Engaging Youth Voices for Social Inclusion: A Retrospective on the 5th European Policy Dialogue Forum in Rotterdam
In an era marked by increasing global challenges and societal divisions, the 5th European Policy Dialogue Forum (EPDF) recently concluded in Rotterdam, Netherlands, presented a vivid tableau of unity fostering belonging and dialogue. This landmark event, organized by the International Dialogue Centre - KAICIID, unfolded over three impactful days from November 13 to 15 and transcended barriers by bringing together representatives of seven religions, a vibrant youth contingent, and key policymakers of up to 130 participants all together.
The forum's theme, "Inspire, Connect, Engage," resonated throughout its plenaries and sessions, manifesting in three thought-provoking input papers that formed the nucleus of discussions. These sessions, imbued with the spirit of cooperation, were a collaborative effort involving the European Council of Religious Leaders/Religions for Peace Europe (ECRL/RfP), the KAICIID - supported Network for Dialogue, Multicoloured Religions Rotterdam, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the Netherlands.
A significant portion of the attendees, accounting for 33%, were young individuals aged 18 to 30, underlining the EPDF's commitment to empowering youth as agents of social inclusion in Europe. This demographic representation highlighted the urgent need to address the multifaceted challenges confronting young people today, including conflicts, climate crises, and economic instability. Notably, the forum also shone a light on the rising tide of hate speech and its corrosive impact on social cohesion.
Dr. Zuhair Alharthi, Secretary General of the International Dialogue Centre - KAICIID, eloquently articulated the forum's ethos, emphasizing the pivotal role of dialogue in bridging divides and fostering understanding among diverse groups. His words underscored the importance of cities and urban planning in facilitating community engagement and balanced solutions.
In his keynote speech at the 5th EEPDF, H.Em. Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis, the Metropolitan Elder of Chalcedon, emphasized the importance of active solidarity in protecting migrants and refugees, as opposed to mere passive tolerance. He highlighted the need for people of faith to exhibit more courage and integrity in order to form communities of conscience aimed at eradicating hate.
Imam Yahya Pallavicini, President of the European Muslim Leaders Majlis (EuLeMa), spoke in his keynote about the critical journey of transformation. He emphasized the need to confront challenges by moving beyond narrow-mindedness that traps individuals within artificially created identities, which are often far removed from reality.
The forum's program was thoughtfully structured around three central themes, each tethered to an insightful input paper: "Words that heal," "Cities fostering belonging," and "Leadership in action." These themes explored the power of dialogue in countering hate speech, the role of urban spaces in creating inclusivity, and the amplification of youth leadership in decision-making processes.
Mr. Mohammed Shehadat, Director of the Youth for Peace Initiative in Switzerland, emphasized that young people can truly make a difference and contribute to a brighter future for both themselves and others when they are provided with opportunities and actively involved by decision-makers.
Chief Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister, the Community Rabbi of Vienna and a Board Member of the Muslim Jewish Leadership Council (MJLC), stressed the importance of collaboration among religious leaders in Europe. Hofmeister expressed his concern about the increasing polarization on social media platforms, where opinions often overshadow facts, leading to societal divisions.
As the curtains fell on the 5th EPDF, it left behind a legacy of heightened awareness and a roadmap for tangible change in European cities and communities. The forum stood as a testament to the power of collective efforts in shaping more inclusive and cohesive societies in European cities, setting a precedent for future dialogues and collaborations.
The EPDF continues to be a beacon for religious actors, policymakers, and experts, promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue as vital tools for addressing Europe’s current divisions and fortifying social cohesion. The forum's success in Rotterdam not only reflected its past achievements but also laid the groundwork for future endeavors in fostering social inclusion and unity across Europe.
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