Youth organizations come in all different forms and sizes. They can be huge international organizations like iEARN and AIESEC with members from all across the globe to small local groups run through schools or recreational centers. Youth organizations provide a gateway for the youth to be more engaged in their local communities as well as getting to know people from all over the world while learning from and experiencing new cultures. They have been present in the world since the 1840s with the inception of YMCA in 1844 in London.
The first youth organizations were mainly founded in order to provide aid to disadvantaged youth. As time passed they evolved, now most youth organizations focus on delivering projects and services centered on youth professional and personal development (e.g. social inclusion, online activities, cross-cultural and cross-border activities, skills development, employability, etc), humanitarian work and a range of action-oriented field activities.
iEARN – internet collaboration in education
iEARN (https://iearn.org) is a non-profit organization present in over 140 countries with 2,000,000 students engaged daily. iEARN looks to empower teachers and young people to collaborate online using internet communication technologies in projects that meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Every year during the iEARN Assembly it is decided what projects they will support based around issues faced by students and the capacity of the project to lead to improvement of quality of life. They have been present in Macedonia since the year 2000 represented and managed by civil society organization Interactive Education and Resource Network – IMOR (http://imor.org.mk).
Personally, youth organizations have been a vital part in my personal and even professional development. However, when I first started to get involved with iEARN projects, I did not expect to learn a lot from them. I just thought of them as an interesting way to occupy my free time with. To my amazement, I found the different iEARN projects to be at the same time joyous and also very eye opening. Throughout those projects I got to meet people from all over the world and collaborate with them. Also, I got the chance to attend 2 iEARN conferences, one in Turkey and another in Qatar, where for the first time in my life I met people from almost every continent. During the conferences, I worked on tackling one of my greatest fears, fear of public speaking. At the conference there were many workshops where we had to present our findings to others. I was selected to give a short speech in front of all participants at the conference. Those events felt daunting to me at the time; however, they were a great experience and helped me get over my fears at a young age.
AIESEC – promote youth participation in the UN’ Sustainable Development Goals
AIESEC (https://aiesec.org/) represents a global network of youth striving for the improvement of mankind. AIESEC was founded after World War II with the goal of building cross-cultural understanding across different nations. Additionally, AIESEC implements the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in their projects and tries to encourage and promote youth participation in them. With projects being designed around the 17 SDGs they are helping to push society forward in a sustainable way.
When I was in university, I got introduced to AIESEC and their opportunities to volunteer abroad. I love visiting new places and so I applied and went abroad during the summer to volunteer in summer camps. During my time abroad, I met people from new and exciting places. While I was there the energy of the local AIESEC group captivated me. They were really engaged in their work and wanted to contribute to the improvement of society. Because of that, I joined the local AIESEC committee in my country – Macedonia. While I was a member, and eventually a Team Leader, in AIESEC I got to work on my leadership, time-management and sales skills.
There are many smaller youth organizations in Macedonia and new ones emerging every year. Some of the more notable ones include the coalition of youth organizations “SEGA”, which supports youth activism. In many cities there are many youth councils, youth organizations operating as UNESCO clubs, environmental youth organizations (e.g. GoGreen) associations of secondary school students, organized groups of youth that are not formally registered according to the Law for Associations of Citizens and Foundations. Youth organizations present a great way for the young people to grow and learn about the world and themselves while also developing skills that would be of great use for them and for societies in the future. Many of these organizations are dependent upon grants/donations to function. There are various sources of funding of civil society organization and youth organizations: municipalities, calls of the General Secretariat of the Government, some embassies in Macedonia, EU-supported grant lines, regional funds for youth, international organization in Macedonia, or international organization abroad.
Youth organizations locally
Because of the current Covid-19 pandemic huge portion of access to funds was cut for youth organizations. Additionally, all of the activities that these organizations had in the past were in-person events, which have been virtually impossible to have because of the pandemic. The youth organizations had to quickly adapt to managing online events. Seeing how long the pandemic has been going on it has brought online events into the mainstream. This also brings opportunities to smaller organizations in smaller cities to organize more events and projects. With online events entering the norm they present an avenue for youth organizations from smaller communities to receive funding for their online projects.
Youth organizations are growing and becoming leaders among organizations in voicing their opinions. The youth are making their views clear and even coming out to protest against air pollution and for a better environment. Additionally, the youth in Macedonia is very active in projects aimed in promoting and expanding cross-border and cross-cultural cooperation.
It is apparent that youth activism in Macedonia is gradually increasing which is fruitful for the Macedonian society and youth itself.