The contribution of international youth exchange to transnational solidarity in a globalised world was the major theme of the European-African Symposium held from 6 to 8 May 2019 in Bonn. The conference was jointly organised by Engagement Global, France Volontaires and NOREC. It brought together policy makers from the European and African levels with alumni from international voluntary services and youth exchange programmes as well as civil society actors from seven African and seven European countries. They exchanged experiences and discussed the opportunities and challenges for international solidarity through youth exchange.
The concept of ‘reciprocity’ was examined in several contributions to deepen the dialogue on opportunities and obstacles to an exchange based on partnership taking the various perspectives of the participants into account. How can reciprocity succeed and why is it so important? The issues discussed included financial resources, political will and the infrastructure necessary. In addition, the question of the historical power asymmetries between Europe and Africa was critically reflected against the background of youth exchange and transnational solidarity. The general consensus is that a broader definition of resources is needed to move away from the donor-recipient mentality and towards genuine solidarity. This definition must go beyond financial aspects and take into account the plethora of other resources that partners bring to the table and which contribute to the success of a partnership-based exchange. These include intercultural competences, cultural diversity, specific context know how and knowledge among others.
Personal experiences and various challenges were addressed in the workshop designed and implemented by former volunteers. It was emphasized that alumni commitment can take many forms and that especially volunteers from the so-called Global South are confronted with high expectations by their social environment upon their return. In addition, it was highlighted how important tailor made alumni programmes and supporting structures are for the continued engagement and networking of alumni in order to bring about the desired long term societal impact through their efforts.
Vital regional and international networks for the further implementation were developed at the conference. Aya Chebbi, Youth Envoy of the African Union, said in her speech: “[...] in order to achieve the goal of exchange and international volunteering, we should also leave room for the unexpected and what might arise, and simply support and nurture this.” With this in mind, the organisers and participants were delighted with the many ideas that arose during the conference and affirmed that they would continue to make room for the “unexpected” in the future.