Young Europeans’ Forum: 100 Delegates from 24 Nations Seek Answers to Europe’s Crisis of Social Cohesion

Young Europeans’ Forum: 100 Delegates from 24 Nations Seek Answers to Europe’s Crisis of Social Cohesion

100 youth delegates from across Europe were in Berlin for three days of debate, exchange and joint innovation



                                       Liz Mohn, President of the Bertelsmann Foundation                 



Eric de Rothschild, Co-founder of the Aladdin Project and President of the Shoah Memorial, Paris


Miriam Janke, Moderator; Stephan Vopel, Director of Bertelsmann Stiftung; Leah Pisar, President of the Aladdin Project; Tina Gadow, Consultant and Partner at Kessels and Smit - The Learning Company

Bertelsmann Foundation’s Liz Mohn and Project Aladdin’s Eric de Rothschild kicked off the 2019 edition of Young Europeans’ Forum in Berlin on June 25 as 100 youth delegates from 24 nations and 20 speakers came together to discuss the challenges and solutions to Europe’s eroding social cohesion and “living together in peace and diversity.” Aladdin President Leah Pisar keynoted the opening session of Young Europeans’ Forum.

For three days, the forum venue in Berlin was a bustling hive of activity as participants exchanged ideas and shared their experience during interactive sessions and workshops. The youth delegates had been selected by a diverse group of Europe’s leading political, cultural, media, business and civil society figures. Aged between 21 and 30, the delegates were all social activists in their local communities, campaigning for a broad variety of causes that ranged from anti-racism to childcare.

In her opening remarks, Liz Mohn expressed hope that the forum would contribute to a greater participation by young Europeans in building bridges across cultures in a Europe threatened by the rise of populism and extremism. Liz Mohn praised the cooperation between Bertelsmann Foundation and Project Aladdin in shaping the forum, and wished that the cooperation would continue to develop between the two organizations.

“Europe’s intercultural relations are in crisis, and young Europeans have the biggest stake in finding solutions to this complex problem,” said Eric de Rothschild during his opening address. He thanked Liz Mohn for accepting his proposal for partnership between Project Aladdin and Bertelsmann Foundation, and added that the generation of the two of them “has been blessed with decades of peace and prosperity in Europe, and we will do everything we can to make sure that your young generation will enjoy the same peace and prosperity.”

The forum’s working sessions began on June 26, with an interview with Project Aladdin’s Chair Dr. Leah Pisar, who began by responding to the moderator’s question to all the participants: “what is the object that best symbolizes social cohesion for you?” She showed the audience a copy of Anne Franks’ Diary in Arabic, and called Anne Frank’s powerful story of hope in the midst of despair, prosecution, exile and treason “a beacon of hope for generations of Europeans to believe in living together in peace and to reach out to the Other.” Leah Pisar attributed the inspiring life story of her late father, Samuel Pisar, one of the youngest Auschwitz survivors who later become an advisor to President Kennedy and a peace mediator on the global stage, to his unshakeable belief that “there are no hereditary enemies.”

Stephan Vopel, Bertelsmann Foundation’s director, spoke of his personal experience in speaking about the urgency and the need to strengthen social cohesion in Europe today and overcome the plethora of challenges and obstacles impeding it.


 Miriam Janke, Moderator; Lorenzo Marsili, Philosopher, author and co-founder of European Alternatives, Rome; Margarita Tsomou, Curator of Theory and Speeches at Hebbel am Ufer, Editor-in-Chief of Missy Magazine, Berlin; Ophélie Omnes, Lawyer specialized in Business Law, President of the European Federalists French Chapter; Aline Muylaert, Co-founder and CEO, CitizenLab; Hanno Burmester, Managing Director at Unlearn, Policy fellow at Das Progressive Zentrum, Associate Researcher at IASS Potsdam; Tina Gadow, Consultant and Partner at Kessels and Smit - The Learning Company  

Lorenzo Marsili, Philosopher, author and co-founder of European Alternatives, Rome

Hanno Burmester, a policy fellow at Das Progressive Zentrum, spoke about the “Challenges and opportunities for social cohesion in pluralistic societies,” and told the youth delegates that social cohesion “begins with unselfish, genuine acts of kindness at the local level”. He said old paradigms concerning activism and party politics were undergoing a profound transformation, and that anyone was now in a position to make a real difference by taking the imitative.  He added, “We must open doors for people who are different from us.”

Hanno’s talk was followed by the first workshop session, where each participant was asked to present a project that would contribute to better social cohesion. The youth delegates came to Berlin after a month of online discussions moderated by the organizers, and were prepared for these discussions and exchanges.

“How to be an activist promoting social cohesion in a world of diversity” was the title of a panel that brought together Anna Alboth from Minority Rights Group in Berlin; Lorenzo Marsili, philosopher, author and Co-founder of European Alternatives in Rome; Ophélie Omnes, Chair of the Brussels-based Union of European Federalists; Margarita Tsomou, curator at the internationally-known performing arts center Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin.

A lively discussion on “Dealing with diversity and rapid change – Building bridges for social cohesion from a local perspective” was conducted in the form of a fishbowl session with the Deputy Mayor of Nice, Martine Ouaknine, and Marian Schreier, Mayor of Tengen in Germany. A high point of the discussion was when Martine Ouaknine described her city’s recovery from the horrific terror attack on July 14, 2016, and how the leaders of Nice’s diverse cultural communities came together to ensure that the “living together in peace and diversity” was preserved after that traumatic experience.

A world café session on the morning of June 27 motivated the participants to think about pathways to real transformation in Europe’s social cohesion. Mina Jaf, founder of Women Refugee Route (Copenhagen); Anisah Osman Britton, a leading LGBTQ activist form London, British journalist Morgan Meaker and Aline Muylaert, CEO of CitizenLab (Brussels) took part in the session.

In the following breakout session, the delegates were divided into five groups to discuss these topics:

  • Peaceful living together through intercultural dialogue –case study: “More than one Story” with Viktor Börjesson, Youth Leader, Children International Summer Village (Gothenburg);
  • Fostering resilient local communities – case study: Nurture Development, with Chris Chinnock, head of Business development, Nurture Development (Dublin);
  • Bridging political divides: promoting constructive and respectful debates – case study: the work of Amadeu Antonio Stiftung (Berlin), with Christina Dinar, the foundation’s project manager;
  • Trust in democracy: Strengthening participation and active citizenship – case study: Democracy Labs, with Matthias Löwe, Democracy Labs’ workshop leader;
  • Creating a Common Us : Building resilient and open societies – case study: “Giving Something Back to Berlin”, with the NGO’s executive director Lucy Alice Thomas.

The delegates then gathered in a plenary session to discuss concrete measures and actions that could be taken to promote better social cohesion and “living together in diversity” across Europe.

The forum closed with the moderators interviewing Abe Radkin on behalf Project Aladdin and Andreas Grau from the Bertelsmann Foundation.

“The past three days have been an eye-opener for me personally, because the energy, enthusiasm and seriousness of every single one of you to engage in this exercise exceeded all our expectations,” Abe Radkin said. “Conventional wisdom has it that young Europeans are apathetic, disillusioned, uninterested and disengaged from the debate about Europe’s future, and about the way Europeans of diverse background are going to be living together in peace and democracy. With your endless ideas, social activism and strong passions, you have shown us that you do care, that you do have solutions, and that you want to make a change. We are going to work with our partner, the Bertelsmann Foundation, to make sure that your ideas and recommendations get a proper follow-up,” he added. “For us, this forum was never about an event; it was an important part of a process, and that process has just started as we continue to work with you to take this to the next stage.



Copyright : Thomas Kunsch, Berlin