In the second instalment of our monthly briefings, we will introduce the reader to two other characters, who stood behind the successful planning, execution, monitoring and closure of Waves of Democracy, namely Andreas Guidi and Christin Knüpfer. They have been actively involved in the work of IUC-Europe for years and, despite the overwhelming number of chores on their to-do list, they made room for a little Q & A.
Andreas is a Ph.D candidate at Humboldt University and thus residing in Berlin, though Italian by nationality. Serving in the capacity of both a moderator and project manager/organiser, his efforts were instrumental in securing a positive outcome and ensuring the smooth unfoldment of WoD.
Magdalena: Have you been involved in other projects similar to WoD? What distinguishes the latter from previous work that you have done?
Andreas: This is a different question since Waves of Democracy is itself a flexible and changing framework for conferences. I was lucky to take part in all the events from 2007 until this year and I can tell you that a lot of effort has been put in adapting, innovating and improving the concept and the programme. So I would say this is what makes it different from many other events. Its location between academic, political and creativity events is the most fascinating side of Waves, since it allows us to bring people with different interests together.
Magdalena: What did you strive to accomplish throughout the project? You must have had a clear set of goals. What were these and how did you approach them?
Andreas: I do not have a set of goals, these rather emerge as soon as you start to work in the group and I think it is through the discussion that you realize what the participants themselves aspire to achieve as an output. What I try to make clear at the beginning of the activities regards mostly the working atmosphere. Something that I expect and at the same time try my best to support are aspects like: a respectful attitude that is nonetheless readiness to enter a controversy; the capacity of listening and not only repeating over and over one’s own arguments (which is mostly not that easy to learn and implement); the curiosity and the openness to learn about things which were unfamiliar until then. I know very well that asking questions is not always comfortable, but one very rarely regrets expanding their own knowledge, and in this sense having people who speak about the political and cultural situation in so many different countries is really an opportunity that one should not miss!
Magdalena: Navigating through such a multicultural environment must have been complex. What was your impression of the participants? Was it easy for you to reach out to them and connect with them? Did you learn something from them that you would carry on in your professional life?
Andreas: I would be careful with the term multicultural. For sure they come from different countries, but it is also well understood that our participants stand for a quite particular target group that is already – though to different degrees – familiar with international seminars, they all speak English and, to put it briefly, “know how to play the game”. But this does not make the work with them less interesting, on the contrary, as what we try to do is also to challenge the attitude deriving from the expectations gathered in other events, so that they can look at the topics dealt with from a slightly different angle when they leave. What I have noticed, however, are great differences in terms of age. Attending such a seminar at 18, 23 or 28 represents three very different experiences. And the same holds true whether you have just graduated from school. But what I have seen is that the participants interact beyond this age gap and the younger learn a lot from the more experienced. To me personally, it has taught me a lot about how to talk to people with very different training, knowledge and interests. This is quite important as it helps you think outside your box and learn from listening.
Magdalena: Can you share an episode from that week in Sønderborg that would best describe the spirit of the project?
Andreas: This is a difficult question! I was very positively surprised to see so many participants feel confident enough to step on the stage we had improvised on the last day. They did not prepare anything in advance but wanted to make themselves visible to the locals. This is for me the most important aspect: giving the participants an opportunity for a great experience of work and fun and at the same time merge their enthusiasm with a resonance in a public that maybe is not that familiar with the topics we tackle like migration, environment or xenophobia.
Magdalena: If you could lead a different workshop, which one would it be?
Andreas: I was very very happy that we could organize a workshop on history and memory since it is my field of research as well. If there will be no such opportunity I would like to organise one on the economic crisis in Southern Europe, which is still ongoing with dramatic consequences even if most of the attention is given to questions of security and terrorism these days. I would like to deal with that because it is extremely important to express criticism toward EU policies and strategies as pursued by the current established institutions. This does not mean turning your back from the European integration project, but instead to innovate it in a way that meets more the demands of many youngsters, including our participants.
Christin has been part of the Waves of Democracy team since 2010. After studying Political Science and International Relations in Berlin and Amsterdam, followed by a study stay in Tunis, she now lives and works in Berlin.
Christin, you have been part of Waves of Democracy from its inception. How has the project changed over the years?
The concept of Waves of Democracy has always been as fluid as the name suggests. We care about certain core elements that can be found in each project, however, Waves of Democracy has always been changed and improved along the way. I believe that this fluidity is where the beauty of the project lies for both organisers/moderators and participants. We have used experiences of past WoD and IUC projects as well as our personal engagement in other fields as inspirations. This has helped us to become more professional in organising and “running the show“, but also to use our networks to reach out to interested youths. On the other hand, something that the project has continuously stressed is the possibility of having as many aspects as possible arranged by young people themselves.
In retrospect, if you were to present WoD to young people who were undecided as to whether they would like to apply for a spot in the team of participants, how would you pitch the project to them?
To me, Waves of Democracy has always been a platform to connect young people from Europe and beyond who are engaged in all kinds of civic activism and youth participation – be it through politics, arts, music, education or sports. No matter whether in Serbia or Denmark, WoD succeeded in connecting these fields through its diverse programme and activities. We are neither an academic summer school, nor a youth camp but strive to combine formal and informal methods to foster an open exchange of ideas and experiences in our Summer Academy. Over the years, I have seen great friendships grow among the participants. Moreover, the network is also a great source to follow different forms of youth engagement. Thus, it is the variety of backgrounds and the eagerness to present these and learn about others which has made it so enjoyable to be part of the Waves of Democracy network.
How did your list of responsibilities differ from those of the moderators?
My role in the WoD team grew along with the project itself and I think that this has helped me to challenge my work and contribution to the project. I have first been involved as a participant at Waves of Democracy in Novi Sad (Serbia) in 2010. Pursuant to my first WoD experience, I have become more and more involved in the planning and implementation of activities as a facilitator. Thus, I have experienced WoD as a participant, moderator, and now project manager/organiser together with Andreas. Already in the months up to the actual event, Andreas and I have spent a lot of time to put everything together: meetings, brainstormings, drafts and hundreds (maybe thousands) of emails.
Whereas Andreas is also a moderator, I‘m first and foremost the one “behind the scenes“, responsible for making sure that the Summer Academy runs smoothly, everything and everyone is on time and taken good care of. Taking care of the little bits and pieces enables
the moderators to focus on their tasks and provides the participants the basis to enjoy their WoD experience to the fullest.
It is obvious that much time and effort were invested into WoD, both during the actual execution of the project and throughout all these months of pre-planning and fine tuning the last details. Such consistent work requires a lot of motivation. What drove you personally to remain mindful and engaged with what you were doing?
Planning Waves of Democracy 2015 has been a world-spanning endeavour somewhere between Copenhagen, Sønderborg, Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Tunis, New York and sometimes even Harare. However, all the distance is absolutely worth it because it connects a great team in which everyone adds valuable experience, knowledge, enthusiasm and a lot of great humour to the mix. Moreover, it is an art in itself to make these events as enjoyable, fun and stimulating for the participants, no matter how much work it is in the back office or in the days before everyone finally arrives. Mastering this, and knowing that Waves has come a long way is always the greatest motivation for upcoming projects.
…And if things don‘t run as smoothly as planned, a strong coffee and a quick brainstorming with the team has always helped so far! To me, the ability to be open for last minute improvisation is just as important as thorough preparations.
You keep a busy schedule. Are you at liberty to discuss some of the current projects you are involved in?
Since August 2015 I am a Project Manager for the International Affairs department of Körber Foundation in Berlin. Thus, my everyday work is not very far away from my role at Waves at the moment. I am responsible for the conference management and logistics of the Bergendorf Round Table which takes place three times a year. Körber Foundation‘s work is driven by the founder’s principle to talk to each other, rather than about each other in order to foster international dialogue. With this principle in mind, I am excited to do the job I am doing because it continues exactly what I always loved the most about projects like Waves – to connect people from different corners and bring them together to talk, exchange ideas and experiences and take these new impressions and fresh impulses back to their communities, politicians and peers.
As a representative of IUC-Europe, I am pleased to be given the opportunity to participate in a seminar in Sweden next year, organised by the European Network for Teaching and Training e.V. (EUNET). The training course is scheduled for the 10th – 14th April, 2016, and addresses the refugee crisis which is an issue of great political relevance and also happens to be the major cause for the current state of “analysis paralysis” within the EU.
The employment of high variation of methods stretching from simulation exercises to drama games aims to stimulate creativity and innovation, and prompt participants to approach the problems being discussed from an affective rather than cognitive perspective. Acknowledging that education is not so much about subject learning but about gaining a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the core issues and deploying fresh approaches to problem-solving, the seminar promises an interesting and enriching experience where the topic at hand is dealt with in an emphatic manner as opposed to sticking too much to conventional learning that often lands us in a rut.