The YGLN: A New Generation of Leaders

Understanding that a lack of trust and dialogue between Russia and the West is a significant obstacle to Euro-Atlantic Security, NTI and several partners in 2014 launched a unique capacity-building initiative designed to develop and foster a new generation of leaders equipped to tackle global challenges fueled by historic animosities: The Younger Generation Leaders Network on Euro-Atlantic Security (YGLN).

The network was designed as a trust-building platform to help future generations learn to communicate with one another so that they may avoid making the same mistakes that have plagued previous generations in addressing the region’s security issues.

Today, the YGLN includes 80 young professionals in their 20s and 30s from 27 countries across the Euro-Atlantic community. They come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, and they include specialists in economics, law, public policy, journalism, and business. The YGLN divides its members into four working groups: security, economics, civil society, and rule of law. Each group is tasked with facilitating dialogue on relevant policy issues related to the Euro-Atlantic region. The YGLN does not seek consensus; rather it promotes understanding through a broad exchange of diverse views and opinions. 

To date, the YGLN has held meetings in Sofia, Bulgaria; Riga, Latvia; Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzogovina; Brussels, Belgium; and, most recently, Helsinki, Finland. 

In Helsinki, YGLN members focused on cyber security, the NATO Warsaw Summit, security in the Baltic region, police reform and corruption in Ukraine, the rise of radical populism and illiberalism, the backlash against globalization, and the future of economic cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic region.

The YGLN’s next meeting will be in Warsaw, Poland on April 2-6, 2017.

In addition to NTI, partners supporting the network are: the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the European Leadership Network, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the Kennan Institute, the Latvian Institute of International Affairs, and the Russian International Affairs Council.

To better understand the YGLN, we surveyed a subset of members. Here, they discuss why they are involved.

Pavel Kanevskiy, associate professor of political science and vice dean at the Lomonosov Moscow State University and expert at the Russian International Affairs Council:

I’m involved in the YGLN because I believe that our generation should have a say on challenges and problems that our world faces today. 

Through the YGLN, it is possible to share visions with people from around the globe who are united by the idea of a safer, more peaceful and more predictable international environment.

It is a great intellectual community that helps break a lot of artificial stereotypes which spread mistrust between the nations and different social groups.

Rachel Salzman, postdoctoral fellow at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies:

Being a member of the YGLN is valuable on multiple fronts. Professionally, it gives me access to perspectives that enhance my understanding of the field I study, and widens my network of academic and expert peers. 

Personally, it means that almost wherever I land in Europe, I have friends who can show me a new side of the city and make me feel a bit less like a tourist. 

Finally, at the more abstract level, my fellow YGLN-ers are the colleagues I will “grow up with.” Building the relationships and opening the lines of communications now, when we are beginning our careers, means that these are ties I will be comfortable calling on regardless of the heights we may reach.

Joseph Dobbs, research fellow at the European Leadership Network:

 Most important for me … is a sense that our generation will inherit some huge security challenges from our predecessors, and a belief that we need to begin planning now our strategy to overcome them. 

The YGLN is a unique group in so far as our funders allow us the freedom to set our own agendas and tackle the issues we feel are most important to our region and our contemporaries.

Bartosz Rydlinski, assistant professor at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw; expert with the “Amicus Europae” Foundation of former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski:

YGLN is a unique network which allows young Americans, Canadians, Europeans and Russians to discuss  difficult matters with respect and empathy. 

It gives me a possibility to exchange opinions and perspectives which, as we know, are strongly different in the West and the East. 

By keeping such open channels of communication with our Russian partners we can try to build a mutual platform of understanding.”

Diāna Potjomkina, research fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs; lecturer at Riga Stradins University:

The YGLN is a wonderful, one-of-a-kind platform for meeting, and appreciating, the diversity of talents and opinions from North America, Russia and everything in between. We not only work on specific suggestions for policy-makers that could increase transatlantic security and look for broad consensus among representatives of different nations but also enjoy great networking. 

For me personally, YGLN has provided priceless contacts and new insights, and has provoked me to think out of the box.

Igor Istomin, senior lecturer at the Department of Applied International Political Analysis, MGIMO University, Moscow.

YGLN emerged as a unique format for collaboration with colleagues from across the Euro-Atlantic space. Initially, in the late 2014, when I was invited to the first meeting it was a platform to discuss the deterioration of European security related to the crisis in Ukraine. This dialogue was very much focused on the Russian-Ukrainian relations, which was of great interest at that time. 

Through the later meetings both the number of participants and the scope of the discussion broadened. 

Now, YGLN creates an opportunity to exchange opinions with a wide group of professionals, dealing not only with security issues, and to learn about changing priorities, agendas and activities of multiple actors operating in the Euro-Atlantic space.”

Mattison Brady, program associate for the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC:

I am involved in YGLN because it’s a great informal network that allows a group of passionate young experts and professionals to gather together to share not only their work, but also their frank opinions and friendship.

It serves the purpose of both citizen diplomacy and policy thought, which is required when any relationship or set of relationships become fraught.


Look for more on the YGLN in future editions of Atomic Pulse. Up next: Members discuss the greatest security challenges their generation is facing, and how they think the YGLN can help to address these challenges.

March 8, 2017
Robert E. Berls, Jr., PhD
Robert E. Berls, Jr., PhD

Senior Advisor for Russia and Eurasia

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