Ensure equality of all genders and gender-sensitive approaches in all areas of life of a young person.

ESN supports equality through its zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination. To ensure that, a Code of Conduct was accepted at AGM Germany 2017. Our Network and our activities should be a safe place where everybody feels respected and included regardless of their differences - including gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Moreover, in April this year, ESN organised its first Study Session on the topic “Under the Rainbow – LGBTQI+, Volunteers and International Students”. More than 30 volunteers gathered together to gain knowledge, to discuss the issues that people from the LGBTQI+ community face in their everyday lives and to exchange ideas on how our Network can create more equality at our events and activities.

After all, the world is colourful!

3.      Inclusive Societies

Enable and ensure the inclusion of all young people in society.

Our Network has been fighting for this for years and every ESNer agrees that Social Inclusion is one of the main causes of our Network. We are united in diversity. Аny kind of discrimination or threatening behaviour is unacceptable in ESN. We promote tolerance, open-mindedness and respect among our volunteers and international students through different activities connected with SocialErasmus. ESN works for more inclusive and accessible education and social environment through projects like ExchangeAbility and MappED!.We need to keep going in that direction and keep involving more people.

4.      Information and Constructive Dialogue

Ensure young people have better access to reliable information, support their ability to evaluate information critically and engage in participatory and constructive dialogue.

In such a big and fast-growing organisation, keeping track of all the things that are happening and all the knowledge that is being transferred is as important as the events and training themselves. Because we understand the importance of having reliable information, we have built our own Wiki database.

When it comes to the ability to evaluate information, critical and analytical thinking are skills that almost every ESNer has. Probably that is the reason why we change our SOS so often and why we have so many proposals and then even more amendments to these proposals. However, while debating so many things, we should be very careful to stay respectful and constructive in our opinions. There is still room to improve but we are on the right way.

5.      Mental Health and Well-being

Achieve better mental well-being and end stigmatisation of mental health issues, thus promoting social inclusion of all young people.

We care about students’ health, and that is why we have projects and events such as Responsible Party and International Erasmus Games. However, we as young people need to be aware that health does not include only the physical condition of our bodies but also our mental health and that it is not less important at all. Not so long ago we started talking about the mental health of our volunteers. Seems like everybody understood the importance of the topic and saw it so close to themselves that Health and Well-being is now one of our causes. While supporting and helping other students, we sometimes tend to forget to help ourselves.

The first symptoms of neglecting your personal needs and anxiety can quickly lead to much worse phases of burnout as depression. That is why we should not only talk about but also implement the care of our mental health and well-being in all ESN events and activities, as well as spread awareness within and out of the scope of our Network.

6.      Moving Rural Youth Forward

Create conditions which enable young people to fulfil their potential in rural areas.

Through projects such as SocialErasmus and Erasmus in Schools, ESN is already dedicating attention to rural youth. In our ErasmusUpgrade Manifesto, we give recommendations on how the successor programme of Erasmus+ should be more inclusive when it comes to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. To make the programme more accessible, extra funding for students coming from rural areas is needed. However, we should think not only about how the Erasmus programme can benefit them but also how they can be more involved in youth initiatives and organisations such as ESN.

7.      Quality Employment for All

Guarantee an accessible labour market with opportunities that lead to quality jobs for all young people.

Young people are suffering from high unemployment. The bridge between education and work is not always very visible, and ESN is trying to contribute to tackling this issue through the platform. Employability is one of our causes. Through different projects such as #myESNcareer and the initiatives of the Skills Assessment Team of the ESN International Committee for Education (ICE), we are working on the recognition of the skills that volunteers gain through their volunteering experience. Moreover, we now have a CV Evaluation Team within ICE that is ready to give feedback and recommendations on the CVs of our members.

Furthermore, the Erasmus+ programme itself also tackles the problem of youth unemployment not only by providing opportunities for internships but also with the fact that studying abroad for a semester or a year is something that gives a lot of skills that employers look for nowadays.

8.      Quality Learning

Integrate and improve different forms of learning, equipping young people for the challenges of an ever-changing life in the 21st century.

The mission of our organisation: “ESN is the key volunteer student organisation in international higher education in Europe”. Education and Youth is one of our causes. ESN promotes multiculturalism, inclusiveness and active citizenship in education, at the same time applying these values within our organisation. Opportunities for international cultural exchange, such as Erasmus+, bring added value to education in higher education institutions.

ESN supports different forms of learning: non-formal education, formal education and informal learning, applying them during events and training within the Network. In addition, ESN is now starting a project on Vocational Education and Training (VET) – a different form of education for more practical professions.

9.      Space and participation for All

Strengthen young people’s democratic participation and autonomy as well as provide dedicated youth spaces in all areas of society.

By being volunteers, we are already active citizens, even if we may not be aware enough of it. Youth is within one of our causes – Education and Youth. ESN contributes to making the voices of young people heard. The annual ESNsurvey and the ESNvolunteer survey gathered the opinion of Erasmus+ students and ESNers on various topics. We participate actively in the Structured Dialogue through the #SpeakUp campaign; we disseminated the online survey and we had focus groups in 7 countries, gathering the opinions of 1,179 people. That means that we directly contributed to the creation of these 11 Youth Goals.

10.  Sustainable Green Europe

Achieve a society in which all young people are environmentally active, educated and able to make a difference in their everyday lives.

Environmental Sustainability is one of the 6 causes of ESN. We do care about nature and we show it through initiatives such as Erasmus Forest and different activities within the SocialErasmus project, as well as campaigns about recycling and reusing. However, ESN still needs to put more effort and adopt approaches that will make our activities in this field more impactful and visible. Is it time for ESN to have a new project related directly to our cause for a green Europe?

11.  Youth Organisations and European Programmes

Ensure equal access for all young people to youth organisations and European youth programmes, building a society based on European values and identity.

Is it too obvious or should I say it? It is in our blood, in our vision - this is who we are and what we do.

ESN is not only the largest student organisation in Europe - it is also actively involved in shaping the future of the most successful programme of the EU: Erasmus+. We want the programme to reach more people and to provide the same opportunities to all people, regardless of their background.

ESN recently released the #ErasmusUpgrade Manifesto, a document containing concrete recommendations on how Erasmus+ can be improved. We are also involved in advocacy campaigns such as Erasmusx10. To make it easier for young people to participate in EU programmes, we participate in projects focusing on the digitalisation of Higher Education, such as Online Learning Agreement, Erasmus Without Paper and Erasmus+ App.

After this overview, we can proudly say that our organisation is well-aligned with the 11 Youth Goals. We not only support them but already contribute to their implementation. Our activities and initiatives tackle real problems and challenges that young people in Europe face nowadays. What we need is to ensure that we keep developing ourselves in areas where we perform less effectively. In the meantime, we have to keep our focus on influencing and making a bigger impact where we are performing best.

So, “What’s next?”. It is Austria hosting the next EU Youth Conference, which is taking place in Vienna between 2nd and 4th September. At that conference, youth delegates will provide feedback, discuss concrete actions and steps for implementing the goals, and finalise a set of joint recommendations for EU youth policy. Until then, do not forget that the Structured Dialogue is an ongoing process in which both policy-makers and young people are responsible for.

We have the proof on the table. Now, let’s push our international open mindset forward into youth policies, and show Europe (and why not the whole world) our power!

Because the future is ours and it depends on how we create it!

Photos: EU Youth Conference