Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Guest Blog - Ethan McLaughlin "We Need To Talk About Europe"

This blog has been written by Ethan McLaughlin, sharing his experiences at the "We need to talk about Europe" conference. 

My time at the be counted campaign launch
Over the 29th of November to the 1st of December I attended the conference run by the Public and Achievement with the title “We need to talk about Europe” in the Waterfront hotel in Belfast. The primary aim of the conference was to discuss, how to get young people interesting and engaged in the 2014 European Parliamentary election. The more board point to the conference was to discuss the best way, to reengage young people into the Political system. I was attending independently but there was delegates from the Scottish youth parliament, Cardiff youth council and the SHM Political academy which is a new organisation based primarily in London but expanding. Within our conference pack, we were given documents detailing how the EU works, this was to help give us some details about how the thing we were talking about actually worked.  We began the conference with a presentation by a representative of the commission’s office in Northern Ireland Collete Fitzgerald. She talked the role EU funding has had in Northern Ireland to begin with. We than went to a question and answer session, where us attending where able to really quiz her on as wide a range of topics, like the future of Europe in terms of how we identify with it, to why people feel a disconnect when they talk about Europe.
 After short coffee break we went to a panel discussion again focusing, on the same topic about why people have a lack of understanding of Europe. 

The next panel discussion was Jim Nicolson, the longest severing MEP in the house, Stephen Ferry employment minster in Northern Ireland and a volunteer coach for the organisation WIMPS called Shannon. The main aim of the panel was to talk the best ways, to get the message out about how to inform people about Europe. Making people aware about the benefits of Europe. After a 2 course lunch, which for a first year university student was greatly appreciated we had a presentation by Bernice Sweeney from the European youth council. She gave us a full and very detailed presentation about the youth programme from Europe, youth in action going into Erasmus + in 2014. After that each of organisations gave a presentation about what they do in their area. It may be a surprise the Scottish youth parliament gave the longest presentation. In the afternoon we then had a detailed debate about what Europe means to us. It was very lively, where peoples political affiliations really came to light. After that we went and had a 3 course dinner and talked through the day, in the evening after the meal we gathered in the hotel bar and had some local musicians play for us. It was a good chance for us to mix.   

 The Saturday was mainly focused on getting us involved in the debate, about how to get people interested and engaged in politics in general. Just before that started we had a panel debate with Basil McCrea MLA (NI21), Dolores Kelly MLA (SDLP) and Mark Brotherton (NI Conservatives) and Micky Murray from WIMPs.  The discussion focused on why young people should vote. It was very interesting, and got quite intense towards the end as Dolores called Basil out for his stance on immigration. Again the right wing delegates got their opinions heard; Basil applauded them for having the never to say what they feel. The panels for which we chaired was how to engage the disengage, how to use education, and where the be counted campaign should go In the future. The discussion where ranging from a complete overall of the education system, to how young people need to be reminded of how politics relates to the issues that affect them. Just to mention the 2 UKIP members where catching up on the daily mail. After the final panel we had an hour to kill, before we headed off to Belfast city council. Gave me a chance to catch up on some work. A coach came to pick us up, before we had our 3 course meal we had a wine reception paid for by the council. Once went into the main hall their where a few speeches, talking about the importance of building on this conference. This should be seen as the start, the UKIP members where applauded for continuing to speak their views despite being in the minority all weekend. After the meals and a performance by different drums, a group which brought together different musical style from marching bands of both the protestant and Catholic side. After that people started to hit the dance floor, that was where people if they hadn’t during the conference really went all out. It finished around 1 oclock.

Waking up the following morning, just in time to catch my last hotel breakfast for a while, it gave me a chance to really think through what a great experience this has been. Being around all these young active and motivated individuals, it reminded me that maybe this can be the time with these people taking the led, that youth interest may start to improve and change.

If you would like to contact Ethan and learn more about his experiences please contact him on

Monday, 21 October 2013

Guest Blog: Sophia Khalid - Young Leaders Exchange 2013

Hello, my name is Sophia, I participated in the Youth Leadership Exchange program (UK and North Africa) 2013 as a participant of the UK. That’s where I met Jess and other like-minded youth from both the UK and countries in the North African region. Although we all came from different parts of the world, we all shared a common vision and that is to work with and empower civil society with the aim of making the world a better place for everyone. In this guest blog I wish to share with you a bit about my experience on the program, and give you an insight into some of the interesting and significant things I took away with me.
The workshop and discussions during the first day made me question my interpretation of what a leader is. When thinking of a leader visions of someone with authority and perhaps even an autocratic, controlling nature, firing orders at others, usually cloud the mind. This interpretation is inaccurate especially when considering the best leaders. In our sub-group we came up with our definition of a leader –

“A leader empowers, inspires and unifies a group of individuals towards a shared vision, sharing knowledge and utilising skills.”

When further discussing leadership it become apparent that although we may not know it we have all been leaders at some point, whether that’s at work, amongst friends or at home with family. Learning and knowing about the traits of a good leader are therefore important to each one of us.

We visited the young Mayor of Lewisham, he is the perfect example of not only a leader but a role model. I found that initiative so inspiring and so empowering for the youth, it’s a great way to get them involved and get them interested and thinking about politics and civil society from a younger age. It is important for young people to be given a voice and this initiative not only gave them a voice but changed the dynamics of politics from something rigid and boring ‘only for adults’ to something interesting, important and approachable.

Without a doubt one of the biggest things I took away with me was what I learnt during the Leap – Confronting Conflict Workshop. It’s all to do with something called a Red Flag, we all have those moments when someone says something that may annoy us or make us angry, the blood starts to rush to our heads and the next thing we know we can’t take it anymore and the result is a negative outburst. The impact of this uncontrollable outburst, whether it was with a friend, a work colleague or a family member, can be detrimental and lead to negative consequences. Therefore it is important to know your red flag, identify what makes the blood rush to your head, makes your heart pound and your face burn. The next time you feel a red flag situation arising take control, mentally prepare your response and turn the potentially explosive situation around. This is definitely something I will be implementing in my everyday life and something I will be sharing with others.   

These are just a few of my highlights, there are so many more (maybe I can guest blog again sometime Jess! J) And among all this THE BEST THING about the program was getting to know all the other participants and being able to call them my colleagues and friends. Each one of them had a story, and I learnt something fascinating from every single one of them. It was a truly valuable experience to hear first-hand about the situation in Libya, about the history of Algeria and about some of the amazing work being done in Egypt. My new friends taught me so much about their countries, cultures, music and food. We posed with Clive, ate Bens Cookies, made up our own Bollywood lyrics, ran to Nando’s, drank Jasmine tea, laughed so much it hurt, had the best massage ever, and too too many deep conversations. I even managed to pick up some French and Arabic (Rah-ih-ha-koreeya) and have been inspired to pursue a language further. I am so grateful to have been selected to participate in this exchange and I look forward to working with the other participants in the future. Thank you also to NCVO and the British Council for making all this happen.

Please comment below if you would like to contact Sophia - I look forward to having her feature again for my blog and as she clearly has a talent for 'blogging' start her own blog! 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

British Council GCM - EU-Africa Youth Summit 2012

Again through meeting different people and networking I found the opportunity to become part of the British Council Global Changemakers programme. I submitted my application and video and waited to hear if I had been selected. Luckily I heard back quite soon and was happy to hear I had gotten on to the programme and was away to Brussels for a week for the EU-Africa Youth Summit. 

Whilst I was in Brussels I didn't only meet some friends for life - but learn so much about the world and experiences other young people where having internationally. It's so easy to watch things on the news - especially conflict and just brush it aside, but when you meet someone that was there, lived it, breathed it, you can really begin the understand the full scale of something. As you can probably tell my main focus group was on conflict - I was pretty much the odd one out with being from the UK but as I had already visited Northern Ireland several times before as well as learning about the situation here I was able to offer some input. 

The project for me was life changing. 

As well as discuss our experiences we were given talks and presentations - most notably from Kate Holt the photographer and journalist who has documented conflicts from Somalia to the DRC. We where then trained to think of our own projects; what we could do to make a change in our communities. I was inspired to hear what other people had done - if you would like a small insight as to what these wonderful young people have achieved please have a read of the blogs on the website - click here.  

It's sad this programme no longer runs, but I know I have a network of over 800 fellow change makers internationally through it having been run - and surely between us we can make a difference. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The London Conference on Cyberspace - November 2011

Through being able to meet other young people and organisations as a UK Young Ambassador I found out about an opportunity to attend the London Conference on Cyberspace with the NSPCC. The Conference was attending from heads of state and ministers from all over the world including a guest speech from Hilary Clinton. The aim of the conference was to assess the position of the internet in terms of international relations, looking specifically at the threats it can pose for international security. 

As part of the Youth Forum with the NSPCC my role was to present and attend various seminars and presentations and actually help the delegates understand the role of the internet. As we are growing up with it and implementing it in our day to day lives our opinions were held highly - especially in our critique of the name of the conference (who says cyberspace?!). 

Anyhow - the conference was interesting as we received talks from the European Director of Facebook as well as the CEO of Telefonica UK who themselves were avidly interested in gaining the youth perspective. I particularly enjoyed meeting with the Metropolitan Police and learning about the biggest import of counterfeit products; which is in fact pharmaceuticals. Quite dangerous thinking that they are actually entering the UK NHS market, rather than a black markets. 

In summery of the Cyberspace Conference I felt the participation of youth was a little tokenistic - however was interesting to be a part of in terms of meeting new people, networking and learning about something I wasn't avidly interested in. 

If you're interested in learning more about the conclusion of the youth group, please click here

Saturday, 12 October 2013

UK Young Ambassador - Representing Wales & The UK Internationally (2/2)

After Turkey I caught the 'travelling bug' and became enthralled in my work. The next opportunity was far more inclusive for other people in the UK and was the final stage of the Spain-Belgium-Hungary Trio of EU Presidencies. The theme for young people to discuss was employment - a hard hitting and realistic subject as during 2011 many countries where still going through financial crises. As UK Young Ambassadors we decided to recruit and train an entourage of "Young Researchers" from our respective organisations in order to gain an understanding of how young people in the UK really feel about their employment prospects. 

We presented our findings into a report that we took with us to the final conference in Budapest, Hungary. In this conference it concluded the work taken from the previous sessions in Spain and Belgium and it was our job to create a set of recommendations for the Council of the EU to implement across member states. 

I was assigned to work on the experiences young people had whilst undergoing the "Transition from Education to the Labour Market" and was assigned group speaker to the conference. Our recommendations included offering a universal standard of careers advice across Europe and further advertisement of opportunities to take voluntary work across Europe. 

During my time as a UK Young Ambassador I was heavily influenced in terms of what I wanted to do in the future and the experience guided me to study my chosen degree of "International Politics & Conflict Studies". If you would like any more info on this programme please visit this link

School Council Rep - Funky Dragon (Children and Young People's Assembly for Wales) 2010-2012

So as time progressed and I was getting more involved with my Youth Council I was lucky to be around when a space opened up on Funky Dragon to represent the school councils in Conwy. I plucked up courage and did a speech in front of all the school councils and it was put to a vote - I was lucky to win! 

So I was packed off to my first residential which involved getting to know all the other representatives from around Wales and can say its where I have met some of my closest and bestest friends. However (more towards the serious stuff) my role within the youth council was then very much enhanced as I was to represent their views on a national level. 

After several residential trips around Wales and lots of laughs we settled down to the serious business of planning the Welsh report on the implementation of the United National Declaration on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Wales is unique in the respect it is the only nation in the United Kingdom to allow its young people to plan, consult, write and present the report to the United Nations. 

I also got the chance to visit the Welsh Assembly buildings on several occasions for different areas of business for example our annual general meetings and sometimes being involved in Assembly select committee meetings to represent a youth angle. 

My biggest achievement whilst on Funky Dragon was speaking in the Houses of Parliament at the annual UK Youth Parliament Debate representing the WHOLE of Wales. This was televised (so my mum was super happy) and improved my confidence sills to a whole new level.