Dejan, you live in Stockholm, where you work for the humanitarian organization Save the Children Youth Sweden. What are you working on at the moment?
My job is to support children and young people associated with Save the Children to come together into a coalition. This allows children to participate in our charity, which makes it more dynamic and true to its values. The youth organisation of Swedish Save the Children is doing policy and advocacy only, not humanitarian assistance.
This fall we are focusing on the issue of the refugee children who are disappearing in the Nordic region and who are often exposed to violence, exploitation, trafficking, and forced prostitution.
You are still a student, in your final year at the Faculty of Economics in Belgrade, how do you cope with so many different obligations, what does your typical work day look like?
My days are quite dynamic, the good kind of dynamic. I have learned to apply good time management to balance work, studying, volunteering, and relaxing. There are no “typical“ work days.
The journalists from Forbes magazine have recognized you as one of the 30 most influential young Europeans. What made you stand out and what are, in your opinion, your greatest achievements?
Forbes magazine has recognized me for “championing Europeans’ rights and political movements“. They wanted to shine a light on my rich experience in both working with children and young people directly and working on policy making, being able to communicate about children and youth issues to institutions in an effective way to protect our rights.
One of the things that I really enjoyed working on was telling the story of Malala, with Malala herself. We put a lot of advocacy efforts into making sure that the lessons from Malala’s terrible experience were not to condemn the Taliban alone, but also to condemn and break every barrier which prevents children from gaining access to education. A part of the work was to be with Malala when she first addressed the world after the shooting and to moderate a conversation for the press between her and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
You work as one of the associates of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Around 900 young people competed to be among the 15 who were to be selected for these positions. Can you tell us why they picked you?
The selection team was made up of representatives of UN agencies, programs and funds focusing on children and education like UNICEF, UNESCO, UNDP, UN-Women, as well as teams behind the Secretary General himself, his Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and others. Some of the feedback I received was that they appreciated my understanding of what it means to represent a wider group of people and not only speak in a personal capacity. Another piece of the feedback I got had to do with my creativity and my ability to start up, to develop something from scratch. The selection happened soon after I co-created an edition of the Organisation a Day Work, a famous volunteering and fundraising program.
What is your impression of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and how often do you have a chance to speak with him? Did he give you any significant advice that you remember?
How cool would it be if I had an unforgettable quote from him that I’d share with you exclusively and that the whole Facebook universe would share forever after?! But no, no catchy one-sentence advice came out of the time when we had an informal lunch, just a really good conversation where he compared his childhood in a country affected by war to mine. We talked about growing up in conflict zones and the experience of depending on UN assistance. We elaborated on each other’s thoughts to come to the understanding, eventually, that having to fight poverty and conflict in our childhoods, and having to be looked down on by the rest of the world for the rest of our lives because of where we grew up, gets you in the habit of fighting challenges on an everyday basis: racism, patronisation, pettiness, underestimation. The trick is that by facing these every-day challenges you learn how to process mistreatment and discrimination. With that skill, every success you achieve, big or small, feels much greater.
What is your current role as a board member of the European Youth Forum? Share with us some of the Forum’s latest achievements.
I am an elected Board member of the European Youth Forum, a platform of 101 youth organisations estimated to represent over 14 million young people. My role is to co-manage our institutional relations with the United Nations and to co-manage our advocacy efforts for better education and social inclusion. Over the last 20 years the European Youth Forum has had an influence on how young people participate in the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the United Nations, how youth organisations access funds and how young people’s priorities are mainstreamed in society. In the last two years, through the European Youth Forum, I have represented young people’s interests in the United Nations and have worked to plant seeds for a more thorough understanding of diversity, non-discrimination, and power structures in our organisation.
You have had the amazing pleasure and chance to cooperate with the winner of the Peace Nobel prize, Malala Yousafzai. Tell us more about this experience.
Malala is great to work with, she is wise, very humble, determined, and passionate about what she’s doing. After meeting her at the United Nations I later went to see her in Oslo, too, at a children’s festival prior to her acceptance of the Nobel Prize. She gave a good punch in the face to what we call the “age power structure” – she changed how adults perceive children, and I will forever admire her for that.
Since your work is closely related to education, what do you see as the greatest education issues in non-EU countries?
I am really upset about what a privilege education has become, especially in non-EU countries. Education is losing its connection to actual people from average families, and it is no longer treated as a human right. It is now something the elite can buy at universities to burnish their CVs. For others, it is a necessary process of repeating information in a classroom while the real world with threats like hatred of people against each other, apathy, and unemployment are happening outside. The other day I heard that families of children in Serbia who don’t go to school will be punished with a fine; wait, are they not even aware that children can’t afford to go to school? That many cannot afford to have a clean shirt to wear to school, not to mention affording expensive books and school materials?
The biggest issue is how far the current curricula are from the modern-day Western Balkans and how far policy making over those curricula is from the children who are getting the education.
You travel a lot due to the nature of your job – what country was the biggest positive surprise for you, and why?
Greenland was. It was my first time to see a culture with different norms from those in Europe. When I saw Greenland, I didn’t get to know Greenland – I got to know Europe. Despite many social challenges on the island, the people had a unique appreciation for the environment and for other people of diverse backgrounds. It got me to reflect a lot on the values we nurture in Europe.
There are still so many parts of the world, such as parts of Africa, where children don’t have basic life conditions. It seems that temporary charity interventions do not solve the problem. Do you see a solution to this?
I think that the Sustainable Development Agenda agreed to by member states of the United Nations is going to bring about a lot of changes in how we maintain our rights and how we achieve development. It is a new framework which is transforming how we all work, including charities. We are finally challenged to get rid of colonial baggage when we work towards international development. Governments are now bound to put in place not only temporary actions but permanent structures for guaranteeing rights, and the role of charities will be to support that – in every single country in the world. I argue that every country is a developing country and we can, all together, do something about our problems by working to meet sustainable development goals.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I tell myself that one day I’ll make time to start a career in the entertainment industry. That’s what I do in my leisure time. I create games to play with friends, make comedy sketches, write music, watch stand up. I occasionally play tennis, and I bike a lot.
Whom do you admire the most and why?
I admire Global Citizen for their smart use of media and pop culture, I admire Justin Trudeau for apologizing to Canada’s indigenous people, I admire Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera for organising Pride parades in Uganda, I admire my parents for always keeping a positive spirit; I have a weird admiration for the assistants of several eminent political figures, I think they do a lot of the work behind big political decisions. I am easily impressed by anyone who is working hard, has an open mind, and persists to make a positive impact on society.