Where is the ‘youth is the future’ from 15 years ago?

Monday 26. September 2022 | By: Silke Van Broeck

Where is the ‘youth is the future’ from 15 years ago?

This was a question I was left with after the European Rural Parliament (ERP) that was hosted last week
in Kielce, Poland. I was lucky enough to attend and participate as a delegate of Iceland. The ERP is an
international conference aimed to network and learn from each other’s achievements and challenges in
rural communities across the entirety of Europe.

The conference embodied lectures, panels, workshops, study visits to rural entrepreneurs and gave
space to make connections with other delegates during workshop and network dinners.

A reoccurring concern among delegates from different countries is the housing problem. Just one
example is that house prices have risen steeply in the countryside resulting in locals who are no longer
able to buy a house in their hometowns. As well as preventing potential newcomers to consider moving
into the community.

Related to this issue, a thematic youth workshop was organized with the topic ‘entrepreneurs in the rural’.
When the youth around the table were asked ‘Would you want to be an entrepreneur in the countryside?’
The answer was surprising. They are not ready for the rural lifestyle, they want a vibrant life before
settling down in a rural environment. The answer came as a surprise to me because a lot of efforts are
being made to attract and support the youth in rural areas by the European commission.

A second well mentioned subject is the bottom-up place-based approach. Working on a local level with
participation of the local community in which to achieve the goals they selected should be the starting
and ongoing development method to emphasize in rural communities.

Thirdly, a noticeable amount of time was spent on spotlighting grants. Not only during the panel talks, but
also the study visits were grant colored. This concept of applying for grants has become somewhat of a
‘grant chasing’ in Iceland, but as learned from this conference also in other European countries.

And lastly, one of the concluding messages by the ERP is cooperation between all levels of government
and stakeholders, whilst giving a voice to the rural local communities. The participatory bottom-up
approach fits in this vision nicely. We need to invest more in economic and social developments in these
rural areas. Furthermore, we need to involve the youth in the decision-making process and supporting
them within the community, underlining that ‘youth is the future’.

Taken these points in consideration, rural development should be specific to the area since all local
communities have their specific strengths and weaknesses to explore and support.

As a conclusion from my point of view, we missed the opportunity to discuss an essential key point
during the conference; “Where is the ‘youth is the future’ from 15 years ago?” Are we actively involving
our youth that are now the active people in the communities. Are we listening and supporting them?

This brings me to measuring social capital in rural communities. Theona Morrison (Scottish delegate, and
founder of CoDeL) and I exchanged ideas on the topic of social capital after which she emphasis this
essential topic on stage to share with all of the ERP participants. Our conversation discussed the
importance of social aspects, skills and drivers in rural communities.

Nevertheless, the ERP-conference gave me an extensive insight into challenges of other European rural
communities similar to Iceland, and a warm feeling of willingness to cooperate and share with each

Silke Van Broeck is a master student attending the program 'coastal communities and regional development' at the University of the Westfjords. She is currently writing her thesis on rural development and innovation in rural communities.