Returning to WYA: What Europe’s ELC Offered That Was More Important Than Networking

cocktailMy head is full and so is my business card holder – two definite signs of a recent trip to Brussels. “In Brussels you don’t socialise; you network.” This is a commonly-expressed statement about the ‘Euro bubble’ that is Belgium’s capital.  However, WYA’s events give you an opportunity to excel at both professional networking and meeting new friends in a relaxed setting. The first day of the 2013 Emerging Leaders Conference on Sustainable Development welcomed us into the European Parliament and gave us insight into the European Union’s side on the post Millennium Development Goals Agenda discussion. The second day of the conference focused on giving us practical tools to help shape these goals before and after 2015.

The day was exciting from the minute I walked into WYA Europe’s new office on Rue del Loi. I am a former WYA intern, so the entire conference was a constant tug between between nostalgia and awestruck wonder. So many things have changed and grown, but the foundational essence and the feel of WYA has remained as open and as welcoming as ever.

Daniel opened the floor by welcoming us back and diving into the panel’s topics for the day: the importance of changing from a goal oriented to people-centered Sustainable Development goals and what we can do to support this change. He also talked about WYA’s involvement in Beyond2015, the civil society campaign for influencing the creation of a post 2015 development framework, and the ISCO conference on Post 2015 in Bonn, Germany this past March.

The second speaker was Ignacio Socias, Director of Communication and International Relations for International Federation for Family Development (IFFD). He told us about the International Commission on Population Development (ICPD) 2014 UNECE Regional Conference he attended in July in Geneva as one of the CSO representatives. In his speech he mentioned two very important points: first, common misconceptions of how grassroots civil society is represented at international organizations such as the UN and EU and how private sector agendas often replace civil society agendas. The second point he made concerned the lack of references to the importance of family as the social nucleus in official reports such as the MDGs.  While everyone agrees that family might be essential to sustainable development, it can be viewed as politically incorrect to reference it.

Johannes de Jong, representative of the European Christian Political Foundation, was the third speaker and he focused on defining the concept of a people-centered declaration of SDGs.

After lunch, Andreas Widmer from the Catholic University of America joined us via Skype from Washington and gave us an insight into the economic debate of sustainable development. He stressed the difference between economic and humanitarian help for developing countries. He claimed that while support might be efficient on a short term basis, especially in crisis situations, it could be detrimental in the long term.  Long term counselling provided by developed countries generally causes more harm than help. This adds to the incessant difficulty of establishing a sustainable economy in LDGs, especially on the African continent.  Widmer focused on the fact that the only way to actually build up an economy is to invest in it, and that this applies everywhere and not just in the developed world.

Finally the President of WYA, Obadias Ndaba, had the floor and in his opening statement he responded to Widmers speech, stressing as well that aid does not actually reduce poverty, at least not on a long term basis. Support for developing countries should always consist of a combination of activism and knowledge of the country focused on, whether through lobbying work or actual economic investment.

It wouldn’t be WYA if the conference didn’t end with a dignity project – in this case a cocktail reception at the estate of Sir Jean Baptiste Du Franssu. While this event prompted me to promise myself that I would bring a bigger card holder next time, I have to say that my long overdue return to WYA felt more like rejoining long-lost friends than attending a party in which people are only interested in your networking value.

By Elisabeth, a former WYA Europe intern and a participant in the WYA Europe 2013 Emerging Leaders Conference