About "All I want for Christmas is EU sweaters", a European football team and why commitme
When meeting Akil, it is his wide and open smile that takes you in immediately. A GFYL participant in Paris in 2016, Akil's calm nature doesn’t give away the seemingly ten thousand activities he is involved in. A real doer and initiator who has once even lived in slums and literally on the streets in India for eight weeks to understand what it really feels like to live in such conditions, Akil is currently serving as Advisory Council Member for Hub Engagement at the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community. Wearing “All I want for Christmas is EU“ sweaters during the holiday season, the Munich resident is also a Policy Group Member for A New Concept for Europe of the World Economic Forum; a contributor to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security Progress Report; an ambassador of the #FreeInterrail Campaign; a co-founder of Stand Up for Europe Munich and much more. With this in mind, his recognition in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and the 100 Visionary Leaders (Under 30) list by Real Leaders Magazine might not really come as a surprise.
But first things first, Akil how have you made it into the list?
To be honest I never even thought about the Forbes list until I was nominated. I didn’t think I’d stand a chance because usually awards like these recognize one thing that you’ve built, not a continuous involvement in various initiatives. So, I can’t tell you how I made it in, all I know in hind side is, that I was apparently nominated by a couple of people, then the committee of the Forbes magazine did some in-depth research for a couple of months and at the end of it was a jury vote, which voted for me. I’m very grateful for the recognition, but I don’t see it really as an achievement of myself, but rather that I was chosen as a representative of all those thousands of people who are passionately engaged to build a fairer, more open, tolerant and united Europe.
You already took part in a German-French Young Leaders conference, a Franco-German and European conference. Why?
It amazes me that today we can effortlessly travel to other countries and roam like at home whereas our great-grandparents would have shot at each other. Today this is unimaginable, which is fantastic. And if you look at the gene pool, the French and German DNA is so closely connected, that even the leading research institutions can’t differentiate them. My hope for the future is that we go back to just that. That we’re no longer two nations of friends, but actually one people, not friends, but family.
Tell us a short anecdote that best describes your attachment this “family“ and Europe!
So, I am a big fan of the German national football team and I like to get my face painted for the World Cups. Last year I decided that if I can be so passionate about football I should be at least as passionate for our European Union. The most hilarious thing actually happened on the subway: I overheard a conversation of two teenagers who — after seeing my face covered in the European Union flag — actually thought that I was going to see a football match…where Europe was playing. I had to laugh so hard and that got me thinking how powerful Europe and the European Union really is if we play together as a team: we’re the biggest economy in the world, the world’s largest aid donor, the third largest population on earth, the second largest democracy and — if it comes to football — we would have won more than eleven World Cups already. :-)
Aside from painting the European flag on your face during the World Cup, what makes you a “true“ European?
The European Union flag on my face seems to be a reoccurring theme: In 2017 I actually painted my face in the EU flag every Sunday for the Pulse of Europe rallies. But besides that, I have studied and worked all over Europe, including Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Denmark and Belgium. When adding the conferences I have attended, this list would grow even longer. I also studied the CEMS Master program, originally called the “Community of European Management Schools”, that included students from literally every country of Europe and beyond. I think that pretty much makes me a “true“ European.
Why do you consider it important to engage in a European initiative?
The European idea was in the beginning only an idea of a few elites – it was a fabulous idea indeed, but in the decades after the European Union was formed, national politicians failed to involve the European society. Now for the first time in history we see that the European idea, its values of openness, free movement of goods, services and people are pushed forward progressively by the people of Europe — not our leaders. I think this is a defining moment where we all get to shape what society and continent we want to live in.
What other European initiatives like GFYL should the world know of?
The #FreeInterrail initiative! The idea is simple: all EU citizens should receive an Interrail voucher for their 18th birthday by the EU. The voucher should be valid for six years and could be exchanged for a 30 day Interrail ticket at any time. These birthday letters should be sent from the European Commission. Such an initiative would provide a tangible connection between EU citizens, the various countries and to our European institutions.
What represents Europe to you?
The Eurovision Song Contest — a peaceful contest to celebrate diversity together in harmony representing the rich European heritage. Speaking of European heritage, if you think about food, music, culture and education all of that is more European than national actually. And it’s on a good path to become truly global. I really hope that in 30 years’ time, we will celebrate the Republic of the European Union.
What kind of project or initiative would you wish for Europe?
1. Overhauling the Dublin regulation to create a common European asylum and migrant distribution framework for relocation.
2. Mandatory European exchange year for ALL school children.
3. Transnational Party lists, so that politicians represent the people of Europe, not the people of just one small nation.
Last but not least, can you think of statistics about Europe that people should know of?
Often, we are shown numbers that seem to show how unsatisfied citizen are with the EU. The latest number is around 41%, which is low indeed. But you need to compare this to how many countries actually trust their national governments and this number is at around 36%. This means that the people are actually more satisfied with the EU than with their own government. And that’s something worth mentioning, whenever you talk about low EU approval ratings.
Thank you for the inspiring and insightful exchange and good luck on your future endeavours!