Solidarity is a word that is often mentioned – politicians promising assistance to those in need “standing in solidarity” with others. But what does it actually mean and how does solidarity work in reality? Solidarity is at the basis of European society; it helps bind us together and makes our societies stronger. But it can be a value which is difficult to define. To truly understand what solidarity is, you need to look no further than the thousands of young people across Europe implementing youth-led volunteer projects and making a real impact on people’s lives and to their communities and wider society.
Whilst such, volunteer-based, projects have been taking place for a long time, they have – since 2016 – been given a boost, by The European Solidarity Corps (ESC) which gives funding, recognition and has helped such projects flourish. The genesis of the ESC was the refugee crisis that hit Europe’s shores in the mid 2010s. In December 2016, the then President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, announced a new European Solidarity Corps.
“There are many young, socially minded people in Europe willing to make a meaningful contribution to society and help show solidarity. We can create opportunities for them to do so … Young people across the European Union will be able to volunteer their help where it is needed most, to respond to crisis situations …. These young people will be able to develop their skills and get not only work but also invaluable human experience,” he commented. (Jean Claude Juncker, 7 December 2016)
With a dual-pronged approach of providing invaluable assistance and support, but also helping those young people that participate to develop their own skills and give them new experiences, the European Solidarity Corps was born.
What is a solidarity project?
A solidarity project is a specific project – by a group of at least five young people – who take collective action to make change in the community around them. Young people themselves decide which societal issues they want to tackle, therefore solidarity projects can be on a wide range of topics: from environment, health, community work, through to assisting refugees and asylum seekers. Solidarity projects can be of shorter (two months) or longer (up to a year) in duration. Keeping in mind that even short projects can inspire and lead to change. Young people from the age of 18 up to the age of 30 can implement solidarity projects.
“Empowering young people to take action. One of the core elements of solidarity projects is the youth-led approach: young people can take matters into their own hands and actively tackle societal challenges. By doing so young people can shape their and others future,” commented Anja Frohner, EU Program Officer Erasmus + Youth and European Solidarity Corps at OeAD-GmbH.
Solidarity projects in practice
Two ESC projects illustrate well how – through youth participation – you can tackle a societal problem, through young people coming together and, at the same time, developing new skills and having new experiences.
In Iceland a group of young people who believe that in a society where mental illness continues to endure, clear options and assistance should be more accessible. They developed an ESC project, Geðblær, (Sunny Side) to help those who do not know where to turn to when it comes to mental health. The activities were designed to increase well-being, open up discussions on subjects that are taboo in society and to create a platform, where individuals can, in an accessible way, learn more about mental illness, mental health and the resources available in Iceland. To address this, the group developed a digital application on the theme of mental health.
Tech It Easy, a solidarity project in Greece, aimed to end the exclusion of refugees, migrants, and unemployed citizens in the local community. By bringing together the local community and Third Country Nationals (TCNs) living in Athens, the project aimed to increase the exchange of ideas, co-creation of projects, and enhance TCNs’ skills to access the job market. The demand for IT specialists in Greece can currently not be met due to a lack of tech-literate workforce and “brain drain”. The project bridged this gap by educating displaced people about digital and entrepreneurial skills. It gave them an excellent opportunity to acquire a competitive advantage and enabled them to look for higher-paying and highly sought-after jobs. It also means a significant step towards social and economic integration. Thus, promoting the values of solidarity, open communication and open-mindedness towards different cultures.
Award-winning solidarity projects
2021’s SALTO Awards shone a spotlight on some outstanding projects. The winning project “Per una vita attiva dei Sordi Senior” (“For an active life of deaf older people”) was a programme led by six young deaf millennials with a mission to train the older generations of deaf people to use online banking and other relevant digital services at home, thus gaining access to information and skills required in this digital age. Read more about what this inspirational team of young people achieved here: Spotlight on Solidarity and Volunteering Project
And indeed, all the shortlisted projects in the SALTO Awards showed how outstanding solidarity projects work in practice. For example, shortlisted project 5 Minutes Climate Chance (Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom), created a climate podcast community with 80+ low-threshold, informative and entertaining podcast episodes (reaching over 20,000 downloads) made by young people with fewer opportunities.
Top tips on how to turn your solidarity project into reality:
At the outset
- Find the change: The key to finding the right topic for you, is to spot the thing in your community or wider society that you want to change. Something that you are passionate about and that motivates you.
- Test your idea with your peers – in person or online and through social media.
For the application:
- Work together: when writing the application, developing good ideas and getting them down on paper is best done with as many members of the team together, brainstorming.
- Have fun when developing your project; creativity can come from moments of shared fun, whether over a meal or a drink – throwing around ideas when relaxed with friends.
- Don’t try to be too formal. Use your own words and your usual style of language. This is more likely to resonate.
- Make sure you understand what youth participation is about. This is a core part of any solidarity project and so your project needs to ensure meaningful youth participation.
- Design your project to have a real impact. Decide at the outset what you plan your impact to be; by building this in at the planning stage, you will be more likely to have the desired impact.
Resources for creating your own Solidarity Project
- Bottom of Form
- Video Solidarity project creation: Writing the application
- The Youth Participation Toolkit
Be inspired by other solidarity projects:
- This SALTO ESC Study, Showing Solidarity For highlights some inspirational projects: https://www.salto-youth.net/downloads/4-17-4243/ShowingSolidarityFor.pdf
- Check out the shortlisted and winning projects at the SALTO Awards2021: https://saltoawards.eu/