10.1 General context
Working with young people in BiH is not a new phenomenon. During the existence of Yugoslavia (SFRY), there were various youth organizations, such as Pioneers, Scouts, the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia and others. The main purpose of the above-mentioned organizations was to promote Yugoslav patriotism, volunteerism, brotherhood and unity, collective action and uniformity, which were the basic values promoted by political structures.
After the fall of socialism and the war in BiH (1992-1995), it was necessary to start rebuilding infrastructure, the economy, various institutions, but also interethnic relations in BiH. During the war in BiH, ethnically homogeneous territories were created, and there was almost no communication between people of different ethnicities in BiH. Realizing this, progressive young people, with the help of the international community in the form of funds and various types of training, decided to organize and contribute to the re-establishment of interethnic ties damaged by the war. In this way, formal and informal youth groups take on the role of peacekeepers and contribute to the reconciliation process in BiH by making youth work a peace building tool.
After the war (1992-1995), it was necessary to reconstruct the infrastructure, institutions, economy and everything else necessary for the functioning of the state. Recognizing this, young people in the late 1990s began various forms of self-organization, trying to respond to the needs of their peers in their communities, and thus contribute to both development of their communities and improvement of the status of their youth. The need for youth participation in the development of local communities and BiH as a whole is recognized by the international community, which, through donor funds and organizing various trainings for youth workers, helps develop organized youth work according to the "western" model, while respecting the needs of young people in BiH.
The activities involving young people at that time covered various areas of interest to young people, from music, theatre, travel, ecology, culture, sports to various seminars, trainings and courses needed by young people to become agents of change in their communities. Through these activities, youth workers tried to influence the value system of young people and help them overcome any prejudices they had.
The political elites of the time saw the youth as a problem, not as a resource. There was a high unemployment among young people, the memories of war have not disappeared yet, and there was a noticeable tendency for young people to turn to ethnonationalism and other destructive behaviours.
At that time, youth organizations in BiH dealt with a wide range of topics such as: peace building, social justice, human rights, social inclusion of young people and similar. However, they had one goal in common, and that is to improve the status of young people in BiH society. They are no longer under the direct influence of the state apparatus, but act at their own discretion, and try to recognize and respond to the needs of young people in the communities where they operate.
It is not possible to find out the number of organizations dealt with youth work in BiH at that moment, nor the exact number of youth workers who engaged in this profession daily on a voluntary basis or were employees of youth organizations. This is partly due to the fact that there is no generally accepted definition of youth work and youth worker in the country, while the competence framework for validation also lacks.
Some of the most noticeable organizations that pioneered the youth work at that time were PRONI Centre for Youth Development, Helsinki Citizens Assembly and South-East European Youth Network. During the first half of 2000, the number of youth organizations in BiH grew, including the Institute for Youth Development KULT, IPAK - Youth Build the Future, Centre for Peacebuilding, Perpetuum Mobile, Youth Information Agency, etc.
All these organizations are dedicated to youth work, and through non-formal education they work on issues of peace building, social inclusion of young people, personal development of young people, and using young people as a resource to develop local communities and BiH in general.
In more recent times, youth work has also gained the dimension of vide response to many issues faced by youth in BiH, starting from unemployment and migrations to violent extremism and radicalism, while applying the non-formal education models, used in youth work, to a number of issues to help young people.
National definition or understanding of Youth Work
Youth work in BiH, at the national level, has not been defined.
At the regional (entities and BD BiH) level, youth work or working with youth is defined differently at each level.
The FBiH Youth Law, Article 4 – Definitions, provides that: “Working with youth means planned, purposeful and conscious youth support through youth voluntary participation”.
The RS Law on Youth Organization, Article 2, defines youth work as follows: "Youth work represents the part of youth activities organized with and for youth, which takes place within the free time of young people and is performed in order to improve conditions for personal and social development of young people and the general social benefits in accordance with their needs, opportunities, and with their voluntary participation".
The BD BiH Youth Law, Article 2, defines youth work as follows: "Youth work refers to forms of socially useful work in the field of interest of youth in which they are involved and which contributes to the improvement of the position of young people." It is important to mention that this Law in the same article defines youth workers by providing that: “A youth worker is a person who works with young people in non-formal and formal content, focusing on personal and social development through a one-on-one and group work”. This is the only formal definition of a youth worker in BiH.