Scouting Connects Africa to Europe
Our partnership and communication intern Sonia Abbondio is about to take off to new adventures. Her time at the WOSM Support Centre, Brussels has been marked by the unique experience of representing the Scout Movement at the AU-EU (African Union-European Union) Youth Summit that took place last October in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The summit was later followed by the Plug-In Initiative, which was conceived to turn the recommendations made, into concrete projects.
Here is a glimpse into the way Sonia has lived the experience and what she gained from it:
"Tell me a bit about the AU-EU Youth Summit in Abidjan and the Plug-In initiative"
I travelled to Abidjan from 9 to11 October to represent the Scout Movement and join 120 young participants from the European and the African regions. The Youth Summit was co-organised by the European Youth Forum, Pan-African Youth Union and Council of Europe. The interesting discussions and working sessions we had throughout those 3 days yielded a youth declaration on 6 different topics such as Climate Change, Culture…etc.…Each group picked one thematic area to produce a set of recommendations.
The Plug-In initiative has come out as an attempt to build on past successful experiences, "To plug the present into the past" somehow. So, the objective was to develop further the summit's recommendations and make them more concrete in each of the chosen thematic areas.
What cluster did you join and why?
I chose to join the Peace and Security cluster. We worked on themes such as social, political and economic inclusion, counter-violent extremism and migration.
I have always been keen on security issues and how to bring peace to the world as a Scout. I shared my values and my organisation's values with a range of young European and African peers. We wanted to reach the same goals through different ideas.
Does that mean differences in worldview were really acute?
To some extent. Even inside Europe there are plenty of differences. I can give you an example. In my cluster, we worked a lot on the issue of migration. For me migration is a big and complex topic; we need to include people, encourage new comers to participate in their communities while, through advocacy, addressing root causes of their initial escape. The Scout project "Time to Be Welcome" is a good example of this approach. My African fellows in the cluster had a different point of view. For them, it is vital to focus on providing people who had escaped with their basic needs as they join their host communities. So, I would say there is no blueprint solution to every problem in the world, as long as the approach you follow is dignifying, it should be respected.
Did you come up with any interesting concrete ideas in the field of peace and security?
Our idea was to set up an online platform, what we would call "Peace Hub", to map out stakeholders in both regions and assess the impact of the work they are doing within this area. We also drafted a promotion plan which consists of partnering with NGOs to promote the platform and encourage users to contribute with data.
What did you gain from the experience and what did you bring to it?
More than what I can say. Most importantly, I have learnt how to act in public and how to deal with politics. I was surrounded by high level people for 5 weeks, where I was asked to present my ideas in 2 minutes. That taught me the art of being concise and straightforward.
Additionally, I have reinforced my cultural intelligence. Scouting had already equipped me with the skills of interacting positively with new people. Integrating Scouting in Italy and France and working on international events with les Scouts et Guides de France, had developed, to a great extent, my cultural sensitivity.
Scouting has shaped my leadership skills and my capacity to motivate people. These qualities were key in leading some of the work I carried out with my cluster during the Plug-In initiative.
What is your best memory from the experience?
I spent a lot of time with EU-AU people. Those moments with them outside formal frameworks or settings were the most important and gratifying. Now they are dear friends to me. Together, we created a great environment.
Did your opinion about advocacy change after this experience?
The first week, I was very scared. I wanted to leave. I like advocacy, but it was too much interacting every hour with a new high-level individual. I was in a reflective and observational mood for almost 2 weeks. It took me some time to start handing out my business cards and share my ideas.
To conclude, what can Scouting do more in the field of youth advocacy?
Scouts need to grow more aware of the positive impact of their actions on their own communities. The concept of social impact should be grasped deeper across our network.
Moreover, Scouts should continue to step out of their national borders and interact with different cultures. We should continue to endorse partnerships at an EU level and encourage National Scout Organisations to also consider starting projects outside of the EU.