The goal of Young 2400 is to increase the social mobility of youngsters of ethnic minority background. This group of youngsters often find it difficult to navigate in the Danish society while staying true to the cultural background of their families. The project coordinator explains:
“If their parents have another ethnic background than Danish, some of these youngsters have experienced a kind of cultural division by growing up in Denmark”
For some of these youngsters, establishing a life for themselves within education, employment and civil society is difficult. By providing role models, Young 2400 shows the youngsters different ways to do so. Furthermore, it is a goal of the project to increase the understanding between youngsters of different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, thus strengthening the social cohesion. Thus Young 2400 is both a people- and place-based arrangement. The strategy of the project is to present the youngsters with a role model, a ‘good example’. The role models are themselves young people of ethnic minority backgrounds who share their personal stories and experience on subjects such as discrimination, bullying, conflicts with parents and choice of education. The idea is for the youngsters in the audience to identify with the role models, to empower the youngsters to make a good life for themselves and to share experience and to discuss sensitive subjects; subjects that can be difficult to discuss with teachers and parents. As the youngsters and the role models have had a similar upbringing, the hope is that the youngsters will be able to identify with the stories of the role models.
Young 2400 is organised as a volunteer-based project under Save the Children Youth. It was initiated in 2006 in Bispebjerg, hence the name as 2400 is the postal code of Bispebjerg. Today it is a city-wide project. It is financed primarily by Copenhagen Municipality with additional funds from the Ministry of Children, Gender Equality, Integration and Social Affairs. Resources are primarily used on training the role models, social arrangements for the volunteers and administration. There are no paid employees. Currently, 18 youngsters volunteer as role models, and further three volunteers coordinate the project and promote it to schools and institutions in Copenhagen. The target audience is students in the oldest classes of lower secondary schools, as well as members of youth clubs and other associations. Professionals such as teachers and social workers constitute a secondary target audience, as the stories of the role models can teach the professionals how better to understand youngsters with an ethnic minority background. The stories of the role models revolve around how they have tackled challenges in their upbringing regarding integration, education and having a dual-cultural upbringing. The project has two main activities. The first is to train the role models and teach them to do presentations. The second is the actual presentations, which are made at local schools and other relevant institutions. In Bispebjerg, the role models have made several presentations, e.g. at a local school and at the Pastry Hill Integration House.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Diversity is fundamental to the project with its focus on how youngsters deal with the two different cultures influencing their lives. Hyper-diversity is addressed in that the project acknowledges the uniqueness of every individual beyond merely belonging to an ethnic category. Still, focus is primarily on ethnic-cultural diversity. The project takes a pluralist approach, perceiving diversity as a strength for society (Syrett & Sepulveda, 2012): the role models endeavour to convey to the youngsters that having a non-Danish ethnic background can be an asset as it gives them an understanding of different cultural perspectives. The project coordinator explains:
“They [some of the role models] start out by telling the story about how they throughout their upbringing they have felt that it [the multiple cultures] has been difficult, but that later on they discovered that it gives something”.
An equal distribution of gender amongst the role models is preferred, and although the experience is that it fluctuates from year to year, all in all this is achieved. Thereby it is acknowledged that gender influences the experience of being an ethnic minority youngster, and thus that the different aspects of diversity interact.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The most important external success factor of Young 2400 is to be a part of such a well-known and respected NGO as Save the Children Youth. This makes it easier to recruit volunteers and role models. The youth-to-youth constellation of the project is the key internal success factor. The audience’s identification with the role models is what makes a difference, and the role models can inspire their audience because they have overcome difficulties in their own lives. To achieve this, the role models need to be taught to do excellent presentations. The social network between the role models is a platform for exchanging experience and a way of keeping them committed to the project.
Two external failure factors are important. Firstly, the limited resources of the project mean that advertisement and promotion is difficult. This can hinder the outreach of the project. Secondly, and related to the first, Young 2400 is not a very well-known project. This makes it very dependent on promotion, thus challenging the outreach further. The internal failure factors are related to the dependence on volunteers, as these can be an unstable resource. The amount of work put into the project varies a great deal, as the volunteer coordinators are at times occupied with other commitments in their lives e.g. exams. Furthermore, the volunteers tend to quit the project simultaneously, resulting in the project having to start more or less from scratch.
Young 2400 aims at helping ethnic minority youngsters to overcome the potential difficulties arising from having a dual cultural background. The project thereby facilitates social mobility. A key element is to make them see their background as an asset. Diversity is thus perceived as a strength. The innovative potential of Young 2400 lies in the youth-to-youth constellation of the project. By sharing their stories and personal experience of challenges and difficulties, the role models work as an inspiration to their audience of youngsters. The project stands or falls with the volunteers: The role models are what make the project a success, but at the same time, dependency on voluntary work is a fragile structure.