COMMENT: Youth Time looks to make emerging voices heard

By bne IntelliNews July 29, 2015

V. Benjamin Rahr in Hamburg -


In his book “Emerging Markets in an Upside Down World”, Jerome Booth, chairman of bne IntelliNews’ parent company New Sparta, talks about the age-old habit of considering the impact of the developed world, “the Core”, on emerging markets, “the Periphery”, while ignoring any impact that the Periphery might have on the Core.

Booth focuses on how the Western business media perceive the impact of Western economic and financial trends on emerging economies – the crisis in Greece being a case in point. Booth makes the point that developed and emerging economies are rarely subject to such a balanced comparison. The role of emerging markets in setting global prices for goods and services – a reflection of their now nearly 60% share of global GDP – continues to be marginalised by global fund managers.

In the political and cultural spheres, Western dominance is even more apparent – to the increasing dismay of many citizens in “non-Western” countries. At the “Youth Time Summer School” that took place in June in Hamburg, carefully selected students from over 25 countries, most of them young social entrepreneurs, participated in seminars designed to teach skills to make marginal voices heard and thereby mitigate the effects of Western dominance.

 “Youth Time is a movement, founded in 2010 in Prague by a group of students from 20 countries,” says its co-founder and president Julia Kinash. “It is a non-profit organization that offers young people a platform to participate in projects aimed at fostering a social cross-border debate, and to meet other like-minded ambitious social entrepreneurs.”

Before being invited, applicants – primarily from non-Western countries – have to go through a long drawn-out, rigorous selection process. Those 30 who can most convincingly demonstrate their social responsibility and commitment to social causes eventually make it to the Summer Schools that are held each year in a different country.

And Youth Time wants them to share their personal experiences and ideas with the group. As Kinash stresses: “We are not political, we are not economical. We are about social impact”. However, most participants admit that, in the words of one, “conversation becomes political…  because politics is the continuation of social life. So society is about politics and politics is for society.”

Return to the individual

Besides youth unemployment and the “international media pushing an agenda”, most participants – all aged between 22 and 27 – feel that globalisation promotes only capitalist philosophy and Western lifestyles, even as it opens up new opportunities to citizens of poorer nations.

Alexej Stepanov, a Youth Time coach from Serbia, claims that capitalist rhetoric has lost focus in so far as it looks at people as dispensable”. His ambition is to return the focus to individuals and give them “the necessary skills to go back to their local communities and make a visible and viable change”. Several participants pointed out that there are more essential things than economic efficiency, noting that some non-Western cultures value equality and respect more highly than materialism.

The Industrial Revolution in Europe followed by technological progress and economic power in the US put Western culture on a pedestal. The books of Dickens and Hemingway, the music of Frank Sinatra and The Beatles, and the movies of Stone and Spielberg, along with Coca Cola bottles and GM cars, spread Western values and ideas around the world.

The emergence of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and of English as the pre-eminent language contributed further to the propagation of Western culture, thereby generating cachet and status for everything Western. It spurred aborigines in Australia and Zulus in South Africa to consume Western food, play Western music, and to wear ManU shirts.

A resounding theme at Youth Time was that young people around the world want to change this perception. Students from Gambia and Kazakhstan want to be heard and respected. They have also realised that if smaller nations are disunited, they become vulnerable to the big players to allot power to themselves.

As Jerome Booth recently wrote in his blog: “When one’s self-identity is shaped by foreign prejudices, transmitted through Western media, it can cause annoyance if not anger, cognitive dissonance and inferiority complexes. The blithe lack of perception of this psychology by those in the Core adds insult to injury.”

Now, as non-Western nations, especially in Asia, are becoming the new global economic powerhouses, at least some participants of the Youth Time Summer School hope that Western cultural dominance could also reach its end. Well, hope dies last.

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