Arriving at European Forum Alpbach (EFA), one of the most established interdisciplinary conferences in Europe, involves hopping from local train to bus, each rolling further into the mountains of upper Austria while the cellphone service from Munich or Vienna fades into the distance.
While the clatter of backpacks and bicycles may seem an unlikely soundtrack to meditate on the role of Europe in the world, this is exactly what EFA provides: a dedicated space, away from the demands of everyday life, to step back and reflect on what it means to be a leader in a rapidly shifting world.
The Good Lobby’s Founder, Professor Alberto Alemanno, and Managing Director, Kelsey Beltz, joined EFA once again this year to contribute to and learn from the theme of a “Bold Europe”.
This is why EFA was founded: in 1945, just after the Second World War, a group of academics retreated to these mountains to reflect on what a European peace project could look like in practice. A decade ahead of the establishment of the European Union, EFA was founded to pursue transnational cooperation, innovation, and peer learning as a counter response to the type of division and violence that often threaten European societies.
From 20-23 August, Professor Alemanno led a seminar for highly motivated students and young professionals from more than 40 countries to challenge and expand on their worldview and introduce the questions: do the needs of future generations matter as much as ours today? How to take their interests into account in today’s decisionmaking processes?
These ideas were further explored during Professor Alemanno’s guided hike on climate activism, where participants had a chance to reflect on what’s next for the climate movement in terms of both tactics and strategies. As its impact struggles to go beyond increasing public awareness, there is a growing risk of radicalization of the movement that may threaten its original public support and overall democratic acceptance.
Walking through an alpine ecosystem in the midst of an unprecedented heatwave made the whole conversation particularly memorable and frightening.
Managing Director Kelsey Beltz returned as part of the Alpbach in Motion Leadership programme, reflecting on what it means to be a young leader during a time of overlapping and complex crises. A member of Alpbach in Motion’s board, she guided this year’s alumni through a reflective programme on leadership development with a major focus on internal development and mental health. It was refreshing to see these topics truly being addressed as essential to leadership rather than just a complement to “harder issues”.
She also hosted a daily Women’s Networking Hour, meeting an inspiring range of leaders working on issues like founding coding schools with a focus on job-placement, community-based solutions to child marriage, and creating civic-training programmes to encourage democratic participation.
As always, the time in the mountains was too short, and now the implementation phase begins!