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Expert paper

Partnerships as a political objective


Good partnership is a key factor in establishing collaborations between partners from the North and South that are as equitable and stable as possible. This is as true for the practice of international youth work as it is for international politics.

by Rolf Witte

Portrait of Rolf Witte

Rolf Witte heads the BKJ international department and is chairman of IJAB - International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Young people from all continents are becoming more and more globally aware. In many countries in the Global South, young people, who make up the vast majority of the population, play an important role in developmental and social progress despite their age group being completely underrepresented in most parliaments. Young people want to take matters relating to their own (better) future into their own hands as much as possible. The order of the day in international collaborations is therefore to take a look at young people and their future and success in life whatever country they live in. It is particularly important to give young people from anywhere in the world an active voice and the opportunity to participate and exchange ideas about how each one of them can contribute to positive social change and so improve their own future.

In order to support young people in this as much as possible, youth work, youth education and youth policy worldwide have to abandon an outdated, not particularly fair concept of collaboration. Official youth policy makers and civil society organisations for youth, culture and education, from international to local level, all have to play a part in this.

Leaving outdated perspectives behind

As described in the practical guide „Global Partnerships“, partner organisations engaged in international youth exchanges can do much to make their collaborations as fair as possible and ensure participation at project level but they will ultimately come up against structural limitations. At this point, youth policy makers in the countries involved are called upon to create progressive general conditions for youth work, youth education and youth exchanges. It is important to work together with the ministries in charge of youth affairs in the countries of the Global South to make a paradigm shift away from a “traditional” development approach towards collaborative youth work partnerships. This great challenge cannot be met by funding programmes alone, which while providing an important opportunity for young people to share their ideas on a practical level, are for the most part initiated unilaterally by the Global North.

According to the BKJ, one of the urgent issues on the political agenda is the initiation of truly collaborative discussions about youth policies, structures and programmes between Germany and interested partner countries in the Global South.

German Child and Youth Services Act as a model

Apart from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, youth policy experts and the makers of the foreign cultural and educational policy (AKBP) should also be included in the reshaping of collaborations with these countries. Development policy experts and representatives of the foreign cultural and educational policy can use the methodologies behind German youth policy as inspiration. The German Child and Youth Services Act (KJHG) effective at all government levels, has a proven and rigorously implemented concept of collaborative partnerships whose principles and experience can also be applied to the organisation of international collaborations. Subsidiarity and the obligation of official and civil society youth work structures to work in partnership are firmly established in the KJHG. This makes collaborative partnerships based on participation opportunities for young people transparent and enforceable. On this basis, those involved in youth work, youth education, youth and development policy, and the foreign cultural and educational policy in Germany should get together to discuss their collective role in reshaping international youth policy along the lines of sustainable global development. They could also redefine their responsibilities and, in consultation with their counterparts in the partner countries, take a progressive stance with a common overarching concept.

Partnerships in practice as the basis for a new form of collective youth work

Many organisations have already implemented a specific collaborative attitude towards international youth exchanges. Young people, in particular, are looking for fair partnerships and want to practise them themselves. It is perfectly clear to most stakeholders that international youth exchanges should not be unilaterally based on the interests of the organisations or the young people from Germany.

The growing number of personal meetings between young people with very different life experiences, facilitated, for instance, through funding schemes such as Teams up!, are a major factor in reshaping international youth policy. It can offer new perspectives and has the potential to create the foundations for lasting collaborations between youth work partners in Germany and countries in the Global South. The purpose and commitment of youth policy cooperation with these countries is to support the structural basis of these projects and partnerships and to place them on a solid basis through the right general funding policy conditions. This type of political framework is the only way to ensure that projects initiated with the aid of Teams up! funds, for instance, have a lasting social impact in Germany and the Global South that goes beyond the group of participants and the organisations involved. There is a common challenge facing government officials and members of civil society who are involved in youth, development and (foreign) cultural and educational policy in Germany and the partner countries in the Global South: It is important both to ensure that processes and insights emerging at grassroots level can be brought to fruition and to create the political framework for joint international youth work through a fair debate based on partnership.

This article is taken from the BKJ's practical guide “Global Partnerships”:


BKJ: Partnerships as a political objective
Remscheid und Berlin, .

    BKJ content

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    Rolf Witte

    Head of international department

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    +49 2191 - 934 82 58
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