Joint ways of overcoming shared challenges are being developed by European DAAD alumni in national and international ideas labs. The first – virtual – meeting of Slovenian, Croatian and Italian alumni took place in May.
Authors: Sarah Kanning and Christina Pfänder
The European Union is facing some huge challenges – though for the time being they are being overshadowed by the corona crisis. However, the situation on the EU’s external borders, constitutional restrictions in certain EU countries, and air pollution levels in metropolitan areas are all issues that the community of states still needs to address. In the run-up to and during Germany’s EU Council Presidency, the DAAD is doing its bit to help tackle the challenges – with ideas labs that pool the knowledge, experience and creativity of its alumni. “We are focusing on solution-oriented, interdisciplinary exchange among our alumni – no matter whether they work in the worlds of theory or practice,” says Dr. Heidi Wedel, head of the DAAD’s alumni department
Just how innovative alumni and alumni associations are was evident at the first ideas lab in May, which was originally due to take place in Ljubljana in Slovenia: in the end, the entire event was held virtually, including the keynote speech, group work, project presentation, author reading and a city tour of the Slovenian capital. For two days, participants in the Adria Ideas Lab – DAAD alumni in various fields from Slovenia, Croatia and Italy – addressed one of the EU’s most pressing problems: migration. “Alongside climate change and demographic shifts, migration is the global challenge of the 21st century,” said Professor Sandro M. Moraldo, a Germanist at the University of Bologna and chairman of Alumni DAAD Italia (ADIT), the Italian alumni association that co-organised the meeting. Migration was also viewed as an opportunity at the ideas lab, however. The 30 participants discussed in four groups how language and art can contribute to a positive perception of migration and the integration of diversity into society, and how an online app relating to migration and education could be developed. “Our objective is to search jointly for solutions to challenges that concern the European Union as a whole,” explains Dr. Kristina Lahl, a DAAD “Lektor” in Ljubljana and a co-organiser of the event. “We are talking about issues that were already pressing before corona – and will remain so even after corona.”
Discussing issues that will remain pressing even after corona
In the coming months, DAAD regional offices and information centres, “Lektors” and DAAD alumni associations in the EU member states, as well as in those countries of the Western Balkans that have prospects of EU accession, will be setting up a total of 14 national events, some of which will also involve other countries. A number of them have been postponed because of corona, while others will take place virtually, like the Adria Ideas Lab. There is a choice of eight focal topics: sustainability and climate change; democracy in Europe; migration; Europe in the world; the Western Balkans – neighbours and potential EU members; studying and researching in Europe; promoting the European way of life; and digitisation and transformation of the economy: these will be discussed using various interactive and results-oriented formats.
DAAD Alumni & Friends, the largest DAAD alumni association in Germany, has selected four focus areas to be addressed by DAAD alumni: Europe in the World, European Values, Migration and Climate Change. “We have received highly promising innovative project ideas from all over Germany that could lead to viable solutions,” says DAAD Alumni & Friends Vice Chairperson Dr. Sabine Englich. “These reveal very considerable interest in the subject of European values. Furthermore, the EU Lab is intended to help create closer networks of German alumni.”
The ideas labs are designed to strengthen alumni networks
The DAAD Information Centre Belgrade left it up to the participants of the ideas lab to select the topic, and will be organising a World Café relating to the European Green Deal. “This subject is becoming increasingly relevant in Serbia, partly because of the problems with smog experienced last winter,” says Dr. Simone Heine, director of the DAAD Information Centre Belgrade. “Furthermore, climate change is also associated with other aspects such as populism.” The World Café will see DAAD alumni from three Western Balkan countries – Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro – jointly debating environmentally-friendly methods of energy production and how to deal with water shortages. “Numerous natural scientists will be present, as will experts in media studies and humanities scholars,” explains Heine. “At the end, we will graphically record the results and report on our workshop in podcasts or short videos.” Daliborka Maldaner, president of the DAAD Alumni Association Serbia, believes that the concept offers a special opportunity: “Our members are highly motivated,” she says. “It is of great value to us to be able to work jointly with alumni from neighbouring countries and generate high-quality results, and then to remain in contact after the workshop.”
The Green Deal is also bringing highly-qualified DAAD alumni together in Poland. The DAAD’s regional office in Warsaw will use input from experts as a starting point for its ideas lab, Small Steps for Big Change. Polish DAAD alumni will develop ideas in small groups. Their own environment and everyday lives – not the grand political arena – will establish the framework for creative suggestions in the area of environmental protection. “The idea is for the individual teams to come up with effective climate initiatives that are above all easy to implement,” explains Jan Bogdanovic, a “Lektor” at the DAAD’s regional office in Warsaw and at the Technical University of Warsaw, who is a member of the organisational team. Participants include representatives of medicine, German studies and engineering – as well as DAAD alumna Marta Gomolla, who is studying conference interpreting. “My generation will certainly experience the consequences of climate change,” she says. “We have a responsibility to do something about it while we still can.” She has particularly high expectations of the input from the environmental activists and experts. “The wealth of perspectives and the practice-oriented approach are good prerequisites when it comes to turning viable ideas into reality.” The event will conclude with an online vote on the initiatives, and a presentation of the best ideas in the German capital.
Originally intended to be the first major EU-wide alumni meeting, the final event in Berlin this year will probably have to take place on a smaller scale due to the corona restrictions. The overall plan remains in place, however: “The winners of the ideas labs will present their proposals to senior politicians and scientists,” says Heidi Wedel.