Paulius Serapinas: Equal access to opportunities for all

You could say it my engagement with equalising access to opportunities for all to all started about twelve or thirteen years ago. I decided to become a scout, first just for fun, and that’s where my involvement with my community started.

Over time I realised that young Lithuanians were not aware of the opportunities they had to get involved in decision-making. Without going any further, I realised how many ideas and solutions for Lithuania my friends had, and how untapped they were; they were unaware of the opportunities they had to speak up and act.

I decided to join the Lithuanian Youth Council (LiJOT), a network of 68 youth organisations representing the voice of youth in youth policy, considered the largest youth NGO in Lithuania. There I started as International Relations Coordinator and later I held the position of Programme Coordinator, focusing on creating programmes and content for member organisations.

One of the main challenges we tried to solve in LiJOT was to create opportunities for young people, with special attention to those with fewer resources living in rural areas and regions. Unfortunately, in Lithuania, there is a gap between the number of opportunities in Vilnius and larger cities and more rural areas. It is difficult to get access and knowledge about available opportunities.

That is why we try to find new and interesting ways to involve young people, and thus prevent them from moving abroad to study and work, due to the lack of knowledge about the opportunities they have in their own country.

One of the main objectives at LiJOT is to strengthen civil society in Lithuania by providing content on civil society and civic participation to boost it. In addition, the NGO also represents young people in various structures on national policy issues, seeking to foster dialogue between young people and decision-makers.

In the organisation, we work on a project called ‘Participation of young people in decision-making processes’. In this project, we organised workshops on specific skills for our member organisations. For example, the first session was on effective communication, another on how to represent your organisation, among others.

The idea is that, after these workshops and seminars, the participants will be divided into different committees at national and regional level and will work on decision making for the public sector in Lithuania on youth policy. I personally think it is a great project and very valuable, as it allows to provide organisations with a lot of new knowledge and practical skills.

One day I discovered the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which sparked my interest. I started to get actively involved, and I wanted LiJOT to play a bigger role in integrating these goals in Lithuania. The organisation decided to get involved and take a strong position in sustainable development, and so we officially started working with the SDGs. We were invited to join the ReGeneration 2030 Summit on the Åland Islands. And in 2019 the SDGs became the theme for the LiJOT summer festival.

At this festival, we had the opportunity to have various international partners, which was a great opportunity to exchange ideas, learn from each other and support each other. To realise that organisations from other countries have the same struggles as us, despite the differences, is encouraging and motivates us to work together and learn from each other. You could say it’s a kind of “quid pro quo”, we see what our partners and friends are doing, and we learn and get inspired; and they do the same with us.

Outside LiJOT, I have worked in the European Youth Dialogue project, in the civic engagement initiative “I do care” and in the Lithuanian UN youth delegates programme. In addition, I also represent Lithuanian youth in the Sweden-Lithuania Cooperation Fund and in the Movement against the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant. I like to be active in different fields and I learn a lot from each of them.

Thanks to these experiences, in 2020 I was awarded the prize “Partner of Youth Organisations”. Getting this award was a great honour for me, and it motivated me to keep giving even more.

Right now, I run a project called ‘Vilnius Night Hive’, a cultural space open to society in Vilnius. I work on tobacco, drug and alcohol harm reduction and prevention development. And I continue to put all my efforts into increasing civic participation among young people and ensuring equal access to opportunities for all young people in Lithuania.