It is not a common practice that an op-ed is written by two people, especially not by one from Belgrade and one from Pristina. Yet, we want to introduce a new thing, as we are trying to introduce a lot of novelties for the young people of the Western Balkans together with our colleagues at the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO).
We believe that RYCO can contribute a lot to bringing the people and the region together. Not only because it has a specific way of functioning, having young people in its Governing Board who have an equal say together with the ministers from the region, but also because it employs people from all over the Western Balkans who are developing programs for intra-regional youth exchanges.
Let us recall some of the facts related to RYCO. Our organization is formally established on 4 July 2016 during the Berlin Process Summit in Paris with the aim to promote the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation between the youth in the region through youth exchange programs.
The Agreement on the Establishment of RYCO was signed by the six prime ministers from the region who recognized that we, in the region, share many similarities in our histories and have a common interest in cooperating and creating stable societies that build trust amongst peoples and ensure better livelihood in the region. Moreover, we should not forget that the whole process was done in a partnership with the region’s civil society. It took a year for RYCO to start working, as the beginning of its operations was announced during the Summit held in Trieste.
Since then, RYCO’s people worked hard to deliver concrete results and high expectations of a number of stakeholders – governments, civil society, international and regional organizations, but most importantly, the Western Balkan youth. We can proudly say that during our first Open Call for Project Proposals we received more than 420 applications that built more than 1300 partnerships across the region. This encourages us to believe that it is absolutely clear that youth cooperation and youth exchange programs are needed in our region. And we will keep pushing for more to happen!
Just a couple of days ago, we published the final list of the supported projects and we really look forward to seeing the first youth exchanges programs supported by RYCO happening in the region. We strongly believe that the young people who will consume these youth exchanges will be the game changers in the region. Unfortunately, the limited financial resources for the first RYCO grant scheme caused the fact that we regretfully had to decline many commendable applications. The overall financial envelope available for this call was only 900.000€.
On the other hand, we are developing our Strategic Plan that will cover our work in the three upcoming years (2019-2021). We want to challenge the status quo and enable the young people of the region to create a culture of mobility, intercultural exchange and reconciliation. We believe that they should be active contributors to social and economic prosperity, democratic development and European integration in an increasingly open Western Balkans region. Finally, we also want the governments in the Western Balkans to be increasingly supportive of youth exchange and youth engagement across the region.
Last but not the least; we are aiming to build partnerships with regional and international organizations and to make a synergy that will result in a real change in the Western Balkans. Anyhow, we should not forget that the change we want to achieve will not happen in a short-term period. It requires the involvement of media, politicians, schools, universities and a range of stakeholders who will be focused on a common goal – creating a better region for all.
Let us conclude this op-ed by reaffirming that we strongly believe that we can make an open and developed Western Balkans only if give personal examples of success sorties and if we work with the younger generations on bringing them closer. That is the reason why our slogan reads – a better region starts with you(th).
Đuro Blanuša and Fatos Mustafa
Đuro and Fatos, RYCO Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General, are leading the Regional Youth Cooperation Office, an international organization, founded by the Western Balkans governments, aiming to promote the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation between the youth in the region through youth exchange programs.