Balkan SAYS from the idea to well recognized international youth seminar: Interview with Iztok Štefanič, one of the »founding fathers« of Balkan SAYS

Euro-Atlantic Council of Slovenia will, from 11th to 14th October 2017, organise a 5th annual Balkan SAYS seminar. The seminar, which was funded in 2013, has a mission to is offer a platform for young professionals from the region and beyond to meet and exchange views and opinions, build a mutual trust and understanding and expand the knowledge on important security, political and economic topics of the region. 

There was a long road from the initial idea to the well established and recognised international security seminar. In order to present  the background of the seminar, explain the  various obstacles and challenges on the road and show how the seminar has evolved during the years, we have talked with Iztok Štefanič, former president of the Youth Section of the Euro-Atlantic Council of Slovenia and on of the »founding fathers« of Balkan SAYS

006847391.       As one of the »founding fathers« of Balkan SAYS, could you tell us what lead you to create such an event, what were the main ideas and motivation behind it?

I was lucky to have been working in a team of colleagues, all young professionals finishing our studies and interested in developing our careers in the field of international security. We were actively participating in different simulations, conferences and seminars internationally with different organizations. We wanted to create a unique experience for young professionals, where you could not only learn from the speakers, but above all learn from each other as well. We were motivated by desire to create something new and different and establish our organization, Euro-Atlantic Council of Slovenia, also in this field, thereby also promoting Slovenia among the professional community as an important factor in the puzzle of international security, especially in the Balkan’s region.

2.       What were the main features (leading goals) of the seminar when it was founded?

Our mission was to bring together young professionals from the region of South-Eastern Europe and beyond, to provide them with an opportunity to openly discuss the security and stability issues in the region and to collaborate with international colleagues in order to find creative and unique solutions based on research and analysis under the mentorship of reputable experts in the field.

The main goal of the seminar was to produce conclusions and recommendations concerning security and stability issues in the region, which would be distributed to decision makers and relevant institutions.

Over the years Balkan SAYS has in my opinion successfully been achieving these objectives and it is a pleasure to see it grow and develop further.

3.       What were the main obstacles in achieving the goals of your idea?

When we were developing our idea, we faced several challenges. In the field of fundraising we have been successful in obtaining just enough funds through various national and international grants (I have to especially thank the NATO Public Diplomacy Division), embassies and private sponsors. The difference was always covered by our organization and a lot of volunteer work.

Getting (international) recognition was also a challenge we faced, therefore it was crucial for us to promote our project through our social networks, especially the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association.

4.       What do you think of the evolution process that the seminar had? How would you evaluate its 4th year of existence?

I have remained actively involved with the seminar as much as possible and I am very proud to see Balkan SAYS is becoming more and more recognised by the stakeholders and by the wider community. Every year the seminar is better than the year before, also because we focus on the feedback of our participants and every year the organizing team is growing with new people, ideas and experiences.

5.       Why would you recommend someone to participate at Balkan SAYS? What can participation at such an event bring to a person?

We developed Balkan SAYS as a platform for young professionals from different backgrounds and I honestly believe this is one of the crucial elements for our success. Weather you are 21 and finishing your Bachelor’s in Political Science, 35 with a PhD, or anything in between, if you have a military background, or you are a pacifist, a nuclear scientist or a lawyer, coming from the Balkan’s region or another continent – as long as you are interested in international security, willing to learn something new about the region and the most relevant security challenges in the region and beyond, Balkan SAYS is an excellent opportunity to contribute your part in building and understanding the “security architecture of the region” and grow your professional network.

6.       Acknowledging that there are various different youth seminar existing, many focusing on security, international affairs, etc. What is the main comparative advantage of Balkan SAYS?

Balkan SAYS is different from other youth seminars, because it was created from scratch by a group of young people for young people. We believe in the potential of our participants and build on it to create unique solutions and recommendations for security challenges. We focus on teambuilding activities and encourage the participants to work together. I dare say several friendships have been made in the past 3 years and it is the greatest recognition of our success when people reapply next year and/or recommend our seminar to their friends.

7.       What recommendations would you give to our future participants?

Keep an open mind, share your ideas, and don’t forget to have fun in the process.