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The Voice of Youth Matters

How the elites start to listen and why the youth needs to remain loud Jakob Detering, Managing Director of SIA International, recently took part at the European Forum Alpbach, an […]

How the elites start to listen and why the youth needs to remain loud

Jakob Detering, Managing Director of SIA International, recently took part at the European Forum Alpbach, an elitist gathering of decision-makers from politics, business and civil society in the Austrian alpine village Alpbach. Here are his reflections on it.

An idyllic village in the Alps as a meeting point of elites and youth

Every August, the European (and global) elites are gathering in Alpbach for the European Forum (EFA) and turn the idyllic village in the midst of the Austrian Alps into a melting pot of the current political and economic discourse. Compared to the renowned Annual Congress of the World Economic Forum, the European Forum is a rather intimate and informal setting, which allows for more open and direct conversations and debates. But the gathering is also unique due to the fact that more than 700 young people from more than 90 countries worldwide receive scholarships to take part in the event.

I already took part in several EFAs in previous years, but never have I experienced the young scholarship holders as loud and visible throughout the panel discussions and informal debates as this time.

The youth conquers the stage

In a breakout session on the future of formal education, for instance, an NGO leader left the stage after her opening remarks, just to give her chair to an 18-year old Austrian pupil. Suddenly, the other panelists – among them a board member of the German foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung and the former Austrian Minister of Education – found themselves in the midst of a heated discussion with a young pupil on the topic of education.

Young Austrian pupil “conquers” a panel discussion on formal education. Photo Credits: European Forum Alpbach / Jannik Rakusa

Another occasion of such spontaneous confrontation of the youth and the elites took place when the former UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon walked his way up to the Congress Center above the village together with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen. At the Congress Center, the two political leaders were greeted by a few hundred young climate protesters. Most of these protesters were EFA scholarship holders and they used the occasion to make their voice heard on their concerns around global warming.

The youth is loud and articulated

I found these incidents very encouraging, mainly for two reasons: first, because the young participants showed the necessary courage and dedication to making their voice heard – and while doing so they were able to articulate their opinions and desires clearly and to the point. The young pupil joining the panel discussion on the future education did not only make a clear statement that we can’t improve our educational systems without the voices and perspectives of those that are directly affected by them. She also articulated clear expectations towards the designers of formal educational systems – whether it was about the training of teachers or the inclusion of digital skills in the school systems.

And second, because the elites are actually starting to listen to these young voices. Instead of ignoring the protesters, Ki-Moon and Van der Bellen did engage with the crowd in a conversation around climate change. And in many of the keynotes and panel discussions, the political and economic leaders referred to Greta Thunberg and the “Fridays-For-Future” movement as a wake-up call.

Ban Ki-Moon and Austrian president engage with young climate protesters in Alpbach. Photo credits: European Forum Alpbach / Iryna Yeroshko

An encouragement to speak up

These signs are positive, but at the same time let’s not be naive: acknowledging the opinions of a young pupil, engaging with climate protesters or referring to Greta Thurnberg is mainly great for the elites’ PR and might not lead to any concrete action. So, let us take the fact that the opinions of the youth are not ignored anymore as an encouragement to make our voices heard – whether it is around education, climate change or any other topic that concerns us as the young generation of the world!

Learn more about European Forum Alpbach and apply for a scholarship soon:



About the Author

Jakob Detering is the Managing Director of Social Impact Award. In doing so, Jakob is committed to build capacity among early-stage entrepreneurs and foster cross-sector dialogues on the topic of social entrepreneurship. Moreover, Jakob serves as a university lecturer for MBA classes on social entrepreneurship and is a member of the Management Board of the World Summit Awards. Before he joined Social Impact Award in 2015, Jakob worked in the foundation sector. He is also a social entrepreneur himself as former general manager of ‘Somaro’, a social business in Romania that runs social groceries to reduce food waste and provide Romanians living at the edge of poverty access to low-priced food. Jakob holds a Master in Public Policy and a Bachelor in Business, Economics and Social Sciences. Since 2013, he also serves as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum.