Author: Lea Linin
Ever heard of Nowy Sacz? It’s a small town situated in the southern part of Poland. A two hour bus ride from Krakow will leave your mind wandering while taking in the most wonderful and picturesque landscape. A string of small towns are lining up one after another, the road almost separating the rural from the urban. On the left side pastures with cows popping here and there, grazing calmly and you could feel that their tranquility almost sends you in a meditative state. Turn to the right, and you can see people going about their daily routine of going to work or school. As mind-refreshing and spirit-reviving traveling might be, you are bound to arrive at your final destination sooner or later, in this case Nowy Sacz – the town hosting the fourth edition of the Economic Forum of Young Leaders.
When I found out that I was accepted to participate at the Forum, I felt ecstatic at first and then, of course, the inevitable decision-making period of nagging second thoughts of whether I should accept or not. Well, sort of. What I initially thought, was that I would be out of place at such a highbrow event, a forum and no less an economic one, a sphere of life I know almost nothing about and has always seemed so abstract and incomprehensible to me. But, I made the right decision.
The Economic Forum of Young Leaders was launched back in 2006 as a back-to-back event to the Economic Forum in Krynica, also dubbed the ‘central – European Davos’. While the Economic Forum in Krynica gathers the most notable European and world politicians, economists, businessmen, heads of countries, governments and corporations, the Economic Forum of Young Leaders focuses on providing a meeting place for the future generation of people who will try to make a difference. Students of economics were a common sight, but there were also students of international relations, politics, journalism, even history of art – almost any discipline you can think of. There were a number of participants representing various NGOs, all in all a melting pot of around 250 participants from all corners of Europe who have come to voice their opinions and exchange their ideas about the future of Europe.
Concentrating on the future of Europe as its official topic, the Forum took the form of panel discussions where participants had the opportunity to be actively involved, to raise and discuss issues related to the future course and shaping of Europe. After the opening session on the first day (8 September), participants were asked to take part in one of the three ‘introductory’ workshops led by Youth in Action trainers. Each of the workshops focused on a different aspect of what it means to be a European citizen, allowing participants to openly express their opinions, as well as facilitate their initial communication and ease them into getting to know one another. It was the most interactive part of the whole forum, a real ice-breaker. The day finished off with the intercultural evening, which created an overall atmosphere of tipsiness and jolliness as people were trying out various national cuisines and traditional beverages.
The other three days were less interactive and the program was centered around panel discussions. Just to help you get the picture of what was going on and what sort of topics were addressed I will mention some of the titles of the sessions. Youth, Europe, world- cooperation and responsibility in the era of globalization, Europe in the 21st century – how to make a European project more attractive for young people?, and one of the most interesting for me – No entrepreneurship without innovation, which was based on sharing practical examples of what it takes to become an entrepreneur and how to start up your own business.
A packed four-day program at the venue Malopolskie Centrum Kultury SOKÓL in Nowy Sacz that also became the hangout spot for the unofficial part of the program during breaks between sessions. I cannot begin to describe the sheer amazement I felt at the number of people I met. Not being able to remember their names at first, I turned to more primitive forms of communication such as gesticulating to draw their attention and strike up a conversation.
This informal portion of the event is actually the most valuable experience you can get, as this is the time when you really get to know people, their interests, what is their take on things. But don’t let this fool you. It’s not all fun and games – this informal part I mean. It is also very business-like in a sense that future projects and collaborations are being arranged and people are flashing and exchanging their business cards.
Taking part in an event of this caliber, in my mind, is an opportunity worth taking advantage of, especially when coming from a mobility-restricted country such as Macedonia. Opportunities of this kind are almost your only way of exploring what lies beyond your borders, on the other side.