Hello everyone, it’s great to be here and thank you to NDI for inviting me.
· I’m glad to be opening this conference along with Robert Benjamin from NDI, who has spent so much time dedicated to this country and this region.
· Takođe, radujem se da čujem danas člana Predsjedništva Šefika Džaferovića kako on i drugi predstavnici vlasti planiraju da poslušaju mlade ljude i slijede njihove preporuke. Pozdravljam ga što je ovdje i što će svoja razmišljanja podijeliti sa nama. [English version: Also, I look forward to hearing today from Member of the Presidency Šefik Džaferović on how he and others in government plan to listen to young people and follow up on their recommendations. I salute him for being here and sharing his thoughts with all of us.
· Whenever I am feeling too discouraged by my typical meetings in BiH, I know the antidote is a room full of young people. I am always impressed by your smarts, humbled by your linguistic skills, uplifted by your energy, and inspired by your hope and positivity. You have more of an interest in contributing to the improvement of BiH than anyone else.
· You understand that this beautiful country, blessed with abundant resources and talented people, can be a great country.
· You can see past ethnic divisions and the false narratives that seek to deepen those divisions.
· You believe in your own potential, and can see, better than most, how much potential here is going to waste.
· Your generation has the most at stake in the future of this country.
· Your fresh perspective holds the potential for a prosperous and democratic BiH.
· You are the future of this country, and among all the many questions facing BiH, the most important one is how to empower your generation to use your talents, skills, and good ideas to lead BiH to prosperity and success.
· It is time to listen to your ideas and help everyone here who is ready to develop plans not to escape to the EU, but to bring the EU and a bright future to BiH.
Acknowledge their frustration and history:
· As young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, you cannot change your country’s past.
· The war took so much from you, your families, and communities, and left Bosnia and Herzegovina way behind the rest of Europe.
· There are no real winners in modern wars, and the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina proved that again to the world
· You can’t change the past, but you can change your country’s future.
Yet Focus on Possibilities
· It can feel like the odds are stacked against you. It can feel overwhelming.
· To be sure, I do not take the problems that this country and your generation face lightly. We in the US Embassy are working every day on the problems of corruption, inadequate education, a lethargic business climate, public sector reform, insecurity and more, and we understand the problems you’re facing.
· But I also think the constantly negative discussion about the past and present of this country discourages those who want to stay and make a difference. That negative narrative obscures the places here where real possibilities exist.
· For example, it is true that BiH falls below neighboring countries in most economic measures.
· Yet there are thriving parts of the economy – companies cannot find enough workers in IT and tourism, and there is a lot of scope for people with good ideas to start businesses.
· Whether in the IT sector, agriculture, or the arts, I have met many young people trying to create something wonderful for themselves and their country.
· At the EBRD Annual Meeting a few weeks ago, I heard about advantages this country has – BiH has low taxes compared to the EU, for example. It has a history of most investors managing to make money once they are able to establish themselves.
· BiH’s location also represents enormous possibility. This country has beautiful mountains, lakes, and rivers; and a wonderful geographic position where east and west have met and mingled for centuries. That is all mostly untapped potential waiting for innovative ideas in travel and tourism – and new renewable energy projects.
· There is also a low cost of living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. You may make much more money in Germany, and you will probably have a very small, very expensive, apartment.
· I believe the biggest advantage in BiH now is that your generation is ready for change. I hear from many young people who are tired of empty promises and constant tensions. They want to be able to connect with their peers here and abroad, and they want to have a better educational system.
· They want safety, security, justice and rule of law.Young people want a better future so that they can reach their own potential, which has already been recognized throughout the world.
· The older generation has certainly left unresolved problems, but your country is at a critical juncture where it needs to address those problems and do everything it can to lead BiH into a brighter future.
Leave, but come back
· But that will not happen if large numbers of youth continue to leave for opportunities elsewhere .
· Many of you maybe considering the decision of whether or not to leave or may face that decision in the future.
· To be clear, I am not against young people seeing the world. It is very important to visit other countries as tourists, or to study, participate in exchange programs, get work experience. In fact, I encourage you all to participate in our exchange programs and to study at American universities!
· Those are opportunities to learn how things work elsewhere, to check out how improvements can be brought to BIH, to get a good education, and to experience life in all its richness and diversity.
· But the real value of the skills and experience that are gained from those opportunities is that they can be put to use for the future of this country. Your own communities, families, and friends here need to benefit from the new ideas, new technologies, and initiatives that you will bring home.
U.S. Embassy Support
· There are real obstacles along the way for every entrepreneur and young leader around the world, perhaps moreso here in BiH.
· But at the U.S. Embassy, we are working to support young people who want to stay and make a difference in this country.
· We will soon be launching a new nationwide youth leadership program, called BOLD (BiH Omladinski Lideri), BOLD will be a
network of young change leaders and mentors who will support each other in taking positive steps in their communities, and who will have the support of the U.S. Embassy.
· As part of that network we are launching a U.S. Ambassador LinkedIn page to help you all connect with us and with each other. Follow me at USAmb.BiH.
· Andwe are also launching a new LinkedIn page where we will advertise jobs in the U.S. Embassy. We seek applicants of all ages from across all of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
· BOLD will bring youth to our exchange programs, including summer work and travel opportunities. Our exchange programs require participants to return to BiH after the program, because we want you to make a positive difference here. They also provide tools and hands-on experience to help young leaders make real changes when they get back.
· We also support a broad array of reforms – in the education system, in the business environment, and in the justice sector – to make this a better place to live and work. We assist with political reforms, but it will take more than just the international community to make real change in that area. It will require all of you and your passion and dedication and commitment to changing your country for the better.
· Our assistance to BiH continues to help the country’s development. USAID programs such as Diaspora Invest help dynamic members of the BiH diaspora bring investment and jobs back home.
· We also give grants to civil society organizations who are working every day to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a better place to live.
Diaspora as an example
· These programs and projects are intended as support to help create positive momentum. But the ultimate success of this generation depends on willing young leaders and innovators taking the future into their own hands.
· This country has many problems, exacerbated by its dysfunctional politics.
· There is nothing wrong with the wonderful people from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
· If anyone needs an example, just look at the 2 million-strong Bosnia and Herzegovina diaspora population and what they have accomplished around the world.
· You can make the same success here at home, with hard work and persistence.
· I’d like to end with a challenge to all the young people in this room
· Take your future into your own hands. Do not depend on someone to give it to you.
· Do join together and take advantage of each other’s support. Welcome opportunities that come your way, Even the smallest efforts to start something new can start a chain reaction. You can help people see that change is possible and that leadership makes a difference. You will be the ones to find the policy and entrepreneurial solutions that will pull your country forward.
· This country has made little progress for too long; too many people want to keep looking backwards. It is time for new ideas and new energy, and that can only come from your younger generation.
· Go abroad, if you want, but come back and build your future, for yourself, your family, your friends, and your country.
· I hope you conclude this conference with a specific list of policy actions that address the needs of young people.
· Send that list to politicians and then hold them accountable for implementing it. That’s how you will get to a better future in Bosnia and Herzegovina.