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Youth Empowerment, Social Change and Philanthropy: Obama Foundation’s Europe Town Hall 2019

Author: Dr. Stefan Cibian

The event, chaired by former US-President Barack Obama, showed that the potential for leadership among youth is great, but that key ingredients for unlocking it are missing.

Former US-President Barack Obama is showing his commitment towards addressing global and local challenges by establishing and developing the Obama Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world. One of the Foundation’s recent events is the Europe Town Hall, an inspirational event dedicated to young leaders from over 30 countries. The 2019 Obama Foundation’s Europe Town Hall took place in Berlin in early April. It brought more than 300 European youth from around the continent together with former US-President Barack Obama. The event consisted of two parts, a first part where a panel of young leaders discussed their experiences and a second part where President Obama delivered a motivational speech and engaged in a dialogue with the participants. The Town Hall showed that the potential for leadership among youth is great, that inspiration and energy is high, but also that key ingredients for unlocking the potential of youth leadership in Europe and globally are missing.

Inspired and hopeful, that is how I left the town hall. The key take-away for me is that many European youth fulfill their potential while generating initiatives to address real world challenges, such as migration, literacy, inequality, and many others. The boldness of their initiatives, the breath of the covered challenges, and their passion and energy are truly impressive. For example, a young participant is driving a literacy campaign among people of African decent living in Germany. Another young participant and speaker who became a Member of the Parliament in France explained the challenges and opportunities she encountered in her transition from everyday life to the life of a decision maker.

I could see in all stories and questions a common determination to make things better. When together, these young people are more than local change makers, they are real ambassadors of their societies‘ experiences. Together they represent a new way of learning together and forming a global community of societies that are inspired, free, and peaceful.

The setup matters. The participation of former US-President Obama is a catalyzer and his words are a key source of inspiration. Learning about the realities of a US President’s life and office experience, provides useful lessons about the relevance of political institutions in keeping societies together and the patience needed to achieve social change. The President shared with us experiences related to his work, the needed patience for advancing on one’s political agenda, and accentuated the importance of maintaining key moments of personal and family life, in a context of continuous pressure. Barack Obama is able to bring together and inspire today’s generation of young leaders. This ‘convening and inspiration capital’ can generate a global engine for change.

The everyday experiences of engaged youth can also teach us relevant lessons. First, it can show us how difficult it is for youth to keep up their motivation, to find those working on similar issues, to have a voice that is heard, to be able to continuously invest in learning, and above all, to ensure organizational and personal sustainability. These aspects need to be addressed more substantively and while a Town Hall is a good way to start a discussion, this discussion needs to be taken further and transform how we currently deal with these issues. By bringing together a network of partners, the Obama Foundation can explore these limitations in order to unlock the potential of youth leadership in Europe and globally.

*A special thank you to Obama Foundation for the invitation and to Stiftung Mercator for the support offered to attend the Town Hall.

Departments:  The International Center for Global Affairs and Postdevelopment (IC-GAP), Policy Analysis and Outreach Department

Project: Civil Society Sustainability

Regions: Europa, North America

Themes: Youth Work and Policy, Philanthropy and Community Development

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