ARRIVING IN SERBIA
I approached Belgrade heavy eyed and sticky, with a conscious excitement that was mellowed down by the 36 odd hour trip that did nothing to curb my vigilance and anticipation. I may have been inundated with fatigue, but my senses were alert to the fact that the air view of Belgrade was predominantly a lush green carpet with scenes of water spread across the city and curious looking buildings systematically placed across the horizon.
The humidity was obvious, especially for a traveler who had previously been living in dry sub-zero temperatures. I had nowhere to hide my massive evidence - a thick big black fleece coat.
It was a huge hustle getting my Serbian visa, but it oddly took me all of 60 seconds to get through the immigration checkpoint.
Being unable to locate any of the OYW-Exit volunteers, I bravely made my own way to the prestigious Moscow Hotel - situated at the heart of the city – in anticipation of the scheduled bus to the town of Novi Sad.
After successfully managing to locate some of the conference organizers and delegates and after introductions, food and pictures, we made our way to Novi Sad - approximately an hour’s drive from Belgrade; where we were greeted with light rain showers, light queues at Exit Camp and volunteers who helped us put up our homes for a week – blue and yellow small light tents.
TALKS ON NOVI SAD, CULTURE AND YOUTH
We spent most of the second day at the Cultural Centre of Novi Sad where we were hosted and addressed by Dr Andrej Fajgelj, the director of Cultural Centre, Mr Darko Popic, and Dusanka Ilic; co-founder of MUNPlanet and Kutpoint.
From the presentations of the first two speakers, it became very apparent that the plight of youth unemployment is a wide-reaching challenge that is often reinforced by a few common factors; such as small labor markets coupled with high percentiles of youth in national demographics, inadequately skilled labor forces and unfriendly macroeconomic and social policies.
Dusanka provoked thoughts on what young people can do to alleviate unemployment nationally. She described how she ventured into a new career path by co-founding a start-up company called Kutpoint, with no formal training.
Most of the latter part of the day was spent exploring fragments of Novi Sad. My favorite site was Freedom Square – located at the center of Novi Sad. The Square was an open valley of scattered stalls, surrounded an enclave of towering vintage buildings during the day, and a hectic dance floor with an assortment of musical stalls at night. It was as though the city center had a makeover every 12 hours.
NIKOLA TESLA’S BIRTHDAY
We celebrated the late Nikola Tesla’s birthday (a celebrated futurist and scientist who contributed immensely towards the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system) on the 10th of July by attending two very distinct conferences.
The early part of the day was spent with the Tesla Global Forum at an international conference held at the Fruska Gora National Park where were engaged in thought provoking dialogues. The two sessions that stood out the most for me were a presentation by Dr Natasha Cica and a joined presentation by Umesh Mukhi and Dr Tiago Ferreira Lopez. Dr Natasha, who is a former legal practitioner and one of twelve recipients of the prestigious Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship, is the Director of the Inglis Clark Centre for Civil Society in the Division of the Provost at the University of Tasmania. She predominantly spoke to us about her involvement with youth leadership and community engagement.Umesh and Tiago explained how sustainable solutions can be realized by using sustainable leadership models. This opened conversations on the type of leadership that is required by entrepreneurs, governments, and youth leaders.
The latter part of the afternoon was spent at the Rebrand Serbia Conference at the NIS Business Quarters in Novi Sad. The two things that stood out the most for me at this conference were firstly, a presentation on the birth of the Exit Festival and secondly meeting Gloria Gaynor!
‘Exit Festival’ is a world renowned music festival that attracts thousands of fans from various parts of the word. ‘Exit’ is hosted at the top of the Petrovaradin Fortress, which we hiked up and down every night from the 10th of July; even when it rained.
VELIKI - THE ECO-FRIENDLY HOTEL
Veliki (which means great) is a well-kept restaurant and hotel that has a dated flare to it. We ate most of our meals at Veliki and enjoyed many relaxed intimate chats.The hotel has been renovated with recycled material and it is celebrated for taking an eco-friendly stance in the way it does business.
OYW Ambassadors’ Caucus
When the time came for the Ambassadors to take ownership of the conference; we stepped up to the task with zest and originality. In a big double-decker bright red bus, we drove out to Sremski Karlovci; dressed up and geared for crucial conversation.
Ioanna Fotopoulouled a workshop under the theme ‘Youth Role for Better Governance and Sustainable Development’ by using props and activities that were not conventionally ‘conferency’; such as blind folds, a long light rod, and floor placings which were used to play group games. One of the greatest lessons I learnt from the activities is the importance of trust in a follower-leader relationship, the importance of effective communication in human structures and the need to have efficient information dissemination channels within our governance systems.
Sade Savings, Aris Konstantinidis, Mak Dukan, and Bojana Rajić -on behalf of Milenko Pilic, lead a panel discussion titled ‘Entrepreneurship is a Cure to Unemployment’. I directed an open comment to my fellow African ambassador; Sade, highlighting that her social business – ‘Rise Africa Rise’ – is not merely providing an avenue for unemployment, but it is also contributing towards boosting intra-African trade. ‘Rise Africa Rise’ is a South African based company that supports women led ‘cooperatives’ in the ‘townships’ and it creates pan-African fashion by using African products; such as cotton from the Republic of Tanzania (my country of origin ;-) ). My follow up questions were, and still continue to be the following:
Firstly, what can young people do to ensure that incentives are created for traditional business entities and government agencies to invest in and support social enterprise? Secondly, how can young people create open markets for themselves across African boarders, despite the current bureaucratic trade atmosphere?
By the last day our brain cells had become in-operational. We had a very lazy morning and we spent most of the afternoon playing games and having a chill-session at the beach (aka Novi Sad’s river bank).LAZY DAY
BACK TO BELGRADE
On the 14th, Belgrade welcomed most of us back in preparation for our trips back home. I spent most of the day sightseeing and buying gifts with some of my new friends before we headed to Republic Square where live music was played as we ate traditional Serbian cuisine.
I shall remember these faces for a very long time!