Published on July 1st, 2014 | by Alexandra LACROIX | Credit: Andrea Roca Gonzalez

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“Make things happen, start your own enterprise” – Interview with Nicola Filizola

Record youth unemployment rates, combined with emigration and a growing disenchantment, have earned the under-25s labels such as “jobless generation”, “NEET” (Not in Education, Employment or Training) or, even worse, “lost generation”.

But this “lost generation” is also the most mobile and internationally-minded one, equipped with cultural and linguistic competences that can certainly help the so-called old continent gain ground in the race for global competitiveness, as well as strengthen a sense of belonging to Europe.

This is why several initiatives have emerged throughout the EU to maximize the potential of the “Erasmus generation”.

Amongst them, there is garagErasmus, an organisation created in 2011 by Italian Erasmus alumni. Its aim is to reunite former Erasmus students in order to facilitate their recruitment and help them start up their own businesses.

UNITEE interviewed Nicola Filizola, Senior Representative for Europe at garagErasmus, to learn more about the objectives and activities of this initiative.

What are the objectives of garagErasmus?

Our starting point was that, although Erasmus alumni represents a huge community of three million Europeans which is expected to grow up to five million by 2020, there were no networks to bring them together and maximize their potential.

Our aim is to reunite and empower this “Erasmus generation” in order to facilitate job mobility and business start-up across Europe.

How do you intend to bring together and empower the “Erasmus generation”?

In 2012, we created an online match-making platform, which enables the registered Erasmus alumni to encounter companies and recruiters interested in their specific profile. Eight thousand people are registered so far but our goal is to have, in four years’ time, one million members with the help of the European Commission.

It will automatically give us all 250 000 people who will be leaving on Erasmus every year.

In addition, we will organize, with the help of local associations, physical meet-ups between, on the one hand, Erasmus alumni looking for a job or wishing to create an enterprise and, on the other hand, recruiters and investors.

Our first meet up of “Erasmus generation” will be held in Pisa, Tuscany, next October 17th, which will also serve as a kickoff event to open our associations in Lisbon, Athens, Warsaw. Bordeaux and Bucharest have also shown a strong interest.

Turkey has also shown a big interest in our initiative, and we are looking forward to opening a local association there. With its young population and positive business environment, Turkey represents a fertile ground for our activities.

What can the “Erasmus generation” bring to European cities?

When a city is looking to create a start-up environment, it normally does it with local people and local knowledge. We offer European cities the opportunity to reach out internationally-minded and multilingual young professionals.

The participants will come with their start-up ideas and be able to meet and network with their local institutional and business environment.

Through the “Erasmus generation”, garagErasmus will thus enable European cities to create stronger economic ties with the rest of Europe and the world, and to foster innovation.

Which skills do Erasmus students gain from their exchange experience? Do they have a competitive advantage in the labour market?

You are not the same any longer after having done Erasmus nor after having been abroad even without this scholarship. You see that you can speak another language and adapt to a new society.

The “Erasmus generation” has something more, something that the business world is looking for. Europe’s labour market is faced with a paradox. While there is a huge percentage of unemployment everywhere, one out of three companies cannot find the right profile for their vacancies.

The main reason for this skill mismatch is that companies are not able to find internationally-minded people, able to speak several languages and get acquainted to new environments. These are exactly the competencies which Erasmus students possess.

How can the participation in these mobility programmes foster an entrepreneurial mindset in Europe’s youth?

The current trend to favor entrepreneurship amongst young people is first linked to youth unemployment. In times of unemployment, either you create your own jobs or you die, if you cannot find one.

But it is true that, in this community of former Erasmus students, there is a lot of enthusiasm about being independent, and a remarkable percentage of them want to start their own enterprise.

I presume that, having had this experience, you understand that things are possible, you make things happen. Instead of being an employee, you can start your own enterprise.

To which extent is the Erasmus programme a success? How can we make it accessible to all European students?

The Erasmus programme has created the first truly European generation of citizens. They will be the future generation explaining, at the European Parliament or in national politics, why Europe is great.

However, it is true that it still concerns a minority of young people in Europe because you cannot fund everybody, and the scholarship is sometimes too small for some students.

What we have to make sure of is that the average funding level is enough for any interested students, wherever they come from. Another big effort is also need to raise awareness on the benefits of the programme, because, in some places, Erasmus is still perceived as a waste of time.

On the contrary, it should be seen as a fulfilling and life-changing experience, with positive consequences for Europe as a whole.

*Nicola Filizola is co-founder and Vice President EU Affaires of the garagErasmus foundation. Football, (old) media and breakfast’s lover, he has worked in the UK, Italy and currently in Belgium. Together with the rest of the team, he is determined to make garagErasmus the largest professional network in Europe.

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