The Estonian National Youth Council: Making Young Voices Heard

13. Apr 2019

ROGER TIBAR, Chairman of the Estonian National Youth Council’s Management Board shares his insights about the organisation’s activities.

Why and when was the organisation established?

The Estonian National Youth Council was established in 2002 with the aim of bringing all youth organisations operating in Estonia under one roof in order to pool information and consolidate policy positions for the purposes of providing input for decision-making processes at the national level. To this day our primary objectives include advocating for youth organisations and also actively shaping public opinion and the legislative environment to be more supportive of young people. What is more, the Estonian National Youth Council also supports capacity building and offers various networking opportunities for its members.

Our vision is geared towards enhancing the capacity of our member organisations. Youth organisations are the primary agenda-setters in their domain, active participation in their activities is considered natural and their activities have a tangible social impact. Our goal is to provide a breeding ground for a strong civil society for whom active participation comes naturally. We also stand for the inclusion of young people in decision-making processes and represent the positions of Estonia’s youth in various decision-making bodies.

How large is your organisation?

Currently our membership comprises 56 youth associations and 36 youth councils. Altogether, our network engages approximately 25,000 young people from the 7-26 age group. However, if we also take into account our partners that are not members, the number is considerably higher.  At the office we have 10 people, six of them working full-time and one part-time. In addition we also have three project managers and more than 10 volunteers working on their projects around the year. The number of volunteers varies seasonally because our capacity and needs for engaging volunteers varies from project to project.

How are your activities funded?

Our finances mainly come from the Ministry of Education and Research and also from other ministries, depending on the nature of our projects, not to mention EU funds. On top of that, we are working on ways to generate our own income. 

What has been the biggest lesson learned so far?

We like to point out that we are one of the few civil society organisations that have managed to usher in a constitutional amendment through their strong and methodical advocacy work. It took us 10 years to lower the minimum voting age for local government elections from 18 to 16 years of age. The amendment was adopted in 2017 and the first local elections welcoming younger voters were held later that year.

Internally, during the past 10 years the people in our teams and management have changed, but our end goal remains the same. Thus, standing firm on our positions for such a long time is definitely a valuable experience that we’ll always have. At the same time, each new initiative and project offers a unique experience because people who are familiar with project-based working know the importance of meticulous reporting and the effort it requires. 

What is the most exciting thing you are currently working on?

Right now we are in the middle of important negotiations with the Ministry of Education and Research to agree on the new funding system for youth associations and increase operational grants that have remained unchanged for years. All this work is to ensure that youth organisations have enough resources to carry out their activities and keep their people motivated. Devising a new system is a new experience for all of us because as soon as talk turns to money the discussions dry up quite quickly. However, this time it’s not an option.

In addition, we are taking part in the drafting of the Estonia 2035 strategy document as the stakeholders representing the positions of Estonian youth. The upcoming elections in March 2019 are another important milestone worth mentioning because we are organising a series of events, incl. shadow elections, debates, world cafes, seminars and this year we are also trying out e-lectures form visiting experts. Altogether 25 events in the course of 10 months in order to ensure that the voices of young people would be better represented in social processes!

What can other NGOs learn from you?

For starters, how to engage young people effectively. From our perspective, the engagement of young people is just as important as any other age group. We have relevant competence in youth participation and all NGOs need new blood to ensure long-term organisational sustainability and on a larger scale, civil society organisations play an important role in fostering an active citizenry. In this respect, we are always ready to share our expertise through trainings or consultations.

What about your own organisation, where do you see further growth opportunities?

Measuring the impacts of our activities is something that all organisations need to do. We are devoting increasing attention to collecting and managing up-to-date statistical data. However, considering the difficulties associated with effective impact assessment, it is important to learn from others and also experiment ourselves in order to enhance our knowhow in this matter.

Additionally, we are focusing on generating our own income. This year we have managed to do that through trainings but marginal gains could always be bigger. Who wouldn’t want to be relieved of project-based work and do what they wanted whenever they wanted?

If you were given 3 million euros to spend in one year, no strings attached – what would you do with it?

We would invest it in youth organisations because their resources are always limited. We would definitely put some of that money into project funding that has proven successful in our work. Offering project funding on simplified terms has been one of our trademarks. If we could do it on a larger scale then it would make a considerable difference for Estonian youth.

At the same time, we would also use the classical approach, i.e. invest in ourselves and acquire real estate that would eliminate rent fees from our annual budget. Creating a motivating working environment is also of great importance to us. In the context of having millions to spare, it wouldn’t require much to have a significant impact on internal atmosphere and it would enable us to develop an environment where young people would be eager to work in the future. It would also allow us to correct one of the major problems that plagues our current office space – improving accessibility for people with physical disabilities.