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Enviropreneurs Generation YE, Flores, Portugal, 25 September- 1 October

Flores, where nature has its course.

The end of September found us in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, on an island not so famous but charming as we had never experienced in our projects. Flores Island is part of the Azores Western group that belongs to Portugal. It has around 3428 inhabitants in an area of 143 km². A UNESCO biosphere reserve, Flores is an ideal destination for eco-tourism and environmental projects. And that’s why we went there!

We are currently facing several environmental challenges that have both social and economic effects on local and regional communities. Innovative initiatives are needed more than ever. The youth exchange “Enviropreneurs Generation” in Flores was born out of the idea to equip young people with the knowledge and skills necessary to dive into more sustainable entrepreneurship!

Youth play a vital role as they carry our hopes toward a better future. The leading target group for this project was the NEETS, not in education/employment/training youngsters that lack opportunities or are marginalized due to their geographical location and absence of proper formal education. Our ambitious goal was to offer them a chance to be inspired by the Azorian nature and explore new entrepreneurial realities.

How did the youth exchange go?

Imagine finding yourself far from home, surrounded by an ocean that seems infinite, together with 44 strangers with whom you might think you got nothing in common. The first days of youth exchange are always about learning names and beginning the journey of transformation from strangers to people that become connections for life. There is nothing more empowering than the feeling of belonging to a community that exceeds the borders of your own country and it’s European-based. Energizers are an essential part of non-formal education as they break away from shyness and get people to smile and open up to the following workshops.

What’s an entrepreneur? Can we become one? Or what’s a startup? Can we build one? The facilitator guided the participants in defining several concepts related to entrepreneurship while getting closer to the project's core. As we set the basis, we began to know more about our own countries and what is the status of rural and environmental activities. The participants researched key figures on national natural tourism, youth initiatives in the environment, natural disasters, policymaking, and projects that improve youth entrepreneurship.

  • Did you know that Sweden has an all-men’s law? This allows all citizens to wander freely in nature, even on private properties! You can read more about it here.

  • Did you know that Serbia has a devil's stone? The unusual rock formation results from natural erosion or, as the local legend says, the remains of the petrification of a wedding by the devil.

  • Did you know Romania owns over 60% of Europe’s mineral water sources? It also occupied the 5th place in Europe to produce natural mineral water.

The primary non-formal method used in this youth exchange was design thinking. This method simulates the process of creating a business by empathizing, defining the problem, ideating a solution, then prototyping it to finally testing it. The participants had the chance to develop ideas that could tackle the following issues:

  • Redeveloping a coal village;

  • Rural development for a village;

  • Build a sustainable agricultural sector for a village;

  • Counter brain drain;

  • Increasing rural entrepreneurship;

  • Develop a village without damaging its landscapes.

We can’t fully immerse ourselves in a new environment without a free day to explore it! We started the free day of this youth exchange by exploring the main highlights of Flores, its diverse fauna, and flora. The municipality of Flores offered us a bus for a half-a-day trip! The island has several lagoons, waterfalls, and natural pools to enjoy. The main highlight of our day was the boat trip to Corvo Island, the smallest and northernmost island of the Azores. Some of us saw dolphins for the first time and tasted the wildness of Azorian fauna.

Diving back to the design thinking method, after several working sessions, the participants came back with 6 innovative business ideas ready to be implemented but first to be pitched in front of the imaginary investors! The pitching session is one of our favorite moments in the design thinking projects. The participants can practice their public speaking skills, trying to be persuasive and explain their project as clearly as possible in just a few minutes. This is what they came up with!

  • A digital nomad village on the island of Flores to attract individuals working remotely and increase revenues in the area;

  • An Agropreneurship hub to connect towns share their resources, and train farmers in the latest technology available;

  • A smart village that creates entrepreneurial opportunities to fight brain drain;

  • Communication campaigns for saving dying towns to raise awareness for public institutions to get more involved;

  • An Adventure park with ziplining and climbing experiences to attract tourists during the winter season in Halkidiki Peninsula in Northern Greece;

  • Reconfiguration of a former coal mine into a community center.

The еnvironmеntal dimеnsion of the project through thе promotion of sustainablе living contributed to youth becoming active agеnts in shaping a morе sustainablе and еcocеntric sociеty. Thе participants empowered thеmsеlvеs and еxpеriеncеd naturе-basеd mеthods, thus bеing ablе to sprеad thе usе of outdoor activitiеs and promotе an activе and hеalthy lifеstylе in thеir local communitiеs.

There is much more to be done in the Azorian islands and we can’t wait to be back!

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