Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) is an independently functioning institutional mechanism, founded by the Western Balkans 6 participants (WB 6): Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, aiming to promote the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation between the youth in the region through youth exchange programs.
Talks on the establishment of the RYCO were held at the highest political level. At the EU-Western Balkans Summit, held in Paris on July 4, 2016, the Prime Ministers of the Western Balkans 6 signed an agreement establishing the RYCO. The agreement set the main goals of this intergovernmental organization, which include improving mobility and exchange among the youth of the Western Balkans, as well as promoting a series of activities aimed at reconciliation and boosting regional cooperation.
You represent Serbia’s youth in the Governing board of the RYCO (Regional Office for Youth Cooperation), which was formed in July 2016 along with 5 other members of the Western Balkan 6. What are the organization’s basic goals and main projects?
I can proudly say that the RYCO has implemented over 100 projects since its inception and that we have invested over € 2,500,000 in youth exchange programmes while 326 organizations and schools implement RYCO projects. Our success would not be possible without our partners such as the UN, the EU, the OSCE, German, Swedish and the Norwegian government, but also many others. I would like to mention two projects that will be implemented in the next period. The RISE project focuses on young social entrepreneurs from the region. We are currently in the process of selecting the participants. The plan is to support over 200 young social entrepreneurs, and the idea is to work on intercultural learning and reconciliation through entrepreneurship. The ROUTE WB6 project will enable the creation of a regional volunteer network, but also facilitate advocacy activities to change and harmonize the legal framework related to volunteerism in the region, in each of the contracting parties’ countries.
Why is the integration of young people important in terms of mobility, education and exchange in the WB region?
Prejudices and stereotypes that exist between young people in the Western Balkans could be overcome through projects implemented by the RYCO and it is therefore crucial that young people from the region meet, exchange experiences and make friends through various social, cultural and educational activities. RYCO recognizes young people as drivers of change in society and for this reason, our Governing board implements the principle of co-management. This principle shows that the voice of young people is valued as much as the voice of government representatives and, more importantly, the principle of co-management enables young people to decide on issues concerning themselves.
“RYCO is a guarantor of European values through its activities that contribute to respecting human rights, the promotion of diversity and democratic values”
Recently, five youth representatives from the RYCO issued a statement on the global crisis caused by COVID-19 and its impact on youth in the Western Balkans. What did you specifically point out and appeal to in that statement?
Given the negative consequences of the pandemic that young people in the region are facing, we addressed a statement to the RYCO signatories, but also the relevant stakeholders. First of all, we encouraged the most important actors not to give up on regional cooperation, regardless of the current situation. We then appealed to the RYCO’s contracting parties to always take into account the interests of young people when reshaping educational processes during a pandemic. Then, we encouraged the contracting parties to devise policies that will address the problem of growing youth unemployment. Finally, we called on all relevant actors to enable young people to participate in decision-making processes as well as to address the issue of their mental health during the crisis.
Can the young people in the Western Balkans, assembled in such organizations, bring the members of the Western Balkans 6 closer to the European Union and its values?
RYCO is a guarantor of European values through its activities that contribute to respecting human rights, the promotion of diversity and democratic values, as well as the promotion of regional cooperation, the European spirit of tolerance and intercultural learning. In order to understand the connection between the EU and RYCO, I would like to mention that the agreement on the establishment of the RYCO was signed under the auspices of the Berlin Process, which is an intergovernmental initiative for the EU to support region on their way of becoming members of the European family. The Berlin Process aims to provide greater regional connectivity in infrastructure and economic development, along with youth policy. RYCO is its most successful story.