Agreement of cooperation between AFS International and EFIL

Still keeping their unique identity and purpose, AFS International Programs and the European Federation for Intercultural Learning decided to cooperate in 1985 by setting up a Joint Office in Brussels – “J.O.B.”. They were to manage AFS and EFIL activities and be a support center for the EURAFME region (Europe, Africa and the Mediterranean) and help the strengthening of existing programmes and the development of new ones. “… Acknowledging that their activities are mutually beneficial, both AFS and EFIL agree to cooperate at all times with full information in support of the programmes and activities of the two organisations…” – Agreement of Cooperation, 1984 Philip Den Ouden filled the first position as Head of Joint Office, which meant being both Secretary General of EFIL and AFS Regional Vice President of the EURAFME region. The cooperation between AFS and EFIL via the Joint Office in Brussels was discontinued in 1989, after the new agreements on AFS Partnerships.

Africa Desk

As a result of the 1983 Colloquium on North-South Dialogue, a “North-South Committee” was established with the purpose to implement the initiatives made at the  Colloquium of 1983, expand the number of partner countries in Africa, establish a  funding strategy and develop alternative programme models.“ This led to the establishment of the Africa Desk in May 1986, situated in Rome. This cooperation  between EFIL and the Joint Office Brussels (J.O.B.) aimed to design programmes in developing regions that complemented professional training in education, journalism  and restoration of African art. The goal was not just to educate individual participants, but achieve a “multiplier effect”, as teachers, journalists and other professionals are ideal transmitters of cultural knowledge and professional skills.  

Focus on Intercultural Learning 

At the Symposium on “Intolerance in Europe” of 1980 EFIL offered a definition of  intercultural education that was widely used in the following years: “a new learning  situation, where learners of different cultural backgrounds are helped to see their differences as resources to draw from and to gain a greater awareness of self, rather than as deviations from established norms; one where each culture is explained in the context of other cultures, through a process that stimulates doubts about self, curiosity for others and understanding of the interaction between the two. Such a process should involve the learners intellectually as well as emotionally”. By the late 80’s “Intercultural” had become a popular term. Management courses, development projects, educational institutions, youth organisations, governments started to use it – often out of context or in situations where the issues at stake were  social or economic rather than cultural. EFIL itself ran the risk of wanting to do too many things for too many people and of  losing sight of its specificity. New projects were tried out for students, young workers,  migrants, East-West and North-South events. None of them was very successful in  terms of numbers or continuity, and the end result was that the Federation diluted its  identity in an attempt to be something for everyone.

1981: Colloquium on Intercultural Education in Strasbourg

The 1980s saw a series of important seminars by EFIL,  often taking place at the Youth Centre in Strasbourg.  The Colloquium on “Cultural Literacy and Intercultural  Communication” in 1981 initiated the research focus of  EFIL on the preparation for life in another culture. This  was conducted both through the collection of material  related to the orientations for young people who go  abroad for educational purposes, and through a cycle  of seminars on the same topic.


1983: Colloquium on North-South Dialogue in  Ouagadougou: “Tombouctou ‘83” 

57 educators from 31 countries in Africa and Europe and  9 international organisations met for a week in  Ouagadougou to discuss whether youth exchanges  could be organised between Africa and Europe on the  premise of mutual respect, equal sharing and joint  management. The Colloquium was the third and last in a  series of seminars starting in 1982 with the theme of  “The Cultural Dimension of the North-South Dialogue”.  The intention of all three seminars was to provide a  different approach to the North-South relationship by  giving attention to a better understanding between  African and European cultures.


1985: Colloquium on “Common values for human kind?” in Strasbourg 

In an effort to raise the European profile of EFIL, a  Colloquium was arranged with the theme “Common  values for humankind?”. The question on the agenda was “…how to preserve the wide diversity of the world and to  reinforce local cultural identities, while international  organisations, trans-national business, the media and  even the increasing mobility of people seem to lead to the opposite result. Some say that without a much  greater degree of similarity among the different societies  and cultures of the world, real peace and world harmony  is not attainable. Does this mean that world peace and cultural diversity are in conflict with each other?” – The  Colloquium ended with a statement against cultural  relativism in favour of a shared vision of the future. 

You shall not blow up the earth 

You shall not pollute waters and skies 

You shall not destroy forests, mountains and deserts

You shall not exploit your fellow human beings

You shall not forget your memories, but make them

compatible with the memories of others. 

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See what did next decade bring: the 1990s

A decade of challenges

In the late 80’s and early 90’s EFIL faced a crisis, both internally and externally. A new development plan presented at the General Assembly in 1994 marked a turning point and a new beginning for the Federation.

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