The knowledge and innovative ideas of thousands of skilled young citizens find little access to political decision-making, thus creating a significant discrepancy between political decisions and the desires and ideas of young citizens. Nicola responds to this problem by turning the traditional concept of a political “think tank” on its head. His organization, “foraus”, engages a network of young political changemakers who, through a specific process and methodology, are empowered to bring their voices and fresh ideas into Switzerland’s old-fashioned and rigid political system, leading to concrete political action. Nicola’s vision is to turn people from all walks of life into political changemakers and to enable them to contribute to the transformation of political processes – not only of states, but also of supranational organisations like the E.U., U.N.
This idea of turning around the traditional concept of a political think tank (hierarchical, closed and top down) and turning political lobbying into a grass-roots and open-source process that involves young citizens is completely new. By doing so, he did not only find a way to supply the political system with new and innovative ideas, but he is also turning young people into political changemakers.
Nicola started to test the idea of “foraus” beyond Switzerland, beyond young people and beyond the state decision-making process and all successfully. “foraus” successfully expanded to Liechtenstein, Belgium (scaling of foraus) and Germany (copying). And his travels to Russia, Africa and elsewhere confirmed his view that young people everywhere are interested in a think and do thank such as foraus. Nicola tested the essence of “foraus”, which is the bottom-up crowdsourcing of political ideas of non-political experts, with surgeons at the Foreign Ministry of Germany and it was very well-received and successful. Nicola is in the process of testing the crowd-sourcing and bottom-up ideas of citizens on the decision-making process of supranational organisations.
But before founding foraus, however, Nicola already realized that young citizens are very interested in politics, especially when they feel the direct effects of elections and decisions. Therefore, he began to turn a problem into an opportunity by materializing the energy and motivation young people have around topics, empowered them and actively directed them towards impacting politics with their knowledge about topics. With this, Nicola did not only find a way to supply the political system with new and innovative ideas, but he is also turning young people into political changemakers by combatting the three main sources of political apathy.
Nicola realized that young people are interested in politics – just not in party politics, but rather in “issue politics”. That’s why at “foraus”, young citizens engage in politics via topics, and not specific opinions; this model has proven very successful. The young citizens enter into “foraus” via issue-based politics (Environment, Migration) at relevant, scientific, balanced events, with a very social fun component, which lowers the barrier for young people to engage in politics. “foraus” has now 1000 active members aged between 19 and 35 in Switzerland touching all 9 university cities. According to Nicola, this is more active members than a medium-sized political party in Switzerland. In this first step, young people are attracted to be interested in politics by showing them that they can do that in a very constructive way and without picking a side. This first phase is, however, extremly important, because the members and volunteers have to feel that they can make a difference and that their time is useful, otherwise they might just go to the movies.
Once the young people are attracted, Nicolas empowers them to engage in the political decision-making process:
“foraus” allows young people to “click” on their potential and provides them with the opportunity to become experts on political subjects. “foraus” does so by engaging them via “thematic working groups” (Environment, Human Rights, Migration), whereby people with the same interests can meet and research on a certain political topic important to them. “foraus” creates a safe space where they work on and advance their ideas, and create proposals who are directed to influence politics. After a certain idea takes shape, “foraus” connects the group of young people to experts who review their proposal and give them the opportunity to learn from their experience. Foraus has inspired and empowered many young people to write about politics, create events around politics and impact politics. This empowerment resulted in politicalln engaged young citizens within and beyond foraus. For instance, foraus has develoed in to a real talent factory, because now 50% of the new Swiss diplomats are foraus members and there is a political spin-off which emerged out of it called “Operation Libero”. This shows that “foraus” is really an ignitation for getting young people interested in and fighting for their political views.
foraus creates opportunities to really impact the political decision-making process and offers people unfiltered access to their citizens opinion and ideas
After a certain idea is ripe to “impact” the political decision-making process, “foraus” creates a platform for the idea by 1) distributing it through their channels (blogs, website, events) 2) connecting the young people and their idea to the media (one idea generates more than 10 media contributions, which is enormous) 3) opening the doors to the right people in the government and parliament. There are many examples where young people influenced Swiss politics through foraus. With “foraus” Nicola manages to not only get young people interested in politics, but empowers them to actively influence political decision-making processes. Moreover, he offers politicians, the government and journalists unfiltred access to their citizens opinion and ideas and thereby created a completely new reliable source of information: scientific, neutral and without influence of money or other interests
Nicola Forster grew up in Switzerland with his family. During his law studies, he dedicated his time to everything else than studying. A triggering moment for himself and the start of the “foraus” was when Nicola Forster successfully led the National Youth campaign to extending the free movement of people to the Eastern parts of Europe. At this moment he realised that there is great potential in Switzerland to not only motivate young people for politics, but to also influence the political debate without being in a political party. After this experience, he cancelled an already signed contract with an international law firm, took a loan from his parents and brought together the young people of this entire campaign movement to start foraus. Very quickly he realised, that the instant energy of this group is great – but that influencing politics needs a longterm strategy and a vision. That’s when the idea of “foraus” as a think tank took shape. Since six years Nicola Forster is investing a lot of passion in the development of “foraus” and institutionalising it. During a year abroad, he gave the operational leadership of “foraus” to a CEO, so that it is more dettached from him as a person and to be able to refocus on strategic issues.
His personal vision, which coincides with the vision of “foraus” is that he wants to turn people from all walks of life into political changemakers, so that they are enabled to contribute to the transformation of political processes with their ideas and knowledge – not only of states, but also of supranational organisations (E.U., U.N.). He wants to transform and democratize the political process by empowering people. His vision for the politics of the future is, that it is not exclusive to the state (elitist and technocratical), but that its bottom-up and that citizens are involved in decisions of a state or supranational organisation. In his opinion, this will result in a more peaceful world, because the citizens are „the concious of the state“.
Nicola Forster won many awards for setting up foraus, he was for instance choosen as one of the "99 Foreign Policy Leaders Under 33" (The Diplomatic Courier / Young Professionals in Foreign Policy).