Exploring the Future of World Heritage Engagement: Insights from the OWHC Workshop in Berlin

Jessica Barber
berlin conference

As a young professional navigating the vast landscape of communications, my recent journey to Berlin for the World Heritage in Young Hands workshop proved to be an eye-opening experience. Hosted by the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC), this three-day event brought together passionate individuals from diverse backgrounds across North America and Northwest Europe, all committed to one common goal: fostering a deeper connection between young people and our world's cultural treasures.

With sixteen city representatives at the workshop as well as the OWHC regional secretary, the focus of the conference was to brainstorm and create innovative strategies to engage the younger generation, aged 12 to 22, in the preservation and stewardship of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, develop new programs for youth activation, and to drive interest towards celebrating the importance and relevance of world heritage. It was evident from initial discussions that many sites grapple with limited resources, often relying on small teams to manage their monumental tasks. Surprisingly, despite the digital age we inhabit, social media and online platforms remain underutilized tools for communication among these sites, a realization that sparked spirited conversations on how to bridge this gap.

One of the most insightful segments of the workshop was our dialogue with local middle and high school students. Their fresh perspectives shed light on what truly resonates with the youth: interactive experiences, student-led tours, and visually captivating content. Their desire for immersive activities underscored the importance of tailoring engagement initiatives to meet their interests and preferences. In addition to this, it became apparent that there was a knowledge gap amongst the high school participants about what UNESCO’s functions really are as an intergovernmental organization and what world heritage means beyond its presentation as an abstract concept.

discussions with young students

Equally enlightening were the discussions surrounding social media and website usage. Young people crave authenticity and relatability, urging organizations to move beyond bland informational posts and embrace partnerships with local influencers to craft engaging cultural narratives. They expressed a preference for concise, visually stimulating content and emphasized the need for websites to offer tangible benefits, such as event listings and networking opportunities, in vibrant and easily digestible formats. By centering and listening to young peoples’ voices, we were better able to move onto the next task at hand: brainstorming concrete ideas.

Throughout the workshop, exemplary youth engagement initiatives from various World Heritage Cities servedworkshop collaboration as sources of inspiration. From Berlin's innovative use of tour guides reflective of the city's diverse population to Krakow's vibrant contests and workshops centered around cultural traditions, each success story underscored the transformative power of meaningful youth involvement. As Global Philadelphia’s representative, I was able to share innovative initiatives taking place right here in our World Heritage City. I presented GPA’s annual World Heritage Week that takes place every May, a week-long collaborative celebration featuring valued community partners, the Office of the City Representative, and GPA-hosted events in which many public grade school students take part. We also took time to discuss failed events and initiatives in our individual cities in order to learn from one another’s mistakes and encourage future growth.

Amidst our intensive workshop sessions, we also had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in Berlin's ever-evolving cultural scene and heritage sights with our moderators Julia Tovote and Verena Röll. On day one, representatives met one another at the historic Alte Stadthaus (Berlin’s old city hall) for a tour. We wandered the halls and climbed up winding stairways to look past statues at the city's skyline, all while learning about the building's fascinating history. As we ventured into the basement, we learned that the maze-like corridors were once hiding places for Jewish citizens during the war. We also had the privilege of attending a wonderful piano and vocals concert at Nicolaihaus to celebrate the 291st birthday of Friedrich Nicolai, the great Berlin Enlightenment philosopher, publisher, bookseller and writer. Honoring the city's cultural and musical heritage, famous pieces written by Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt and Franz Schubert were performed. Finally, our group visited the iconic Museumsinsel (Museum Island) with a personalized tour led by Sabine Ambrosius, Consultant for World Heritage at the Berlin State Monuments Office. Each experience served as a poignant reminder of the profound impact of preserving our shared heritage for generations to come.berlin at night

In retrospect, my time in Berlin not only broadened my understanding of the intricate challenges surrounding world heritage conservation and encouraging youth involvement, but also illuminated the many career paths in this dynamic field. Conference representatives had backgrounds in modern art, museum curation, architecture, preservation, communications, education, project management, and more. With this in mind as a young professional myself, I was reminded that cultivating a strong interest in world heritage due to the wide opportunities it can offer as an area of study or professional field is just as relevant to young people when museum island tourdiscussing the topic.

Through the workshop's lively discussions and hands-on experiences, I gained a deeper appreciation for the effort it takes to link heritage conservation and youth engagement. The diverse perspectives shared by representatives from twelve cities illuminated the multifaceted challenges and innovative solutions in this arena. Engaging with local students provided a refreshing dose of clarity, emphasizing the importance of authenticity and relevance in our efforts to connect with the younger generation. Equipped with newfound knowledge and inspiration, Global Philadelphia looks forward to continuing the journey of empowering young people to become stewards of our world's cultural heritage in Philadelphia and beyond. 

Interested in teaching or organizing world heritage themed programs for youth? Check out the youth activation recommendations & strategies PDF attached below. 

owhc - Youth activation recommendations


Emerging International Journalists Program
World Heritage