Lessons from Brussels: Exploring Social Initiatives for Youth in Europe

Posted on June 12, 2023
By Layla Belmahi


Léonard a Bruxelles

This resource is also available in French. Click here to access the French version.

Photo Credit: Layla Belmahi 

At the end of April 2023, as part of my duties with the Tamarack Institute’s Communities Building Futures for Youth team (CBYF), I had the opportunity to accompany Concertation Saint-Léonard on an exploratory mission to Brussels. The objective: to learn more about youth civic participation and other issues that concern them (urban safety, living in an intercultural context, housing, etc.), in a Belgian context. The Saint-Léonard delegation, which also included partners such as Accueil aux immigrants de l’Est de Montréal, the YMCA, and the DOD Basketball Organisation, had the opportunity to meet Belgian partners and learn more about the following initiatives:

  • The Molenbeek House of Culture and Social Cohesion 
  • Bureau International Jeunesse (BIJ), in particular, the Democracy Reloading program and the Citizens in Action project 
  • The Foyer des Jeunes des Marolles 
  • Atouts Jeunes Molenbeek 
  • The Etterbeek Prevention and Security Service 
  • Le Community Land Trust—Brussels 

I’d like to share with you two of the initiatives we visited: The Molenbeek House of Culture and Social Cohesion, and Democracy Reloading. 

Providing a physical space and activities for local youth 

The Molenbeek Maison des cultures et de la cohésion sociale was the very first place we visited, and it quickly became a favorite of our stay. Imagine an old school transformed into an intergenerational, multidisciplinary space, run by a wonderful team of contributors, as diverse in their backgrounds as in their expertise. 

Concertation Saint-Léonard

Photo Credit: Concertation Saint-Léonard  

What you can find there:  

  • A Fablab:  the Fablab’ke  
  • A photo studio 
  • A performance hall 
  • A cafeteria that doubles as an exhibition space, the Cafet’Arts 
  • A digital museum, the Micro-Folie 

And other gathering places like the big courtyard, the garden, or the Grand Foyer. 

Concertation Saint-Léonard2    Léonard a Bruxelles2

Photo credit: Concertation Saint-Léonard/Photo credit: Layla Belmahi 

... All to house a rich, diversified program aimed at a wide range of age groups, from toddlers and families to local seniors. In short, a beautiful space where not only the cultures of the different populations living in the neighbourhood meet, but also the different age groups, with a special focus on youth! 

And what would you do in your living environment if you were given a space like this? 

Make our municipalities more conducive to young people’s civic participation. 

Léonard a Bruxelles3 Léonard a Bruxelles4

Photo credit: Layla Belmahi         Photo credit: Concertation Saint-Léonard  

At the Bureau International Jeunesse (BIJ), we had the opportunity to discover the Democracy Reloading project. Deployed throughout Europe, this platform enables municipalities to: 

  • Conduct a self-diagnosis of its capacity and openness to youth involvement in community life 
  • Acquire and develop key skills for conceptualizing, implementing, and evaluating strategies to promote youth civic participation 
  • Promote the emergence of youth-led systemic change 
  • Create a regional (European) network of municipalities in which young people have their place, and participate in democratic life. 

In Montréal, we are fortunate to have a number of forums for citizen participation by and for young people. These include the Conseil jeunesse de Montréal, youth councils in boroughs, and the role played by the Forum jeunesse de l’Île de Montréal in networking them. 

The questions we can explore (in a Brussels or Montréal context) are: how can we ensure that municipalities offer innovative spaces for young people to participate as citizens? How can we mobilize young people from all walks of life, for truly inclusive civic participation? 

Taking inspiration from what’s being done elsewhere to innovate in your community. 

The trip was a great opportunity to take a step back, ask questions and, above all, learn about what’s being done in Belgian neighbourhoods facing issues similar to those in Saint-Léonard. Living this experience with the promoters and partners of the Communities Building Futures for Youth (CBYF) program in Saint-Léonard was also an opportunity to reflect on the deployment of the program, and to consolidate the collective impact approach in the neighbourhood. 

I was also able to witness fruitful exchanges and sharing of learnings with other CBYF communities, such as CBYF Laval, or at the Saint-Léonard neighbourhood assembly. Time will tell what impact this experience will have, but one thing’s for sure: building bridges and learning from each other is a great way to bring about collective change! 

  Concertation Saint-Léonard4Léonard a Bruxelles4

Photo credit: Concertation Saint-Léonard / Photo credit: Layla Belmahi 

Youth, Communities Building Youth Futures, Youth Engagement, CBYF Blog

Layla Belmahi

By Layla Belmahi

Layla Belmahi is passionate about supporting and connecting individuals and groups to achieve greater social justice. She joined the CBYF team to support communities in English and in French.

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