Participants of the Young Bled Strategic Forum (YBSF), who were welcomed at Bled on Friday evening by Mr Peter Grk, Secretary General of the BSF, Mr Klemen Ponikvar, Programme Director of the YBSF and Ms Sabina Đuvelek, Business Challenge Coordinator, got down to real work this morning as they came to Ljubljana to engage in a debate on smart cities at the Town Hall.

To begin the debate, the participants were presented Ljubljana’s stint as the European Green Capital of 2016 as well as Ljubljana’s vision by 2025, which is focused on the preservation and protection of environment, including by envisaging a green zone in the city centre, which has been car-free for several years now, by Ms Simona Berden of the Municipality of Ljubljana.

In the debate, the moderator, Mr Blaž Golob, the CEO of SmartIScity, pointed out that there were more than 120 definitions of what a smart city is. Broadly looking, smart cities are places where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies to the benefit of its residents and businesses. “Is there a cognitive, a self-learning city somewhere in the future,” he challenged the participants. While speaking of smart cities, Japan is already discussing smart communities, Mr Golob added.

This was taken on by Ms Mai Araki, chief officer at Japan’s NEDO, who stressed in her address that the concept of smart community was introduced in Japan in 2010. Following the 2011 devastating earthquake and tsunami, a reform of the energy market was introduced and the market is now more regulated. Ms Araki moreover noted that before the reform, smart cities had been introduced by property developers or real-estate agencies and everything had been very individualised. However, now, utilities operate the basic infrastructure required for smart cities, making it easier to implement the concept.

Turning to his homeland, Mr Rajendra Kumar, an architect at 100 Indian Smart Cities, presented the initiative to turn 100 Indian cities into smart cities. “Cities are always for citizens, whether we’re dealing with a population of 100,000 or a million,” he pointed out.

Mr Mark Boris Andrijanič, a member of Uber’s Public Policy team for Central and Eastern Europe, meanwhile stressed that smart cities also include car sharing, which “can solve a lot of problems for cities, such as air pollution and congestion”. “We are competing with the notion that everyone must have a car. We believe that services like Uber can make our cities smarter, greener…” This was echoed by Mr Julij Božič, Chief Innovation and Digital Officer at BTC, who stressed that “it is all about changing the mindset in mobility”.

The participants were moreover addressed by Mr Zoran Janković, Mayor of the Municipality of Ljubljana, who turned to the Slovenian capital, explaining that it was all about vision. “We started to teach our children in kindergartens ten years ago to sort waste,” he stressed, pointing to the need of educating people to bring about changes. Since its decision to introduce waste sorting, Ljubljana’s has come a long way, as as much as 65% of waste is now sorted at home, the mayor added.

Later on, six teams began working on their projects in a competition to find strategic solutions to a Sustainable Intersection in Ljubljana – a zero-waste shop, cafe and bed & breakfast with the help of experts from utility Snaga and SmartIScity. Their projects will be presented on Sunday evening, with the winning team receiving the main prize and getting their solutions presented to business executives, ministers and other participants at the Business BSF.

Youth Mobility and Political Participation was in the focus of the second panel at the Young Bled Strategic Forum, with the panellists agreeing that while young people may feel their voices are not heard, they can be if they are substantiated and based on critical thought.

This was pointed out by Mr Igor Cesarec, the president of the Association of Slovenes Educated Abroad VTIS, who believes that young people should move past the mindset that their voice is not heard. “It is hard to get your voice heard, but if substantiated, it can be.” Maybe not the first time, maybe not the second, but it will get heard if someone’s claims are substantiated. What is more, Mr Cesarec highlighted the importance of participation, not only political, but also economic and social.

Mr Samo Novak, a senior adviser at the Office of the President of the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia, meanwhile pointed out that young people should be empowered, but that empowerment does not come “through an EU-funded project, because it is a long-term project”. Young people have to be taught how to use their voice, because empowerment only comes through critical thought. What is more, empowering “young generations with a voice that is heard and based on critical thought, on genuine arguments” can lead to incremental change – a middle path between no change and revolutionary change. Moreover, “critical thinking should be part of school curriculum.”

The role of mass media in encouraging participation among the young was also touched upon in the debate, with Ms Irena Joveva, a journalist at POP TV, stressing that it was journalists’ job to report and help people get a picture of events around them. According to her, media should get people to participate, as everyone, “especially young people should be involved in daily political developments”. Young people must stand up, must be active, they need to follow developments, she concluded.

Mr Lawen Hawezy, UNDP Consultant on Syrian Refugees and Iraqi IDPs, meanwhile connected participation to mobility, stressing that refugees, who do not leave their countries of their own volition, were another group of people whose voice does not get heard.

On the other hand, the moderator, Mr Miha Pongrac, a former Youth UN Delegate and journalist, raised the question of brain drain, of young educated people leaving their home country and not returning home.

Mr Cesarec, who currently lives in New York, stressed that brain drain had a very bad connotation in Slovenia, with the people who have left the country often being treated like traitors. “That is not true …You can be sitting in the middle of Ljubljana and be less active, contribute less, than someone on the other side of the world.”

What is more, a country needs to be attractive for people to live, work or study in, regardless of their nationality. “At the very core, you should enable people to come back.” Wherever they have lived, they will bring something back to their country; if they are not enabled to come back, they will not bring back a fresh perspective, Mr Cesarec stressed.