Upbeat + In Tune: The Next Generation of Austrian Change Makers

Tall and tan and young and lovely…

…goes the opening line of “The Girl from Ipanema,” one of the most covered songs in modern music history. Originally performed in the bossa nova style, the one-hit wonder has been adapted to classical compositions, performed by punk bands, and jammed by jazz legends.

So, what does that have to do with our recent leadership development workshop for Austrian youth? In short, everything.

The Generation Next Youth Leadership Initiative is providing 20 Austrian students, ranging in age from 19 to 28, the opportunity to examine the dynamic processes of integration while learning the principles of civic education, respect for diversity, and community engagement through intensive leadership training.

In an exercise about recognizing the value of different leadership styles, led by Goucher College’s community-based learning experts Cass Freedland and Lindsay Johnson, the 20 Austrian university students taking part in the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Generation Next Youth Leadership Initiative heard several renditions of “The Girl from Ipanema” and discussed the musical differences as metaphors for ways to advance their work as youth leaders.

Whereas jazz favors freewheeling musicians who are comfortable with playing multiple roles and quickly adapting to changes in tempo and tone, orchestral music follows a more rigid structure that values precision under the guidance of a skilled conductor.

Though vastly different, no single style is better than another. Yet by understanding the aspects of what makes the music “work,” these young leaders can adapt their approaches to more effectively organize and drive social change.

Rehearsal: Training the Next Generation

Just as a piece of music can be played in a myriad of different ways, both leaders and followers may have different interpretations of the same shared goal, as well as different styles and strategies for achieving desired outcomes. For our Generation Next participants, the goal is to promote intercultural understanding and engage more of their peers in activities that support a more welcoming Austria.

March’s daylong leadership and skill development training session kicked off this new U.S.-Austrian initiative, which will include a three-week, four-city program this summer in the United States.

While the nation has a long and proud history of welcoming new arrivals and helping those fleeing war and poverty, the need for stronger, more sustainable community integration has grown in recent years. At the height of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, Austria took in more than 90,000 asylum seekers and allowed hundreds of thousands more to cross the country. Since that time, the government has strengthened the requirements for remaining in Austria and implemented stricter border controls, as anti-immigration sentiment continues to fester.

While there’s no easy answer to the integration challenges ahead in Austria and beyond, one thing is clear: today’s youth will play an invaluable role in shaping the future of their communities. After spending a few days in Vienna with this group of inspiring change makers, ranging in age from 19 to 28, I left convinced that future remains bright as ever. Why, you ask?

Because of individuals like Franziska Denkmayr, who’s helped develop Integration Circle in her hometown of Upper Austria. The project has not only welcomed those seeking asylum– it has inspired a community to get involved in their lives by providing language classes, first-aid workshops, and hosting sporting events.

Or Ahmet Bozkurt, whose experience volunteering as a German language teacher in a refugee camp has helped him understand the many benefits that diversity can bring to Austrian society.

“Over nine months, I was in daily contact with refugees from all over the world,” Ahmet said of his volunteer experience with Caritas, who ran the camp as part of the Austrian Civil Service. “I had the opportunity to learn many things about different cultures, languages, attitudes towards life, and different food. I had the chance to get authentic and genuine insight into their experience. In my opinion, language is the key to participation in society, so it was a pleasure for me to teach German language lessons.”

The 20-member cohort, comprised of Austrian students pursuing degrees at the bachelor, master, and doctoral levels, will have the chance to further hone their skills in the United States in July.

In addition to language abilities, program participant Nermina Mumic, a Bosnian-born Ph.D. student in technical mathematics, thinks the role of youth will be crucial to integration efforts.

“People have to experience in an early stage that there is a space for contribution and participation in society,” said Nermina, who in her ‘free’ time serves as the Federal Chairwoman of the Muslim Youth of Austria, an organization of 30,000 volunteers. “Young people who are active at the local level today will tackle national and European challenges, especially in immigration and integration, tomorrow.”

This sentiment was echoed by Derai Al Nuaimi, a youth leader who was born in Baghdad and has grown up with both Austrian and Arab culture:

“A generation of open-minded and strong people will crystalize and they will be able to solve issues much easier than the generation before them. Diversity as a source of potential–I think this will be the motto of future generations.”

Crescendo – Takeaways from the Workshop

The high-energy leadership workshop in Vienna set the stage for the next eight months of this program by providing a platform to discuss theories of change and how to empower networks of change makers. In addition to learning how to incorporate equity, inclusivity, ethics, and authenticity into their work, the participants all developed action plans which they will implement over the course of this year.

At the end of the workshop, the leaders expressed their growing comfort in defining their visions, embracing the concept of “failing fast” to spur innovation, and forging new pathways of thinking about integration in Austria. Whether their leadership styles look like a structured symphony or a dynamic jazz jam, the group is well on its way to growing further as community leaders.

Mr. Eugene Young, Chargé d’Affaires to the U.S. Embassy Vienna with #WeAreGenNEXT participants at March’s program kickoff.

The Encore

Following March’s workshop, our Generation Next participants have continued their conversations through an ongoing series of structured virtual activities to further examine what it means to be a leader and how to turn their ideas into action.

This July, the group will visit the United States for a three-week, four-city tour including site visits, shadowing, seminars, and service activities with organizations and community leaders in Baltimore, Des Moines, San Diego, and Washington, D.C.

The program will begin with a weeklong leadership ‘boot camp’ at Goucher College in Baltimore, where the participants will pick up the conversations about leadership that began in March, while experiencing life on an American college campus and taking part in various cultural activities.

From there, they will experience different regional perspectives through visits in San Diego and Des Moines, Iowa. The U.S. portion of the program will conclude with the opportunity to “job shadow” organizations in Washington, D.C. where participants can model strategies and operations to implement their action plans in Austria.

Once they return home, the group will then have three months to implement their plans. The program will end on a high note with the Generation Next Congress in November. Hosted again in Vienna, the event will provide a platform for these youth to report the outcomes and progress that they have made to an audience of community and government leaders.

With an ensemble as talented as this, the melody of diversity is music to our ears.

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☑️ Civic education☑️️ Leadership development☑️️ Respect for diversity☑️️ Immigration + integration☑️️ Community…

Posted by Cultural Vistas on Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Generation Next Youth Leadership Initiative is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Embassy in Vienna and administered by Cultural Vistas. Follow the journey and impact made by these leaders at #WeAreGenNEXT