#InTheirEyes #EU4YOUth: not just a competition - a great human adventure 2.0!

14-02-2020
Rym Benarous

On 19 December 2019, the EU Neighbours South Programme launched the regional #InTheirEyes #EU4YOUth competition aimed at digital influencers in eight countries of the Southern Neighbourhood: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia. An intrepid human adventure had begun!

Over the space of two weeks, over 100 young people sent in their applications, showing their enthusiasm to take part in the contest. Through their videos, they expressed their ambitions, expectations and hopes for the future. They all demonstrated great talent and creativity, giving the judges a difficult task, since all the entrants were interesting and deserved to be chosen. At the end of the tortuously difficult selection phase, 16 digital influencers were chosen, two from each country. The selected entrants stood out thanks to their high visibility on social media, their innovative approaches to video production and a real sense of responsibility and engagement despite their young age. The adventure could now start in earnest!

On the morning of 6 February 2020, Ines, Nour, Namees, Ahmad, Tasneem, O'day, Christina, Rebecca, Amin, Mohamad, Nessrine, Ihsane, Maamoun, Yassine and Sofyene (and Ahmed remotely from Cairo) met for the very first time in Tunis. Initially, they exchanged curious glances and shy smiles...but things didn't stay like that for long. After a few hours, the ice had melted and the influencers were getting on like a house on fire. Eruptions of laughter and lively discussions were soon ringing out.

Despite coming from a range of countries with different cultures and backgrounds, the influencers had all come together for one goal: to spread hope in their respective countries by sharing success stories of young people like them who have seized the opportunities presented to them, particularly through programmes funded by the European Union.

Thanks to their high profiles and strong credibility, especially among young people, it is now Instagrammers, Youtubers and Facebookers who shape public opinion and their followers trust them completely. They are a reflection of their generation and their posts have a greater impact than countless speeches ever could.

Therefore, in the Arab world where young people everywhere are complaining about the lack of employment opportunities, and the dearth of prospects and practical initiatives, the regional campaign #InTheirEyes aims to support young people and raise their awareness about the opportunities, funded by the European Union, available in the Southern Neighbourhood countries.

A training course in storytelling and innovative content was organised in Tunisia in partnership with the sister project Open Media Hub, from 6 to 8 February, to enable participants to gain a better understanding of the values advocated by the European Union and the initiatives carried out in different countries, but also to boost their storytelling and audiovisual production skills.

The opening session was attended by His Excellency, Mr Patrice Bergamini, European Union Ambassador in Tunisia and His Excellency, Mr Alan Bugeja, European Union Ambassador in Libya, along with representatives from both delegations and Ms Eleni Papoutsi, Programme Assistant for External Relations at the European Commission (DG NEAR). They all gave messages of encouragement to the attendees and urged them to believe in their potential.

International coaches and experts Mabrouka Khedhir, Zoya Charles, Rached Cherif and Simon Hustling led the various sessions, some of which brought together the influencers and Tunisian journalists to encourage a fruitful exchange of experiences. During the training, the attendees got the chance to learn more about innovative video content, journalistic methods, storytelling techniques, digital impact and audiovisual production. 

As well as the theory classes, on Friday 7 February, the training participants visited the Medina of Tunis to experience European Union-funded projects at first hand. This included a visit to Dar Ben Gacem Al Kahina, a charmingly authentic guest house with extremely elegant architecture. The host and owner of the property, Leila Ben Gacem, welcomed the group with great warmth, impeccable manners and a broad smile. After a tour of the property which the attendees thoroughly enjoyed, they were treated to a hearty lunch. They were served up Tunisian specialities, including the famous vegetable couscous and a wonderful hazelnut assidat. Many of the influencers tried these refined dishes for the first time and shared their culinary discoveries with their followers, along with the history of the guest house which was renovated thanks to funding from the EBRD's “Advice for Small Business” programme, funded by the European Union as part of the PACS.

After finishing the meal and taking countless selfies, the group split in two groups to wander through the narrow streets of the old city and discover some of its hidden gems. They were guided by young professionals who all live in Medina and who were all trained as part of the Doura fel Houma and Douécha projects, set up by the Collectif Créatif association and funded by the European Union. The influencers got the chance to visit handicraft boutiques and the Dar el Harka co-working space for creative industries, and met young people just like them, working to improve the daily life of their fellow residents. 

By the end of the three days of training, the influencers had produced some wonderful videos. More videos will be produced over the next four months, and some will be awarded prizes as part of the #InTheirEyes #EU4YOUth competition during the closing ceremony to be held in Brussels in June at the margins of the European Development Days (EDD 2020). Valuable prizes will be handed out to the winners.

In addition, one of the participants from each country will receive the honorary title of European Union Goodwill Ambassador. The ceremony will be attended by senior officials of the European Union, representatives of different EU delegations in the Southern Neighbourhood countries and some famous faces, including celebrities Yara and Douzi. 

Although it is a contest where rivalry and competitiveness should be the order of the day, it was admirable to see the influencers share such authentic signs of friendship and support. Their time in Tunis was punctuated by laughter, trust, pranks, jokes, night-time walks, sweet treats, shared advice and even improvised lessons on SEO. The photos speak for themselves, making the judges’ task even harder to pick the winners in the final stage of the competition. However, #InTheirEyes #EU4YOUth is much more than a competition - this wonderful human adventure has just begun and will carry the dreams of young people in the Arab world seeking opportunities and hope!