International Youth Association EstYES is a non-profit, non-political, non-governmental organisation. It was established in 1991 with the purpose of promoting youth and cultural exchanges for learning and better mutual understanding. EstYES was a pioneer organisation in the field of international youth voluntary service in Estonia.
The new Erasmus+ programme has possibly shed light on two main issues in education and training in Europe. First, there is a genuine desire to continue the development of non-formal learning (NFL) structures and approach, as already shown by its predecessor programmes but to link non formal and formal learning. Second, and perhaps more important, there is a favourable environment in Europe that makes this not only possible but also desirable. A growing number of stakeholders (schools, university, technical institutes but also private sector actors and even governments at the local and national level) understands and intends to take advantage of the potential of NFL.
This tendency, however, is not visible – at least to the same extent – in other regions of the world. Mexico and Central America present an interesting and attractive environment with at least three features that make this project timely and appropriate:
NFL is a well established reality in the region, with a large amount of youth organisations actively promoting it through a series of initiatives (seminars, workcamps, youth projects, summer activities)
The demand for NFL has grown from the government side since the official recognitions of competences and the conception of integral education has become stronger, the national government of Mexico for example, has launched programmes such as:
- “proyecta 100,000”, with the goal of strengthening the quality and pertinence of educational approaching involving international mobility and to encourage aquiring of global competences (including English language skills).
- “Viaja sin Limites” promoting global learning for the youngsters while promoting strategic linking and partnerships between sectors (educational and private in particular)
The above initiative show the interest towards NFL approaches to increase young people’s employability skills, required not only to gain employment, but also to progress within an enterprise so as to achieve one’s potential and contribute successfully to enterprise strategic directions, with major emphasis on: communication skills, team work, problem solving, initiative and entrepreneurial abilities, planning and organising skills, self-management skills, technological skills.
The above assets have been increasingly acknowledged as emerging from engagement in international volunteering and broadly NFL activities.
This is not only emphasised by the growing attention of youth-targeting programmes (such as YiA and now E+) but also by our own experience. During a needs assessment exercise with returnee volunteers we identified a whole set of skills that their experience brought about. In particular: Global awareness; Adaptability; Interpersonal skills; Delegation capacity; Stress management; Self-confidence; Problem solving; Self-learning capacity; Strategic thinking and, not less important, capacity to de-dramatise with humour when the situation is too pressuring.
However, in spite of the two points above, the links between youth organisations and other actors (i.e. government structures and labour market forces) are scarce or even missing in some cases. There is a lack of mechanisms to acknowledge and take advantage of NFL and the synergies that have been noticed between formal and non formal education institutions.
Linking formal and non/formal learning for the benefit of youth employment and the capacity to create synergies between the youth, private and public sectors has emerged as a priority of our partners in the course of our growing collaborations. In 2013 Estyes participated in several events involving thousands of young people in order to raise the visibility of the European organisations and European educational programmes in Mexico. This resulted in Vive Mexico being invited as an associate partner to the EuropeAid project Estyes coordinated and gradually led to the designing of this project application.
The experience acquired by returned participants of International NFL projects is often misunderstood, under-recognised and under-utilised by employers. For two main reasons: a lack of understanding by employers of what international NFL projects entails and, concomitantly, an undervaluing of the informal method of skills acquisition provided by international projects in comparison to traditional learning approaches.
There is a ‘skills trap’: returned participants of international projects, by virtue of their international experience, possess the skills that are in demand; yet employers do not recognize international participation in NFL projects as a source of these skills or as a legitimate way to develop a career. In an effort to address this ‘skills trap’, is necessary to ensure that the skills of returned participants could be recognised by employers and be better utilized in workforce development.
NFL is growing rapidly in the region and this project is an opportunity to share the experience of the European partners, provide the regional partners with a hands on experience on ways to manage NFL and link it to other sectors for the benefits of other sectors and all together work to a new way of recognition of NFL in various areas of people’s life.
Linkages of FL and NFL have emerged as a priority of our partner organisations as they:
- Are all active in the field of FL and/or NFL so this synergy matches an acquired competence of several organisations and a desire to develop it further by other
- Represent an opportunity to increase the dialogue with government and local authorities or local institutions both in the region but also at the European level
- Partners active in NFL have been long working to achieve recognition of the advantages of NFL and this has finally been met by the desire of government and market actors in taking advantage of NFL
- All partners are interested in youth empowerment and the use of NFL to boost young people competencies meets both their short and long term expectations, providing young people with new experiences, knowledges approaches (short term) whilst enabling them to approach the job market with enhanced competences and confidence (medium/long term)
- In terms of E+ and national priorities, project is a further step towards recognition and validation of skills and qualifications and is intended to be flagged out as a good practice in the field of youth to create synergies leading to:
- Boost cooperation and exchanges between Europe and Central America
- Prompt a reflection, carried out by actors from several sectors (public, private, youth) on the quality of youth activities, youth work and its measurement both in Europe and in Central America, a thing that is expected to affect its capacity to get recognition at a broader level
- Increase synergies between the youth sector, the society and the labour market
- Contribute to the development of actions fostering NFL mobility between two regions of the world
- With a large contribution of lower income regions, both in Europe and Central America where our partners are active, target people with lower access to resources and lower capacity of social mobility in their home country.
The above points are the results of several years of experience and reflection on youth work and approaches to deal with youth unemployment by Estyes and its partner organisations. In particular:
Estyes has been active in the field of NFL as a mean to tackle youth unemployment in several geographical areas. At the national level, the experience of working in the Narva area, one of the most depressed regions in the EU, and provide youth with complementary learning opportunities has informed most of the strategies Estyes has been implementing in the past years.
This experience has been used in the project “Youth in the EU and China, Working Together to Common Challenges” (2011-2014) funded through a Youth in the World action and proposing volunteering as an alternative learning tool providing new opportunities and competencies so to curb youth unemployment
The above experiences have been used when dealing with Mexico, where Estyes has spent a great amount of time and resources visiting youth organisations and contributing to activities seeking a dialogue between the authorities and the youth sector.
Linking formal and non-formal learning for the benefit of youth employment and the capacity to create synergies between the youth, private and public sectors has emerged as a priority of our partners in the course of our growing collaborations. In 2013 EstYES participated in several events involving thousands of young people in order to raise the visibility of the European organizations in Mexico. This resulted in Vive Mexico being invited as an associate partner to a Europe-aid project.
In the frame of these participations we have noticed the interest by the local partners and the potential to welcome change in the field of youth that makes this project very likely to bring significant change at the regional level. The network of partners also stems from these previous activities since a number of them have been met through the visits to Mexico, which is the most active country in the region and attracts partners from neighbour countries, whilst most of the European partners have been tested in the frame of the above mentioned projects.