Future Leaders Delve into Global Citizenship and Smart Cities at Young BSF

Young international leaders were kept busy at the Young Bled Strategic Forum (YBSF) as they tackled the Generation of Global Citizens over the weekend. It was all about smart cities, youth mobility and participation, and intergenerational cooperation for some 30 participants from all over the world.

Welcomed at the opening ceremony and networking event in Bled on Friday by Mr Peter Grk, Secretary General of the Bled Strategic Forum (BSF), Mr Klemen Ponikvar, Programme Director of the YBSF, and Ms Sabina Đuvelek, Business Challenge Coordinator, the participants really rolled up their sleeves on Saturday morning when they travelled to Ljubljana to engage in a debate on smart cities at Town Hall.

To get the debate off, the participants were presented Ljubljana’s stint as the European Green Capital of 2016 as well as Ljubljana’s vision through 2025 focusing on green development, by Ms Simona Berden of the Municipality of Ljubljana.

The moderator, Mr Blaž Golob, the CEO of SmartIScity, pointed out that there were more than 120 definitions of what a smart city is. Broadly speaking, smart cities are places where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies to the benefit of its residents and businesses. “Is there a cognitive, a self-learning city somewhere in the future,” he challenged the participants. Also highlighted was the need for smart cities to be made for citizens, with Mr Rajendra Kumar, an architect at 100 Indian Smart Cities saying: “Cities are always for citizens, whether we’re dealing with a population of 100,000 or a million.” Another point, already touching somewhat on the topic of the second panel, mobility, was raised by both Mr Mark Boris Andrijanič, a member of Uber’s Public Policy team for Central and Eastern Europe, and Mr Julij Božič, Chief Innovation and Digital Officer at BTC, who stressed that “it is all about changing the mindset in mobility”.

At Ljubljana Town Hall, the future leaders were also addressed by Mr Zoran Janković, Mayor of the Municipality of Ljubljana, who, turning to the Slovenian capital, explained that building cities was all about vision. “We started to teach our children in kindergartens ten years ago to sort waste,” he illustrated, pointing to the need of educating people to bring about change. Since its decision to introduce waste sorting, Ljubljana has come a long way: as much as 65% of waste is now sorted at home.

The debate in Ljubljana was leveraged by the future decision-makers to start drawing up strategic solutions for a Sustainable Intersection in Ljubljana, consisting of a zero-waste shop, a café and bed & breakfast – an over-the-weekend task in a seven-team competition – with the help of experts from the municipal utility Snaga and SmartIScity.

To help the teams better mould their projects, the organisers of the Young BSF – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia in partnership with Zavarovalnica Triglav, Association Ypsilon, Snaga, SmartIS City, Municipality of Ljubljana, Adriatic Grupa, IEDC, and the traditional partner, the Centre for European Perspective – set up two further debates, one on youth mobility and participation, and one on intergenerational cooperation.

In the former, the panellists agreed that while young people may feel their voices are not heard, they are, as long as they are substantiated and based on critical thought. This was pointed out by Mr Igor Cesarec, the president of the Association of Slovenes Educated Abroad VTIS, who believes that young people should move past the mindset that their voice is not heard. Mr Samo Novak, a senior adviser at the Office of the President of the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia, pointed out that young people should be empowered, but that empowerment does not come “through an EU-funded project, because it is a long-term project”. Young people have to be taught how to use their voice, because empowerment only comes through critical thought. What is more, empowering “young generations with a voice that is heard and based on critical thought, on genuine arguments” can lead to incremental change – a middle path between no change and revolutionary change. He also suggested “critical thinking should be part of school curriculum.” Touching on youth mobility, Mr Cesarec, who currently lives in New York, stressed that brain drain had a very bad connotation in Slovenia. However, he believes that this should not be the case, as “you can be sitting in the middle of Ljubljana and be less active, contribute less than someone on the other side of the world.” What is more, a country needs to be attractive for people to live, work or study there, regardless of their nationality. “At the very core, you should enable people to come back.” Wherever they have lived, they will bring something back to their country; if they are not enabled to come back, they will not bring back a fresh perspective, Mr Cesarec stressed.

Participants in the third and final panel highlighted the need for the inclusion of the young as well as the elderly in society. Ms Tjaša Sobočan of Simbioza Genesis and Ms Đuvelek, the programme director of Association Ypsilon, agreed that intergenerational cooperation was a two-way process. “Intergenerational cooperation and dialogue are not that simple. The issue needs to be spoken about and acted upon. We have found our place in the world, but we must not forget about others,” Ms Đuvelek pointed out to the young leaders participating in the forum. Mr Jernej Pikalo, professor of Political Sciences at the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences and former Minister of Education, Science and Sports of Slovenia, said that demographic trends in Slovenia, as well as in many other countries, were not sustainable in the long run. “Today, we are deciding for the next 20 or so years,” Mr Pikalo stressed, pointing to the need to involve young people in decision-making.

Geared up with all the information from the panels, the teams took the Sunday afternoon to fine- tune their entries before the evening challenger round of presentations.

The jury, consisting of Mr Janko Kramžar, CEO of Snaga, Mr Klemen Ponikvar, Programme Director of YBSF, Mr Blaž Golob, CEO of SmartIScity, and Ms Sabina Đuvelek, programme director of Ypsilon Institute, selected Game Changers the winner.

The team, Nina Pižorn, Luka Jesenšek, Zala Velkavrh and Gašper Kos, came up with a solution dubbed World 2.0 – a place where sustainable community could grow and promote ideas through active participation. “It throws away old habits and promotes new, sustainable, and environmentally and socially conscious mindset,” the group wrote in their presentation. “The World 2.0 intersection functions as a hub that satisfies several day-to-day needs: eating and drinking, shopping for groceries, learning and making, and last but not least, socialising.” They added to the main concept the idea of a digital platform because “World 2.0 is also a virtual world, based on a platform where people are living their virtual lives in our sustainable intersection”.

Their solution will be presented to business executives, ministers and other participants of the Business BSF on Tuesday.