Voices of Empowerment

Conference participation entails long hours, an inspiring but very challenging overall task, and sometimes demanding social interactions. Taking in the full breath of it all, our hope is that the participants will leave the conferences as trained democracy entrepreneurs with broadened knowledge, strengthened visions, enhanced network capacity, and new friends. In hindsight a little bit more than three months after the conferences, we reach out to the participants and ask them to share their personal reflections. To inspire them, we send along questions capturing the six overall themes Excitements, Challenges, Contributions, Progressions, Success factors, and Conference one-liners. Reading these reflections is touching and gratifying since, above all, they embodies voices of empowerment, personal growth, and steadfast visions about the future.
Urban Strandberg, Managing Director / Co-Founder

Excitements

“The whole conference was exciting to me. However, some moments did stand out. I was astonished to see how many influential people were really interested in our ideas. I did not expect such an interest from them in our ideas and it really surprised me that they devoted a lot of time to provide us with feedback.”

“The most exciting was the opportunity to talk and discuss our ideas to experts in the fields, as well as the presentations. I consider the connections between youngsters and current politicians and business leaders the biggest added value of IYTT.”

“Discussion after a long day of work and a very nice dinner were amazing. It was those time when we were able to share our lives, cultures, stories all together. My favorite part of this conference was to get to know incredible persons with amazing and inspiring stories to share.”

“I found that the conference was thoroughly enriching and enjoyable experience! It was my first time going on a plane, so for me it was a strong ‘coming of age’ moment where I developed more independence. The city of Gothenburg looked beautiful and I felt that every fellow participant and key speaker helped widen my own perspective, since we all ranged from 18-24 there was a wealth of knowlegde and expertise that I was able to learn from. I enjoyed socialising with everyone, learning about their cultures and traditions as well as what they are passionate about. I personally believe it was a once in a life time event and I left the conference feeling inspired and motivated to pursue my future career in politics and international relations. In addition, I also enjoyed working in groups where we all had a shared interest in a particular area of policy, such as Legal and Education. Also, having an assigned mentor was good as he/she was able to help ensure our ideas were focused. One key highlight was the pilot presentation we did the day before the presentation in from of top decision makers. This enabled to go back to our working groups and come up with improved ways of making the policies we presented more effective.”

“I must point to two events in particular. First thing that was especially interesting was the first series of excercises with the artists you have invited. Building out of chaos as my very favourite, it tought me a lot of group work, creation, implementing a vision and I even dare to think I have made some really useful behavioral observations for the future (we spoke about this as I can recall!). Secondly I’d like to point to the time in the adventure park where we ended up roaming the place with no restrictions and the entrire group divided into groups of friends that were constantly shifting and playing and it was just amazing. Speaking of excitment, right…!?”

“Something I was looking forward to is spending time in the diverse environment. My expectations were absolutely fulfilled. I met many youngsters with a completely different view than mine on matters, I must even say that some youngsters managed to convince me of the importance of certain issues that I never dealt or paid much attention to myself. One of the encounters that I will not forget quickly is the lunch-meeting with Frassoni, Malstrom and other contestants, about topics such as Catalonia.”

“It was very exciting to meet people from several countries with totally different backgrounds and personal stories. Some of these stories taught me again, how thankful I should be for growing up in peace.”

“It was exciting to meet people from other countries but with similar political interests. We had many exciting discussions about the world and what might be done to fix them. It was also exciting to meet, in person, important decision makers and to take part of their insights on our topics.”

“I just love being surrounded by people who are engaged and care about what is going on in the world. I had that in Lüneburg, where I lived in Germany, a lot but really missed engaged people in Karlstad. So that was definitely nice.”

“Initially, I have to say that the fact that I came into direct contact with politicians in power was very exciting for me. Via this conference, I had the opportunity to exchange opinions with persons such as the former Comissioner of Trade or the Co-president of European Parliament Green Party.  Moreover I was excited by the organization of the conference. Everything was super, the hotel, the rooms, the conference place, the food, the activieties, the faculty, everything. Additionally, I was excited by the behaviour of my Co-ordinator, Kristin, who has been very kind, polite, helpful and encouraging!”

Challenges

“I must say in full honesty, that I pretty quickly became a bit disillusioned when it comes to our capabilities as a group to deliver one, specific vision. As the horizon of our goals, aims and the raport started to become broader and broader I must admit I felt a little bit overwhelmed and instead of having it easier to choose my part of work and I wanted to comprahend the big picture. In this I think I failed and got scared.”

“I have been challenged during the team building. I was used to “regular” team-building exercice, but in Gothenburg, we took part in an innovative team-building where we had to create a piece of art, altogether. I have been challenged in my creativity but also understanding of everyone diversity of expression.”

“I believe that the most challenging part was how broad the topic of open society is. The process of narrowing it down and tackling the parts in which the members have developed the most knowledge and where we could apply our own experience. (I understand that not directly answering the question, however, this was something I saw us struggling within the beginning of the conference.)”

“I struggle with public speaking and communicating my thoughts effectively so for me a challenging experience was speaking up in front of such intelligent engaging people. I gradually became more comfortable with speaking with the group but I did find it difficult even at the end of the conference when I had become acquainted with the group fully. I will continue to work on this but IYTT allowed me to challenge myself and push myself outside of my comfort zone.”

“The hours per session were long which meant I became very exhausted, but very much necessary as we needed time to constantly evaluate our ideas and come to a consensus of what policy we wanted to create. In addition, once we had decided what particular area we wanted to centre our policy on, we needed to research and apply theory. At times, I did find it hard to think of policy ideas and being one of the youngest in attendance, it was sometimes overwhelming as many already were studying politics in depth at university. However, I was able to learn so much from my peers and even carried out personal research to clarify my understanding.”

“There was an age gap between some of the contestants, some were still in their last year of high school. Youngsters who were further into their academic journey like myself sometimes felt like we needed to tune down and adapt to the knowledge of the young contestants.”

“The whole conference was a challenge and it was not clear in the beginning if we would be able to achieve our goals. 32 people from different countries and cultural backgrounds with the mission to conclude in 10 common demands is not an easy task. So I found it particularly difficult to find common ground with everyone at the conference because at the end of the day we should write a report that everyone agrees with. Diversity was a term that could surely characterize the conference and for me, that was the most challenging as well as the most exciting thing about the conference. So, I do firmly believe that it was difficult to incorporate everyone’s view, that definitely derived from their personal experiences and everyone could not get attached importance to.”

“In some topics the opinions of the participants were very controversial. Therefore, finding a common ground in a short time, was challenging.”

“The schedule was tuff. We worked from morning to evening and IYTT was somewhat always on my brain. It was also challenging to craft a proposition that decisionmakers would actually consider. For example, it’s not enough to say that we represent the youth to get decisionmakers to listen it needs a certain dedication and argumentation in order for people to actually believe it to be the case.”

“Very challenging and also a it exhausting for me were the discussions with people who have a very different view and opinion especially on our economic systems. We had very intense and emotional discussions. But at the same time this helped me to realize that I have to keep on reading to reflect and strengthen my arguments.”

Contributions

“Absolutely. We worked the propositions as a group, but we also made sure to listen to what everyone had to say. Working together really meant to acknowledge and make use of each individuals specific skills.”

Partly yes, partly I felt like the time was quite short and I was not always taken seriously in the economics group. I felt like people did not like to think that much out of the box questioning our current systems so finally we sticked to capitalist market patterns which was a bit frustrating to me

“I do believe as being active in the Swedish and European young civil society, I could contribute with a perspective on issues, challenges and already tested solutions and thereby also use them as a way to improve the final outcome of the conference.”

“One of the most memorable and important things that I’ve noticed was the fact that every voice was heard. All of the 31 participants had their opportunity to speak up, share their ideas and somehow contribute to the final outcome. We were a team and we worked as a team and that is something that I truly liked. I believe that every person’s voice, expertise, values, etc. were brought to the table and somehow were positively used in order to create the final report and presentation. There was the proper environment and space in order for everyone of us to feel open and comfortable to express ourselves.”

“Absolutely. I took part in several simulational conferences before, where it was key to formulate easily understandable and straightforward phrases. I could use these skills at the phase of writing down our solutions.”

“I hope that my team members recognised my contribution as someone who could guide a conversation, keep everyone uplifted and working together, and make sure we were delivering on our expectations. I was upset that I wasn’t able to stay for the last day, as I think I make a good presenter, though I really believed in my team and I know they did a fabulous job. I also think I contributed in terms of values such as kindness, respect, the ability to listen, and positivity – which are incredibly important in a pressurised environment and where we’re all meeting for the first time.”

“I definitely do. Or I hope so at least. I got to write a lot and to revise my group’s section of the final report, and I believe that writing is one of my strengths. Also, I literally love debating with other people, so basically every moment of the conference was an occasion for me to put something personal on the table and share it with other participants. As for values and ideas are concerned, I found the topics discussed very much interesting, as they let me state my positions but also understand others’. After all, there were no great differences between the ideological stances of participants, which eventually helped reach a more mature result overall.”

“Definitely. It seemed to be designed in a way to bring in the best of each of us to the forefront. The conference allowed me to use my skills, values and personality as key inputs for every activity we partook.”

“My views and opinions were valued. At the same time I realised that in order to be heard and my opinions to be respected, I must stand firm behind them. In the long and exhausting process of debating, I encountered moments where I felt that I am not entirely understood by others. This was a lesson for me to make accommodations and to adapt my language to a wider audience.  The whole conference participation made me more realistic to an extent because I could see in practice how reaching a consensus is never easy and being liked or understood by everyone is almost impossible. However, this only gave me confidence that I should be confident and convinced when sharing views and experiences with ours.”

“In my experience with events similar to the International Youth Think Tank conference there was a tendency for 2 or 3 voices to stand out above all others, and for 2 or 3 different camps to develop along those lines. This couldn’t be further from the experience of the IYTT conference. At this conference I believe everyone contributed at least something to the discussion on any given day, and the system of splitting into 4 different ‘specialisation’ groups, allowed for even more in depth discussions.”

Progressions

“I think I developed my skills surrounding mediation a lot and making sure that the team were working together constructively. Furthermore, I learnt a lot about thinking critically as to what was beneficial and positively contributing to the discussion and task ahead, and what could be considered an inefficient use of time – something that I hadn’t really had much of an opportunity to develop before.”

“The conference affirmed my will to seek career opportunities that allow for significant and innovative contributions to advance, enhance and promote a sustainable future for our world.”

“The subject of democracy has always interested me. By conversing with some of my peers at the conference I managed to add another facet to this interest; add the concept of data to democracy. I realized I should pay more attention to the combination of these two.”

“The conference definitely solidified my interest in politics and has fuelled me to become more engaged in economics , particularly focusing on the economics of LDCs and politics of such countries. Other participants inspired me to become more grateful for democracy in my country, but also empowered me to speak up when I’m not satisfied with policy’s and take proactive steps to do as much as I can to contribute to effective change whether locally or nationally.”

“The conference gave me a platform to express my thoughts. This gave me an opportunity to gain more confidence in my abilities and what I can (or cannot) do. The discussions and opinion sharing allowed me to lear new things that added value and a different perspective on my current ideas and opinions. In the future, I will be more willing to participate and foster the development of various think tanks that align with my own beliefs. “

“When I applied to be part of the conference in Summer 2019, I had not yet discovered what I wanted to study at university, but I knew I had always had a keen interest in social action. Since leaving the conference, I returned home knowing that politics and international relations was definitely what I wanted to study. I feel that my political intellect has sharpened and I am more receptive to the news I hear concerning international affairs. I have learnt that I am more confident and motivated as a woman who is politcally aware and cannot wait to channel that into my career and studies.”

“The conference contributed much to my personal development towards the advent of the new decade. Having participated in so many conferences, I may say that this was by far the most engaging, the most challenging and the most demanding. During my 4days stay in Gothenburg I can say that much of me changed. I return back home feeling empowered and I do believe that it was a crucial point for my life that I am able to change the society I live in. Also, the conference reassured my commitment to be engaged in politics and helped me restructure my plans for the future. It was a beneficial experience that changed me.”

“The conference taught me to rethink some of my positions and values and made some values even stronger. Furthermore, I got a lot of inspiration what to read and what would be interesting to learn in the next years.”

Success factors

“Although we came from different backgrounds, we listened to each other and truly cared and tried to understand the others’ positions. ‘United in diversity’, right?”

“The participation did not make me discover new facets of my personality, however, I am feeling a strong motivation of a more active participation in the political life of my country since the conference.”

“I think it was the fact that the conference did not only adress youth issues, but also put young people in the front when discussing contemporary societal issues as well as it was the sole determination that young voices matter.”

“Even though at a surface level we disagreed on many things, we fundamentally believed in the need for a more open society, and that is all that we truly needed. Moreover, the conference moderators created an environment that fostered participation and respectful discussions, keeping interventions to the very minimum and keeping us on schedule for every deadline. This mix of liberty and guidance definitely was determinant to our success, as we were treated with the exact same level of respect as any of the very influential people that we got to meet during the conference, and hence, our sentiment of responsibility to deliver was just as great.”

“The stimulating commentators from different backgrounds I felt a great respect for, the timely chairing, the excellent environment where the preparation and the conference took place as well as the fact that we actually had the chance to present our concrete propositions to a wider audience and receive relevant feedback.”

“The whole conference was designed in order for us to discuss different ideas and reach a common ground of understanding. Starting from the way seats and tables were positioned, to the intense debate sessions, to the much needed wrap-up moments, literally everything was conducive to defining some overall result. My compliments for that: being able to create something new starting from different contributions, something which is qualitatively different (and better) than the mere sum of the single parts.”

“I think the introductory session of writing prompts on sticks for me was really critical to the conference because it taught me a lot about open mindedness and made me feel as though it was a safe space to really explore yourself and your motivations behind being at the conference – which in turn helped me collaborate better with my peers when I understood their motivations. I also think just how genuinely nice and passionate all the selected attendees were, and how over amazing food we could share stories and bond.”

“I think, like I said, the conference can be described as guided fluidity. I’ll use a football analogy. Jose Mourinho is an excellent manager because he tells people where to be on the pitch, tells them a rough objective and then gives them autonomy over how to do it. The objectives bring the team together, the autonomy gives the team fluidity. This idea isn’t new, but has been brilliantly implemented here.”

Conference one-liners

“I took home a shared vision of what changes we believe would influence the EU in a positive way. I took home inspirations and ideas I did not know earlier. Concepts I did not think of. And finally I took home friendships with like-minded people who I believe will last for a long time.”

“The conference brings together young people from different backgrounds, who share their understanding of open society and allows them to apply their specific knowledge and experience in order to develop ideas on how to improve our current environment to foster reciprocity and understanding. IYTT allows individuals to share their discussion with current experts in economics, politics, and business in order to root the proposals in reality and gain insights into real-life workings of individual’s topics of interest. Participating in IYTT has been beneficial in broadening my perspective and share my ideas with my peers. “

“Recently, I was in contact with someone who didn’t get accepted to the conference and I explained to her that the conference was ‘enlightening’ to hear the opinions of others about how we can try to maintain an open and democratic society. However when asked again, I will say that it was a privellege and definitely once in a life time and really educational.”

“I’d say this conference proved first and foremost that youngsters are anything but unaware of their situation or unwilling to take action to change the latter. It confirmed once again the power of deliberation and democratic discussion. It revealed that ways to think and implement an open society are far from just fiction. For me, it has proven that democracy is not just a word but rather a way of thinking, a way of acting, a way of being. And I’m working on taking a stronger commitment to spread democratic conscience as further as I can.”

“A challenge, an adventure, a team who turned into friends, an opportunity to see myself working in a real-life environment and a long-term opportunity which did not just end after four days but continued intriguing, stimulating and inspiring us. It was a dream for me to come to Sweden and I never thought I would have the opportunity. But coming to Sweden for the first time for such a purpose – me contributing to the first International Youth think Tank – was far beyond my wildest expectations.”

“A few words spring to mind: opportunity, trust and autonomy is one. Guidance is another. All this in bridging the gap between academia and politics so that we can do in policy what is objectively and morally desirable based on the only process we have of finding truth – academia.”

“During 4 days, you will meet with 31 international young people. Together, you will have the power in your hands to show European decision-makers that the youth can be a force of proposal, by writing a report advocating for the democracy you wish to live in. Your differences will actually be your biggest asset as it will allow you to cover broad topics while foreseeing very diverse consequences of the policies the group is believing in. It is a challenging experience but also an extremely inspiring one that you will never forget!”

“I’d say IYTT allows you to discuss the status quo and gives you all the tools necessary to understand, how can you bring about changes. Its a place of exchanging ideas, engaging with others and understading your own points of view. And the participants are just amazing and I guarantee that should you go, I can approach a random person in the conference and you will gain some valuable insight.”