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Young Cities Belgium Youth Innovation Lab: Workshop Summary

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— 4 minutes reading time

Above: 11 youth participants from across Belgium took part in the Young Cities Innovation Lab in Antwerp from 8-11 April 2022

Author: Sameen Zehra
Associate, Young Cities


This year, Young Cities is expanding its programming into Belgium with the support of the U.S. Embassy in the country. There, the programme is supporting young activists and municipal stakeholders in Antwerp and Liege to launch locally led initiatives that promote social cohesion and peace. The first leg of the programme began in Antwerp with a four-day interactive workshop, known as a Youth Innovation Lab, held between 8-11 April in Zuienkerke, Belgium. With the support of local partner, Roots vzw, the Young Cities team adapted their workshop model to meet the needs of its youth participants who were interested in empowering their peers to address discrimination and anti-social behaviour in their communities. The workshop leveraged a learning-by-doing approach, with a curriculum that centred on bolstering young peacebuilders’ skills in planning and delivering effective and sustainable social change projects. These projects will be developed and implemented over the coming six months.

The 11 youth participants, who had travelled from various neighbourhoods in Antwerp, were able to connect and collaborate with each other during the retreat-style workshop. They gained theoretical and practical knowledge in the areas of project management, strategic communications, monitoring and evaluation, and more, while being provided with ongoing guidance from the Young Cities and Roots teams to build their project plans. The final day of the workshop culminated in the participants pitching their projects to key decision-makers including officials from the City of Antwerp’s Youth Department and Prevention Department, as well as a member of the U.S State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism.

Below are key takeaways from the Youth Innovation Lab, as well as a series of next steps that the Young Cities team and youth participants will undertake. The views expressed in this document are based on discussions from the workshop only, and do not necessarily represent the SCN, U.S. Embassy in Belgium, U.S. State Department, City of Antwerp Government, nor SCN members.

Key Takeaways

1.       Leveraging Antwerp’s youth diversity is challenging but necessary.

Citizens of Antwerp represent at least 180 different nationalities and one out of two young people having a migrant background. While this creates a vibrant youth landscape to work in, reaching diverse young people through community activities and overcoming divisions caused by racial, religious and gendered discrimination are not easy endeavours. Some youth participants expressed wanting to address these challenges through their projects, fostering dialogue and safe spaces among their peers who can benefit from their initiatives.

While this level of youth engagement is promising, participants shared difficulties in being heard by decision-makers in such a saturated field.

2. Antwerp has a vast and active youth engagement space, but more can be done to encourage common efforts.

Antwerp’s youth work has generally been described as very organised and engaged, with at least 193 initiatives active and some groups having operated in the city for at least 50 years. It is not uncommon for youth centres and associations to have contacts and partnerships with city administrations, although there are many informal organisations without concrete operational structures as well. In Belgium, it is easy to register a not-for-profit organisation, and therefore the number of entities is quite high. While this level of youth engagement is promising, participants shared difficulties in being heard by decision-makers in such a saturated field. Youth-led efforts have also sometimes been disparate and disconnected from one another, dampening their wide-scale impact and scalability.

3. Tackling toxic masculinity and anti-social behaviour is a priority for young people.

Some participants shared that many boys in their communities are caught in self-destructive cycles of anti-social and toxic masculine behaviour that harm the community, undermine their futures, and limit their emotional development. The participants were motivated to initiate mentorship opportunities, through sports, social activities and interactions with community influencers to create a safe space for young men to connect to each other and their community and learn to express themselves.

Next Steps

Over the coming six months, Young Cities will support participants in building and delivering actionable projects using the knowledge and skills they gained through the workshop.

1. Fostering youth-led initiatives in Antwerp

Three groups of young people from Antwerp are currently solidifying their project plans to be considered for Young Cities funding to address the following challenges: young peoples’ inclusion in civic processes and local decision-making, religious discrimination among young people of different faiths, and anti-social behaviour among young men.

 2. Providing adequate resourcing to youth-led efforts

Up to 4000 EUR will be provided to each successful team that produces a robust proposal to deliver their projects during a six-month period from May-October 2022. To ensure sustainability, there will be an opportunity for youth groups to apply for further funding after delivery, to continue developing and expanding their projects and impact.

 3. Strengthening City-Youth engagement through City Grants

City  Grants  are  small-scale  projects  Young Cities develops  in  coordination  with  municipal  leaders  to engage with youth and strengthen their peacebuilding efforts. Projects are an opportunity for the city to engage meaningfully with its young citizens, both as direct beneficiaries and as partners. Young Cities will provide up to 6000 EUR and work with city representatives in Antwerp to plan and deliver this project.