A. Dealing with the appetizers: Youth Exchange Essentials
So far, you have answered questions about WHY you want to initiate the action and WHAT exactly you plan to achieve. Nevertheless, you have only laid the foundation of your idea’s construction – to organize a youth exchange. What comes next? Bricks! You need to define all the details in order to raise solid walls and achieve the best possible architectural outcome through your effort! Well…let’s do some business!
♣SHOW ME THE TARGET
Wait a minute…what about the third “W”? What about WHO? Who are you aiming to? Who belongs to your target group? Have you yet come to a conclusion regarding the appropriate participants’ profile? Well, since you have already analyzed in detail your main idea, your goals and specific objectives, it will not be a hard task to build a clear vision of the profiles of your future youth exchange participants. Significant help to this process shall be setting some positive and negative criteria that your candidates should or shouldn’t fulfill. The list can be long and is absolutely adjustable to your organization’s perception of your target group. Here are some indicative proposals of such criteria:
Say YES to people who are:
- Young (define that as you wish!) and youth workers;
- Linked to a youth organization;
- Open minded, sharing acceptance and tolerance;
- Prior experience is definitely an plus;
- Able to use English as a working language;
- Available to attend the full duration of the youth exchange project.
(Kindly) NO to those:
- Overqualified (they might be dissatisfied with what you are ready to provide);
- With no experience in working in an intercultural – transnational environment;
- Unable to use English as the working language (the language barrier might be a serious obstacle in their involvement, not only bringing difficulties to the process, but also creating feelings of exclusion and distancing from others);
- Too young or too old for the purposes of your project.
As mentioned before, it is not obligatory that your participants’ profile strictly (or not) fulfill the above listed criteria, as these are presented to introduce you to the process of building your own profile according to your organization’s perspective and the main vision of your project. Trying to offer you the basic guidelines for defining your target group, it is more than a fact that your future participants should:
- Share the basic principles and visions of your organization;
- Match your goals and objectives as analyzed in your problem tree analysis;
- Be strongly motivated and willing to implement the outcome of your project in their environment after the project’s realization;
- Acquire the basic skills and experience to be able to meet the requirements of your project and fully participate in it.
THIS IS US!
Coming back to our example, let’s describe an eligible candidate to be approved as a future candidate:
- young person in the age of 20 to 30 years old,
- originated from/residents of post- or frozen-conflict areas (bringing together people from countries that share no such history would automatically abolish the point of your reconciliation youth exchange project),
- active in youth organizations or organizations working for young people,
- with prior experience in passing the knowledge to others,
- open to differences,
- interested in the topic of human rights, fighting discrimination, reconciliation processes in the region etc.,
- not advocating extreme political opinions that could trigger tensions among participants and completely disorient the process
And now, you are officially ready for your next step!
Ready? Set! GO!!
♣ONE FOR ALL, ALL FOR ONE!
Brave as it sounds, there’s nothing too fresh in this phase! Once again, it’s all about collective work! It is a fact that joined efforts can make life easier in most cases, including practical arrangements and division of the workload: the variety of skills, the different experiences, multiple ideas and perspectives, even the network around the team members can undoubtedly lead to a successful implementation. The magic word in this theory is nothing else than…PARTNERS!
Partnering up in a project provides access to fresh ideas and breakthroughs, a large intellectual pool of competence and dynamics. Obviously, choosing the right partners is as important as…marrying the right person! Would you ever get down the aisle with someone you don’t trust, don’t share common principles, don’t appreciate their perspectives or don’t follow similar life patterns? Probably not! This is exactly the case in choosing your project partners as well! You have to look for organizations that more or less meet your criteria.
THIS IS US!
In our case, our possible partners’ characteristics are quite easy to define:
We would preferably seek for organizations that:
- also promote our organization’s values,
- work with youth and for youth,
- implement projects that deal with the reconciliation challenge,
- have capacities to use potentials for a change in their local areas that will be preserved even after the project realization,
- are based in communities that have been in a conflict recently,
- have the capacities to use and multiply the effects when the exchange is over and are motivated to involve new participants in their programs, create new actions and make a real impact.
Needless to say, that during the process of searching for partners you should feel free to eliminate any of those characteristics or add others that you find more applicable.
First linked question to come to mind –surprisingly- is again a W-word! WHERE? Where can you search for partners? Well, the answer is as precise as…ANYWHERE!
- In your own agenda – go through your contacts, list down organizations you share some past, even personally contact people who have some background or are still active in the field.
- Networking – make new acquaintances anywhere you can. Take advantage of events you attend as participants, experts or observers, use any free time during lunch, coffee breaks and receptions, and meet new people. Who knows? Your future partners might be among them!
- Social media – don’t hesitate to promote your idea on the available social media platforms, advertise it and openly call any interested parties. Search for pages or profiles of organizations and if their vision matches yours, contact them directly and express your interest for a new partnership.
- Online partner search – technology is here to make things easier for us. Let’s follow the lead of others and use the existing tools and relevant search engines and look for possible eligible partners.
Just to slightly get you out of the dark, we have listed several addresses where you can search for partners for your project:
- Salto, Otlas – a platform for searching partner organizations (https://www.salto-youth.net/tools/otlas-partner-finding/)
- Erasmus + database of projects implemented under Erasmus+ Programme (http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/projects/).
- Eurodesk – the website with a wide network of youth experts and local partners in 35 countries that facilitates contacting potential partners (https://eurodesk.eu/)
- The base of organizations and institutions accredited for realization of volunteering projects under Erasmus+ Programme
♣LIFE IS ABOUT TIMING
Weird as it may seem, the season that you choose for your youth exchange event could affect more than one factor of your project’s equation. It can have consequences in logistics, but it can also affect the selection of the venue.
When determining the date of the event, you should think of the period that would be the most convenient:
(a) for your target group: which period can they more easily organize transportation? When are they free from exams or other such obligations?
(b) for you: which period is the most convenient to make reservations for accommodation of larger groups? To which extent can the weather conditions influence the program’s dynamics?
IT’S WATCH O’CLOCK!
Speaking of, it seems like good timing for a small break to relax!
♣ON THE SPOT
Choosing the venue for your event can influence the design and dynamics of the program. Of course, available budget has always the leading role, however everything depends on the idea you have built around your youth exchange project. Here are two realistic scenarios:
- If you want your participants to spend more time together or you intend to implement a program that requires their undivided attention, you will choose a location away from the city rush, e.g. some mountain resort. In this case, pay attention to transportation logistics – arrivals and departures of your group to and from the venue.
- If you want a location that will make all the planning easier to some extent, you’d better choose a venue near the city. Keep in mind that there are some negative aspects, especially in terms of weaker effects of interaction between participants, as they will most probably choose to spend their free time exploring the environment, shopping and enjoying the nightlife.
The space that you, your team and the group will work and spend several days in is probably the most important aspect during selection of the location:
- SIZE MATTERS! – It should be big enough to provide conditions for undisturbed work.
- TRANSFORMER! – It should be adaptable, so that you can rearrange, add or remove unnecessary tables and chairs and fit it to your activities’ needs.
- SPLIT IT! – it should provide conditions for working in smaller groups.
- ALL BY OURSELVES!– It should be isolated from other guests or personnel of the hotel, resort or other location that you have chosen for the event.
- GO GREEN! – Choose a location near a garden or a park, so you can hold some workshops out in the open, if the weather conditions are adequate. Working outside usually has a positive effect on the group dynamic; however, keep in mind that it also brings a whole lot of new stimuli in the environment, so the attention of participants may be divided.
- ACCESS FOR ALL! – Availability of the location in terms of architectural features is also very important. Check if the space that you have chosen for accommodation and work meets at least minimum requirements in terms of accessibility: if there are wheelchair accessible entrances in the building and the working space, if disabled persons can have access and independently use rooms, toilets etc.
If your location ticks the YES-box in all the above criteria, then you have definitely chosen the best option and you are ready to move further!
♣3,2,1 – ACTION!
Now…HOW are you going to achieve your goal? Which activities will you organize and implement in order to achieve every objective defined in the previous steps? Youth exchanges usually last for five or more days and, as much as your program is interesting and well-designed, consider the fact that your team and your group will need some changes in dynamics as well as a small break at some point. We recommend that you choose a day in the middle of the program when you will work only in the morning and dedicate the afternoon to some external activity.
Freedom tastes good! Offer a free afternoon to the participants and let them get wild as they wish!
If you feel anyway lost in this process, here are some guidelines to make your life easier:
- STARTING DAY: take into account that most participants have probably spent several hours traveling, they came into a new environment and they do not know anyone there. Therefore, the agenda should be free from redundant and heavy content. Think of a short introduction, explain the essentials to the group (such as technical details regarding accommodation and meals), introduce them to the program for the following days and leave enough time for them to introduce themselves, so that they get to know each other and the project team. Try to break the ice and make it funny and relaxing by using some games as ice breakers: https://snacknation.com/blog/boost-productivity-meetings-icebreakers-games/
Source: SnackNationOffice: “26 Ridiculously Fun Icebreaker Games im 2020 For Your Next Meeting”
IT’S WATCH O’CLOCK!
This is how it looks:
- TRAINING DAYS: As much as you and your associates are competent for the topic of your youth exchange, the group will sometimes need a change of tempo and approach, in order to keep their concentration and dynamics. Here are some examples, in case you are wondering how you can achieve this:
|work in plenum/individually or in small groups||give lectures|
|work on a film with the relevant topic||organize a role play game|
|use simulation methods to explore the topic||develop a case study|
|create a guided fantasia||organize a “world cafe”|
|implement the “open space technology” method||use methods of creative expression such as drawing, storytelling and dancing|
|switch pairs of trainers/engage one or more guest lecturers: different people have different energies||Be ready to change the approach or to dedicate to some subject more time than you have initially planned.|
Design the program with different techniques and methods. Be flexible – do not strictly stick to the plan if it is obvious that this is not good for the group. And…prepare a back-up plan.
TOP TIP: The project team must meet every day. There will always be unpredicted situations that you have to resolve, you will work on changes in the program based on the daily evaluations, you will check if everything is under control, organize the evening program, a field trip to the city for the following day or, in a best-case scenario, you will at least exchange information and conclusions.
One of the most important features of every youth exchange is intercultural learning. Although participants use their free time to learn from each other and to get to know each other better, you should still make some time in the agenda for some structured exchange. Participants can introduce their organizations, their culture, and folklore, music specific for their region or some lesser-known facts about the societies that they come from. They can also do all of that together.
IT’S WATCH O’CLOCK!
This is how it looks:
Another significant feature of youth exchanges is the fact that they provide ideal conditions for networking between youth organizations that they belong to. The energy of all people involved in the youth exchange is good, they are motivated for initiating new actions and applying knowledge and skills they acquired during the training and they are surrounded by their peers and like-minded people, which altogether makes perfect conditions for initiating new partnerships.
Try to dedicate some time at the end of one workshop for some future planning: encourage participants to exchange ideas and think of activities they could implement together in the near future.
Free time does not equal wasted time! The effects of a youth exchange are most prominent after lessons, study visits or workshops. That is the time to make friends, plan new activities together, critically analyze all the information heard, seen and encountered during the day. So, make sure you make some space in your schedule!
- ENDING DAY: your last day must contain a part dedicated to evaluation of the entire event. Let the evaluation of your youth exchange be the last activity of your project team, while your impressions are still fresh. Use the opportunity to congratulate each other for a job well done and to make arrangements regarding the following steps. After all, you will need to prepare a report anyway!
♣NO MONEY, NO HONEY!
Sad, but true! It is a fact that everything you plan or dream about your project, from the venue you will be able to afford to the materials you will be able to use during your youth exchange activities, is related to your available resources.
Since budget would need a separate Toolkit to be analyzed in all its aspects, we would like to briefly introduce you the headlines of possible financial resources for your project’s support:
- International and regional donors – there are a number of institutions, organizations and foundations that are active in the region and support youth exchanges.
- Foreign embassies –There are several programs supported by embassies or other similar foundations that you could probably explore.
- Domestic donors – you can look for support from relevant ministries and other government institutions, even local self-governments that can recognize their interests in realization of international events, such as youth exchanges on their territory.
- Sponsors – you can contact companies and ask them to sponsor your event, either through their corporate social responsibility programs, by direct financing of your event, or by providing you with their services/products in exchange for promotion.
- Fundraising –organize a fundraising event such as a concert, a charity dinner or a play. Also, look for support online, via platforms that provide services for crowdfunding.
As soon as you find your needed resources, you are free to fit your plans into the available budget and…go for more!
♣CALL ON DUTY!
It is now time to create an invitation and an application form and to find the way to contact your potential participants.
The invitation for participation in the youth exchange should contain general information on the event – as in every other project:
- the location and time;
- the goal of the training;
- the participants profiles;
- the general agenda;
- the deadline for submitting applications;
- the conditions that you will provide to participants (the costs that you will cover, the type of accommodation that you will provide etc.).
Don’t become an open book! Make sure you don’t disclose too many agenda details in this step and leave some room for making changes of the program afterwards, if you find them necessary.
The application form is also a part of the invitation. Include enough questions to make the selection process easier, but don’t exaggerate! Keep it short and simple so you don’t discourage potential candidates. For example:
- What organization and city are you from?
- How old are you? Do you have any work experience related to the topic?
- Why are you applying to this exchange (what motivated you, what do you expect to gain from this event) and how do you think that you can contribute?
- Do you have any specific requirements (e.g. do you use a wheelchair, are you allergic to some food, do you need a visa to travel)?
GDPR ALERT!!! Make sure you follow the data protection regulation provisions regarding the collection and processing of the requested data and inform applicants about their rights.
Ensure that the invitation is distributed to every available contact channel: mailing lists, groups and social media posts, forums that consider adequate topics and other web pages, organizations and institutions that you and your partners cooperate with, and even personal contacts.
And here comes the selection process! The whole project team should work together and follow the rules:
- Choose participants based on the list of criteria that you have set.
- Be open to some exceptions: you can choose a person that does not fit in your age criteria if you believe that they can contribute to the topic.
- Keep the group balanced as much as possible – it should have approximately equal numbers of male and female participants, they should come from different towns and organizations etc.
- Be careful with participants with no previous experience, as they might lower the level of work and have difficulties in keeping up with the group.
- Since the working language is usually English, make sure that your participants are fluent enough so that they can be equally involved.
- Keep in mind that some candidates might give up in the meantime, so you should definitely have a list of “replacements”.
Last but not least the detailed information to be sent to the selected participants:
- Description of the venue, instructions for transportation arrangements and maybe a map of the location to make orientation easier;
- Reminder of reimbursement procedures;
- Useful information such as: time zone, local currency etc.;
- General policies e.g. that you do not support consumption of alcohol;
- List of items that they need to bring e.g. presentation of their organization;
- Contact details of your team members – phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
Have you had enough appetizers yet? Very well! Let’s move to the main courses!