A conversation with EU Youth Ambassador Ali Mahlodji

EU Youth Ambassador Ali Mahlodji is one of the keynote speakers for the Child in the City World Conference coming up from September 24-26 in Vienna, Austria. Ahead of the conference, he spoke about his journey, experiences and hopes.

By Julia Zvobgo, Community Manager of Child in the City

When he was two years old, Ali Mahlodji and his family fled to Austria from Tehran. The journey he has taken since then has been no less impressive. Today he is the European Union-appointed Youth Ambassador and a multi-award-winning co-founder of an acclaimed online video platform called ‘whatchado’. It functions as a ‘manual’ for life stories and jobs. ‘whatchaSKOOL’ meanwhile is an extension of this platform that provides career mentoring for children aged between 14 and 18. Since October 2014 they have been traveling from school to school and have connected with over 80,000 young people. They do this by speaking to students as equals.

‘New Narrative for Europe’

In addition to his role as the Youth Ambassador, Ali also serves as the European Ambassador for the New Narrative. The New Narrative is a project designed to ‘identify a new, encompassing narrative that takes into account the evolving reality of the European continent, as well as highlighting that the EU is not solely about the economy and growth, but also about cultural unity and common values in a globalised world. Europe’s core values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, and respect for human rights are an essential part of the European project.’

The Guardian newspaper has set out a number of misconceptions about refugees in Europe, something which Ali also touched on during our conversation: “So the problem with Europe at the moment is a lot of people say they don’t want to have refugees but when you ask them how often have you talked to a refugee they will tell you ‘never’ and for children who are refugees it is very important to get into a flow of exchange.” Continuing the theme, he explained how refugee children need to learn the language of their new home as fast as possible, but that is only possible if they can interact with their counterparts. “The cool thing is that when you want to learn a language you learn the culture as well. But we need places for that,” he says. Providing places for these experiences is something cities can do to support refugee children.

Ali feels his position as the European youth Ambassador has been the most important role in his career, adding: “The biggest challenge from my point of view is that a lot of adults out there – politicians, teachers, parents, CEOs – when they talk about kids they don’t understand that these kids will be the adults of the future. My challenge is talking again and again to the adults out there who are in charge and in power to educate them to understand that kids are so much more than sweet little things. My role is to educate the adults so they understand that working with kids is working with the future.”

Legacy and impact

I asked Ali what does he want the legacy of ‘whatchado’ and ‘whatchaSKOOL’ to be? “When I first started the whole thing years ago my goal was that one day when my grandkids have their own kids and when they ask their parents what can I do with my life their parents will tell them to check out ‘whatchado’,” he says. “I think when you start a social business you always start something which is much much larger than yourself and your life and I truly believe WHATCHADO is an idea that can change the world.”

Making a tangible difference to children’s rights

“Whatever the challenge is, whether its children’s rights or women’s rights, we need to put our finger on the problem and we need to talk about it. I wish that one day when I wake up we don’t have to talk about it because it won’t be a problem, but until that day there is a lot of work to do. And we need places where we can exchange not only our experiences, but also places we can talk about our fears and anger. A conference like Child in the City is a very good hub to start new projects and create an understanding of what the world is going through these days.”

Ali Mahlodji will be speaking at the 2018 edition of the Child in the City World Conference, September 24-26 in Vienna. Register for the conference here.

Author: Julia Zvobgo

Julia Zvobgo is a Cultural Anthropologist. She is also the Community Manager and Events Manager of Child in the City.

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