Social Challenges

Multicultural Societies

This section picks up the topic of multicultural societies and will look into the reality of the co-existence of diverse racial, religious, social and cultural groups in Europe today. We will ask how attention to this diversity can help young people from all backgrounds to find their place in society and to contribute to a world free of discrimination and intolerance. 

One important component to bear in mind regarding multicultural societies is the increase in international mobility, which has enabled young people to travel across Europe and beyond to undertake exchange programmes, volunteer abroad or participate in the Erasmus+ programme to study abroad for example. Despite the fact that this has provided young people with invaluable opportunities for learning different languages and cultures, and to enhance their skills and career prospects, it also requires young people to be prepared for such experiences. Demonstrating how to travel safely and be respectful towards other countries and cultures is a vital way to ensure young people are able to contribute to a diverse and multicultural society with the knowledge and skills to appreciate cultural difference and to make the most out of European exchange, mobility and volunteer programmes including EVS, EU Aid Volunteers and Erasmus+.

As well as international mobility and volunteer programmes among young people, the promotion of education, employment and access to vocational training is also an important factor in the theme of multicultural societies. The work that has been developed during our Empower You(th)! project has emphasized the need to enhance societal participation of under-represented groups of young people. Marginalized groups of individuals, including ethnic, religious, sexual minorities or marginalized groups often find themselves unable to be fully involved in training, education and employment opportunities, either through not having the awareness of how to find these opportunities, or through not having the confidence to pursue them, or to understand how their skills match the job or training in question. Even worse, especially marginalized groups of young persons can be subject to criminal processes like human trafficking, they easier can become victims of sexual exploitation and forced labor.

The flux of migrants that have reached Europe’s shores in recent years have unfortunately given those who were dissatisfied with an increasingly multicultural society the further motivation and wish to close our doors to those in need, and adopt nationalist and unwelcoming policies – this tendencies are increasingly found also among young people. The reality of migration, be it of third country nationals, refugees or mobile EU citizens, shows the need to make sure that pre-departure and pre-arrival support and access to basic services for new members of society are up to scratch. Eurodiaconia members working in the field of migration, including Empower You(th!) project partners from Sweden, Italy, Kosovo and Armenia see improved reception and welcome services would enable a smoother integration process for migrants and refugees. Suggestions from project partners envisage better welfare state regimes and provisions that allow migrants to have access to the basic services that would make social inclusion and community building an easier objective to reach – it will be crucial to bring young people from host communities and migrant communities together and foster social cohesion in order to build a common history together and avoid “othering” at the earliest possible stage. If new arrivals in European societies had access to the services and support that would enable them to integrate successfully into the arrival communities, then segregation and hostility towards minorities could be lessened, and multiculturalism could be viewed more favorably by all. 

Although we do see instances of diverse groups living harmoniously in Europe, the co-existence of cultures can also breed tension and intolerance e.g. also in schools. The threats posed by terrorism, the rise of far-right parties and the flux of migrants have seen discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia fueled. This intolerance and racism is often fueled by fear and ignorance of the ‘other’, whereby an individual or group is cast into the role of the ‘other’, or given the status of ‘not one of us’, splitting our community with a ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality that breeds conflict instead of cohesion and respect.  As such, fostering interethnic or interreligious dialogue between young people to foster respect, solidarity and understanding is of paramount importance, and ensuring enhanced awareness and understanding between ethnic and religious groups can improve the narrative and discourse that accompanies our diverse societies and avoid discrimination, hate and radicalisation. 

Discrimination is often made on the grounds of ethnic, religious or sexual difference and in increasingly multicultural societies this is a key issue to be tackled to ensure social cohesion. When society is composed of various groups and cultures with differing traditions, norms and beliefs, the issue of gender equality often arises. Ensuring gender equality can be facilitated through understanding how to tackle gender-based discrimination and to encourage activism for gender equality among all groups. Encouraging young people of all cultures and ethnicities to get involved with activities that promote gender equality and empowerment for women and girls is an important step to tackling gender-based discrimination. 

As diaconal organisations, then the religious component of our societies is often at the forefront of our minds. Through the course of our discussions among the Empower You(th)! project consortium, supporting young people in their search religious identity came back as a recurring theme. In our multicultural societies, the increasing existences of hate crime and violence in the name of religion lead many to move away, change or interpret their religion in problematic ways leading to confrontation. However, diaconal organisations across Europe are building the search for religious identity into their youth work, and bringing people of all faiths, beliefs and together for debate and dialogue. Through facing and acknowledging, rather than shying away from religion and its place in our societies, it is hoped that hate crime and radicalisation can be overcome.

Youth Unemployment

This part seeks to provide a deeper look at the causes of unemployment in Europe, especially among young people. By gaining a better understanding of which skills young people need to find a job, what employees are looking for, and how better signpost access to support and information, we hope to meet one of our project objectives to enhance opportunities for young people, in this case regarding integration into the labour market. 

Recent years have seen a rise in flexible forms of work, however zero hours contracts and unpaid internships represent precarious forms of employment, with lacking stability, progression and regular income. Organisations that offer temporary and ad-hoc work for taxi drivers, food deliveries and store assistants may initially engage more young people in work contracts, however do not provide a steady amount of work, and often still see young people facing hardship and in work poverty. In addition, precarious and flexible work distort the statistics and figures on youth unemployment, leading to the assumption that a higher percentage of young people are in regular and secure jobs, and blurring the lines between employment and unemployment.

As well as flexible and precarious forms of work that are prevalent across Europe, there also exists a mismatch between employees and employers regarding the skills and qualifications required. With high levels of higher education attendance across Europe, we are seeing large numbers of young people graduate from University or training schools across the content. Nevertheless, the number of jobs available remains comparatively much lower than the number of young people searching, which in turn often leads young people to accept roles for which they are overqualified. As well as not being able to adequately use their skills, young people might not stay in such roles for long and further disrupts the labour market and employee retention and satisfaction rates. A lack of communication between business and academia in terms of what is expected by employees, and the skills that are being transferred and built in universities, aggravates this gap between the employers and those looking for employment. It also means that it is difficult to absorb young people into employment, because of the gap that exists between formal or non-formal education and the labour market.

Family or social background also have a role to play in terms of employment and young people’s attitude towards work. The legacy of previous recessions or the continued disruption of the labour market during a young persons’ upbringing can jeopardize young people’s access to the labour market. Eurodiaconia members work with young people of various backgrounds, and they found that this phenomenon of multigenerational unemployment can be because young people’s close ones are they themselves not in a position to provide advice or contacts for potential routes into employment, or may not have participated in further or non-formal education or training themselves. Secondly, young people whose family members are not themselves in work are statistically less likely to themselves find work, either through lacking motivation or confidence brought about by sociopolitical instability or by feeling more secure on benefits. (Eurostat, 2017) Eurodiaconia members come from diverse social and political settings across Europe, and Empower You(th) project partners offer insight into the way that the national and historical context has an immediate impact on employment. For certain countries where it is less common for women to be in full time employment, and where levels of employment among young women have historically been lower, or restricted to the service sector, for example in Kosovo and Armenia, then this legacy may remain for generations. Youth unemployment therefore represents not only a matter of access to jobs, qualifications and opportunities, but also relates to attitude and outlook on work which may change depending on the country context and must be kept in mind when trying to tackle the causes of youth unemployment.

In order to tackle youth unemployment, it is important to enhance knowledge and opportunities not just in relation to work and careers, but also in terms of non-formal education, training and volunteering as paths to employability. Young people are often seen as more attractive candidates for jobs if they have undertaken opportunities to enhance their skills and knowledge through formal training activities at local, national or international level. Regarding the latter, there are several EU initiatives available for skills training, non-formal education and learning including the Erasmus+ which is the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe and will provide opportunities for millions of Europeans to study, train, gain experience and volunteer abroad. The European Solidarity Corps is the new European Union initiative which creates opportunities for young people to volunteer or work in projects in their own country or abroad that benefit communities and people around Europe. The Youth Employment Initiative supports young people who are not in educationemployment or training (NEETs), including the long-term unemployed, through apprenticeships, traineeships, job placements and further education. These represent various initiatives at EU level to enhance employment prospects for young people through training, however similar programmes also exist at local and national level, often managed by the National Agency or Ministry for Education in Member States, or the National Agencies for Erasmus+ in the country.

Following on the topic of international mobility with regard to youth unemployment, raises the question of urban and international youth migration. The permeability of European borders that has been fostered through enhanced cooperation between member states, and programmes like Erasmus+, has seen a rise in youth migration and mobility across the EU and beyond. When young people move to find work either abroad or in larger cities, this leads to a lack of investment in rural areas, and a decline in business and industry given a weaker work force. Further, international migration also brings into question not just the access to work, but the quality of it. There is an increasing move towards a standardization of regulation of jobs and employment across the EU, with the setting-up of European Qualifications Framework or Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills to improve understanding and coherence on skills and competences. Nonetheless, there remains shortcomings in the implementation and monitoring of such tools and frameworks to ensure quality jobs and employment opportunities, which can see young people undertaking jobs abroad disappointed or with the varying quality of work in different settings, which can make future progression or development difficult. Further, given the lack of investment in rural areas, then young people returning home may find it difficult to reintegrate and to find roles, or even organisations, where they can adequately use their skills gained abroad. This in turn leads to a vicious circle, as young returnees often choose to then move to larger cities after time spent abroad, meaning even more of a decline in qualified and trained young people in rural areas. Steps taken to counter the problems linked to urban and international youth migration include enhanced opportunities for social enterprise and social innovation in rural areas to reinvest in local economies and activities through smaller scale activities. This is seen as one way to foster community cohesion and development to encourage young people to be change makers in their home communities through social innovation and through increased proactivity regarding their societal and community participation.

European Identity

This part will look into what European Identity can be for young people today, which aspects are the most relevant for their own understanding of being European and which European Identity we want to help young people to acquire through the project. 

Identity is about people and their understanding of belonging. In a more and more globalized and interconnected world young people see themselves confronted with new challenges concerning multiple identities. They can, for instance, feel tangled between a local, national or European identity. How can we foster the perception of Europe as a common space of European citizens? Especially for children and young people, the capacity to form and maintain quality relationships is essential for how they function within society. Therefore, it is important to identify the key figures (parents, teacher, friends) and places of socialization (home, school, …) and acknowledge their important role in forming and contributing to a positive perception of Europe. The European integration process should be discussed more intensively at young people’s living environment, in the classroom and amongst friends in order to increase young people’s feeling of being a European. 

Education is a key factor that often sparks and enables young people’s first engagement in democratic processes. However, identity building and strengthening of democratic values is not all about formal learning, but non-formal learning too, e.g. through peace movements and development aid movements. Civil Society Organisations like members of Eurodiaconia can offer valuable insights and possibilities to get engaged by creating personal experiences through their projects and daily work. Through that kind of engagement young people can get active themselves and see or feel the impact of European policy decisions on a local/personal level with their own eyes.  

Challenges remain in how to create European ownership, counter radicalisation or how to teach young people the importance of a united Europe as a guarantee for peace. The EU and its responsibility as a global actor and stability anchor for peace and democracy is not self-evident. Efforts must be made to ensure in the socialization process that the historical background (e.g. World War II) is pointed out. Addressing these topics is the foundation of a European Identity. Today’s adolescents are the last generation, who still has the chance to meet and experience contemporary witnesses from that time first-hand. In the future new forms of remembrance culture must be developed and strengthened to promote the common European culture and to keep the awareness of Europe’s heritage alive.   

Challenges exist in today’s society in mobilizing young adults for any forms of (long term) engagement, so new forms of participation need to be found. The Erasmus+ programme should be further expanded and extended to other target groups, especially from the less educated milieu. Being able to travel, get to know another country and language is one of the most important aspects in learning openness and reducing prejudices. Intercultural competence is one of the key factors in the development of a European identity and to prevent extremism.  

Strengthening the European identity and sense of community does not mean abandoning one’s national or local roots and traditions. 

Thus, to live up to the guiding principle of Europe: united in diversity. European identity also means being aware of the European achievements. The young generation in particular is very conscious of these advantages and sees them as self-evident or can hardly imagine a return, such as, for example, the open borders, the Euro or the abolition of roaming charges. Identity is formed through the encounter and interaction with other people and to empower these possibilities for young adults needs to remain a major task.   

European identity also means to assure the certainty and security of the European Union to young people. The awareness exists in large parts that the individual countries are too weak and are stronger together to stay competitive as a global player in world affairs. To be aware of European values and norms, such as Democracy, peace, free movement of goods and people is also something that is valued by that generation, when compared to other regions of the world.

To further strengthen the European identity, new and far-reaching offers and opportunities for people to connect need to be established across borders. The Eurovision Song Contest or the European Championships in Sport are good examples. Through the Erasmus+ project “Empower You(th)” another successful example of a youth exchange between young people and trainers can be seen. It is important to raise awareness and increase the accessibility of European programmes that already exist to make them more accessible also for more marginalized groups of young people, for instance the European Voluntary Service (EVS), the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) or the Erasmus+ programme. There is no need for costly new inventions rather smart improvement of good practices already in place.  


This part will examine which aspects of digitalisation today are the most challenging for young adults in Europe, how the digitalisation of life affects the personal development and their interpersonal skills. Developing media literacy increases their employability and should be at the heart of young people’s perception of European and Global developments.     

Technology and globalisation are substantially transforming work. New professional categories are being created, some jobs are changing rapidly and require different skill-sets than they did a few years ago, and others are disappearing, shifting to new sectors or to other regions. Young people change jobs and move much more often than a generation ago. The average European worker has gone from having a job for life to having more than ten jobs in a career. Despite rising educational levels, the transition from education to work is an increasingly challenging one – in particular since the outbreak of the crisis and in the context of digitalisation.

Technological change and digitalisation are likely to affect low qualified young workers the most as their jobs tend to be at higher risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence or robotics. They are also more likely to encounter a higher degree of difficulty in adjusting to changing jobs and tasks due to technological innovations. At the same time, technological change is expected to generate new and more productive jobs in Europe. Examples can be already found in the transport or accommodation sector with Uber vs. Taxis or Airbnb vs. Hotels. It will be a constant fight for and challenge to use the benefits of digitalisation for the good of people, so that we don’t build new forms of exploitation and inequality. Accessing these jobs will largely depend on skills and on wider conditions that enable and facilitate young men and young women to take on and keep a job. Accessing these jobs will also be more difficult for some people than for others, making the need to address the various barriers to recruitment and hiring that remain, even more critical.  

Whole economic areas are changing, and they continuously must adapt to be still competitive and productive. Young people have to adjust to the fact that more and more IT skills are being demanded and needed to be successful in the job market. In addition, they are demanded a high degree of flexibility. The increased number of working life transitions means young people need to be equipped for change, notably by updating their competences more regularly and developing new IT skills throughout their lifetime. 

Broad in scope, the digital revolution has not yet really captured the economy. But one has to be prepared for that: without fear, but with more initiative, empathy, creativity and the courage to change. Qualities that young people bring with them.

Challenges remain in the responsible and effective use of social media. How can we teach young people different skills concerning different topics, for instance, about the possibilities of social media (such as advocating for social change) and dangers of social media (such as cyber-bulling, extremist recruitment etc.)? Key will be the fostering and strengthening of critical thinking through media literacy. Especially in the times of “fake news” the ability to differentiate and filter news is a fundamental skill. Media literacy education is a key competence for children and youth and is intended to promote awareness of media influence and create an active stance towards both consuming and creating media. By teaching young people to have a critical eye towards media and to consume media in an informed way they learn how to interpret information and communicate more efficiently, which will impact their everyday lives. Media literacy should be mainstreamed through formal education and be an integral part of non-formal education in all countries of the European Union.

Furthermore, challenges exist in risks associated with the loss of relationship with the body, emotions, others and nature. Steps need to be implemented to support young people in maintaining their body-awareness, emotions, relationships, and healthy lifestyles despite virtual reality being a living environment today.   

Challenges remain in countering terrorist propaganda and hate speech on the internet. Focus needs to be on (online) political and religious radicalisation prevention. To date, there are many initiatives and projects that focus on working with young people in schools, youth clubs and sports fields. Although valuable work is being done, there are also areas outside of public spaces where the mechanisms of this offline work no longer work: in the private rooms of teenagers, on their tablets and smartphones. Here, young people (often unconsciously) find extreme religious or political points of view. Regardless of the motivation to search for such content – these are as diverse as the young people themselves – the search on the internet almost always follows the same pattern: search for vague keywords and click on the first results, including controversial topics. This can be often a first step towards political and religious radicalisation. 

Challenges remain in building the needed digital infrastructure, e.g. in fields of E-Governance and E-Learning so that young people can look into a prospective future. Investment into research & development or high-speed broadband would be required to remove the investment backlog. New ways of interactive learning and IT skills (coding) should be represented in school curricula. Otherwise there is a risk that the European younger generation falls behind other global powers and weaken their competitiveness towards them, by not preparing them for the future digital world. The aim should be to build knowledge societies that generate, share and make knowledge available to all members of the society and provides access to public services online. Young people sometimes have difficulties to make their voices heard in regard to topics of digitalisation, because it is also a conflict between different generations and the fear of drastic changes, which is also seen in the current political discussions. Technology is often changing faster than the mindset of employers and workers. The generational conflict and the impacts between the so-called digital natives and the ones without that skills or comprehension needs to be minimized for the future.

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