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Bild: IJAB | Christian Herrmann

Inclusive international youth work: From vision to reality

How can international youth work be made inclusive? To this end, the IJAB project VISION:INKLUSION is working on a strategy together with experts from various fields. VISION:INKLUSION joined forces with Aktion Mensch and invited experts to a forum in Hanover on 3 July to discuss the preliminary results. The challenges identified by the participants were to implement the strategy, provide training, and build long-term international partnerships.

The ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities created a legal framework for an inclusive education system. It also introduced a paradigm shift in that persons with disabilities are no longer seen as passive recipients of welfare, but as independent individuals who have a right to participate in all areas of society. Participants were reminded of this by IJAB Director Marie-Luise Dreber as she delivered her opening remarks at the expert forum on inclusive international youth work on 3 July in Hanover, Germany. Around 60 experts from international youth work, representatives of disability community organisations and public administrations as well as researchers had come to learn about the state of play in regard to the development of a strategy for inclusive international youth work, and to contribute fresh input before the inclusion strategy is finalised towards the end of the year. “There is still a lack of concrete recommendations for practitioners,” cautioned Dreber. The inclusion strategy, which has been developed by the VISION:INKLUSION together with international youth work experts, disability community organisations, disability charities, researchers and administrators since 2015, is designed to build a bridge between legislation, political declarations of intent and inclusive practices – one that will deliver hands-on practical recommendations for use in international youth work, an important part of non-formal education.


Inclusion is a human right

Caren Marks, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, believes this process is vital. “With the project VISION:INKLUSION and your efforts to develop an inclusion strategy for the international youth work community, you demonstrate your intention to recognise and shape social change,” Marks said in her opening address. “This is important. Your willingness to continue improving your work and the activities you offer will help us all to turn the vision of inclusive international youth work into a reality.” The State Secretary is well aware of the social significance of inclusion. “Inclusion touches upon all parts of life, from education and culture to public transport,” she continued. “It requires us to learn and be patient. It requires us to be sensitive to other people’s needs and to reflect on ourselves and what we can do to build a more open society. Turning inclusion into a reality is a responsibility for all of us. Inclusion is a human right.”


Developing inclusive practices requires trial and error

The inclusion strategy has three objectives: to develop inclusive cultures, inclusive structures and inclusive practices. Specifically, this means producing recommendations for administrations and for organisations planning to implement inclusive international projects. So how far has the work progressed? Three experts who are directly involved in the process provided answers. Christian Papadopolous from designbar Consulting suggested that inclusive cultures need to take account of each individual’s needs. Rebecca Daniel from bezev reminded participants that inclusive structures need an organisational and legislative framework so that sufficient financial and personnel resources can be made available. This, she said, requires a review of existing funding programmes. And Elżbieta Kosek from the Kreisau Initiative told the audience to remain optimistic. “Developing inclusive practices requires a lot of trial and error. Mistakes will be made and that’s fine, because we are embarking on a completely new journey.”


Developing practical examples and disseminating them to practitioners

During the expert forum, Professor Andreas Thimmel from Cologne University of Applied Sciences examined at the VISION:INKLUSION project from a scientific angle. The fact that the inclusion strategy is the result of a broad-based cooperation between organisations and disciplines is exemplary, Thimmel said. However, the circumstances under which the project seeks to achieve its objectives are challenging. Those who call for inclusive youth work need to be willing to invest financially, maintain a long-term horizon and ensure that the resulting network remains strong. “Inclusion needs quality,” Thimmel continued. “This includes briefing and debriefing to ensure that education work is diversity-oriented and sensitive to inequalities.” Unlike in other fields of education, inclusive international youth work needs long-term partnerships in other countries which, he said, requires resources. Now, the task is to develop practical examples and disseminate them to practitioners. The existing networks need to be maintained, trusted, and asked to develop said practical examples. “They have shown that they can do it,” he concluded.

During the subsequent discussion, many speakers referred back to Thimmel’s thoughts on the subject. As IJAB Chairman Lothar Harles suggested, it is crucial to see what will now happen in practice. “If none of this has any effect, we can raise awareness all we want.” The participants in the debate highlighted the benefits of inclusion for everyone, including for those who do not have a disability. “What we don’t need is yet more pluralisation in our lives. Instead, we need more social cohesion,” said Harles. Alexander Westheide from Aktion Mensch called for “all people to experience diversity, because living with diversity is a vital skill in today’s world.”

Learning from good practices and incorporating them into the inclusion strategy – those were the aims of Creative Labs. The good practices were contributed by volunteering agencies, sports associations, school and non-school institutions and cultural organisations. The question of whether or not they would be suitable for international youth work kept coming up. There is indeed potential for their application in organisational development, staff training and work at the local community level. Yet it is equally important to work with parents to bring them on board, and to involve the media to achieve broad public awareness.


Implementing the inclusion strategy

What are the next steps? The group of experts plans to finalise the inclusion strategy by the end of 2017. Input is still welcome via the project’s communication channels, namely its website and its Facebook group, announced coordinators Ulrike Werner and Christoph Bruners. Another ongoing task is to visualise existing projects in the shape of a virtual map. The actual implementation of the inclusion strategy, the design of training courses and the establishment of international partnerships are all challenges of the future.  

Bild: IJAB | Christian Herrmann
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