“The future of our society lies on the opinion leaders of tomorrow.”
Reinhard Werner shared with us his experience with the EYDC and the collaboration between the educational world and the petrochemical and plastics industry.
EPCA: This is now the third year running that you and your team are in charge of the organisation of the European Youth Debating Competition (EYDC) for EPCA and PlasticsEurope. We are grateful for this continuous cooperation and we thank you for having taken some of your time today to answer our questions. Can you please briefly present young leaders GmbH and explain to us why you are specialized in organizing debates such as the EYDC?
RW: young leaders GmbH began in 1974 as a students’ initiative and is now a subsidiary company of a non-profit foundation. young leaders GmbH identifies, addresses and invites young people to seminars, youth press congresses and academies. The target audience for these activities are youngsters, aged 15 to 20 years old, that are already engaged as speakers of student bodies, editors of students’ newspapers, in leading function in boys and girls-scouts, as speakers of youth projects in churches, political parties and civil society networks. Everywhere where these youngsters bear responsibilities, motivate and integrate others into their group, are “role models”, in one word: young leaders.
Such young leaders are the peers other youngsters get inspired by. In old times, youth were inspired by fathers and teachers. When I was young, we learned from charismatic leaders: politicians like John F. Kennedy and Hồ Chí Minh, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Today, youngsters are inspired by peers of the same age. To reach them, you first have to reach their young peers who are the leaders. We do it on behalf of governments, industries and non-profit organisations. “We further those who further others”. Youngsters who engage themselves in voluntary service in a community, who bear social responsibility, integrate others, are ‘role models’. young leaders GmbH is active worldwide – except in Australia.
For the second half of your question, EYDC is an example of a cooperation between the petrochemical and plastics industries and the educational sector. We identify and invite youngsters in nine different countries to debate about a topic relevant to them and the industries, combining the chances for the petrochemical and plastics industries to connect with the youngsters and for these smart young people to develop further. The young people get the chance to speak up, to debate according to defined rules, compete and learn to respect others with different point of views. In this way, they not only develop themselves, but they also learn to develop respect for youngsters who have other opinions and are from different cultures. “Every occasion, such as National Finals and the EU Finals, is a little step forward, a LEGO brick against future conflicts”.
The industry has the chance, through EYDC, to meet the young leaders, to exchange arguments, to present themselves and most importantly, to impress the youngsters because they are moved by the fact that they are heard by the VIP’s of industry, science and media. Normally at school, they have to listen but here for the whole afternoon they are listened to. This is a situation that they will never forget. The youngsters will share their experience which will influence many other peers. The industry, the youngsters and the European idea are winning because the finalists come from all over Europe to the European Grand Finals in Vienna.
EPCA: Can you please tell us more on the lessons learned, challenges and opportunities from your collaboration with the educational and industrial sectors, through this project?
RW: We have already talked about it in the previous question. What I can add is that it is quite a challenge to convince teachers, principals and the parents to allow their students to leave their school for one or two days in order to participate in the National Finals and the European Finals. The issue is mostly about security but also about the anxiety of teachers, principals and parents. There is a certain percentage of schools, that are reluctant to allow the participation of their students because they are afraid that this is just an “industry PR event”. We solve this issue by frequently visiting schools and government officials to present and promote the idea and the EYDC project. But once the youngsters have participated, often accompanied by teachers, they are all very enthusiastic about the project, including the teachers.
EPCA: This year’s topical theme of the EYDC is “Living, learning, working and moving in Smart Cities of the future: with or without plastics and petrochemicals?”. From your point of view, how did the students tackle the topic during the several National Finals?
RW: The topic “Living, learning, working and moving in Smart Cities of the future: with or without plastics and petrochemicals?” was proposed by Mrs Caroline Ciuciu, EPCA CEO, in line with the main theme of the 52nd EPCA Annual Meeting and I knew immediately that this topical theme was the right one to take because it is fascinating, and it fascinates the youngsters because they are interested in their future, they are idealistic and optimistic. This is a privilege of the youth, which makes them open for discussion about these topics and enables them to think more deeply about the subject.