A warm welcome to the website of The IARS International Institute!
I’ve had the pleasure of directing IARS since I founded it in 2001 with the support of other young people from across Europe. Originally set up as a youth-led NGO, IARS has now expanded its remit to cover three areas of expertise: Youth, Justice and Rights. We are acknowledged as one of the world's leading user-led and youth-focused Institute, and we have a mission to give everyone a chance to forge a safer, fairer and more inclusive society. We remain focused on empowering the most marginalised communities through direct service delivery, while enabling organisations to achieve, measure and improve their social impact.
The journey hasn't always been easy. However, the support that we receive has been incredible. Since 2001, the Institute has been providing world-class and cutting-edge educational, research, policy and networking services of local, national and international significance while improving practices in the fields of youth, equalities and justice through the lived experiences of real people. Little I knew what to expect, when I put together the first website (with no funding or any HTML knowledge)! I did not have a business plan or a clear idea about how I was going to fundraise or sustain an organisation. What I had was the support of other volunteers as well as the guiding light of three key principles upon which IARS was founded:
IARS’ first value is based on our belief that strong democracies are not those that elect and maintain systems of governance that cultivate and enforce power over others, but those that truly share that power with those who need it. Society can be improved through social enterprising taking place at all levels: individual, project and organisational. However, social change cannot be done by dictating how one should participate in civic life. This is especially true for those groups that have traditionally been disenfranchised let that be our young people or the victims of our overt or explicit biases. True empowerment happens when we let go of our own power and allow its organic transition into the hands of others. Despite the risks involved, when this happens, the results can be incredible. We have seen it in the internal structures of our organisation. When we let go, the staff team, our interns and volunteers see IARS as a ‘flower pot’ with fertile soil where they can grow their ideas and projects. And it is with these flowers and with flower after flower that we believe we can make demo(δήμος)-cracy(κράτος) more meaningful and worthy of its name. User participation and bottom up approaches to society’s problems also offer something very practical which cannot be captured by ‘experts’ living in ivory towers. And that is the grounded and lived experiences of those facing the problem that we are asked to solve. Hence, our strapline "Community-led solutions for a better society". We are particularly proud of our user led projects and indeed the user-led research methods that we have pioneered internationally as well as the infrastructure that we have developed to help individuals, projects and organisations to identify, measure and maximise their social impact.
When we feel that we have been wronged, we tend to take the adversarial road, shut down, avenge and punish. If there is one thing that I have learned from my research and personal experiences is that contest breeds contest while the harm is never truly restored. Healing is ignored and the powerful manifest their power even more. I have championed the restorative justice values of dialogue, equality, empowerment, negotiation, forgiveness, empathy and respect throughout my academic career and I would be disingenuous if I did not to adopt them for my own organisation. I hold restorative circles for our staff meetings and I am particularly proud of our restorative justice projects.
I see this principle as the glue for the other two. If we are to pursue a shift in power and demand a voice through participation in civic life or through dialogue in justice processes, then we must do so responsibly. This responsibility comes in many forms and in IARS’s case it is translated in the way we champion change. This has to be through evidence and the application of robust research methods. We are mindful, however, that certain truths can be discovered only through in-depth research methods and thus we have argued in favour of qualitative approaches to social problem solving. We publish our own peer reviewed Youth Voice Journal and maintain a small publishing arm. We are also responsible for our non political and independent voice and programmes. We take responsibility for the result of the work that our funders and supporters empower us to do, and we teach this responsibility to those with whom we work.
I believe that these personal values still define IARS’ work, our projects and services, internal and external relationships and our entire modus operandi. This is what makes IARS, its people and services special. The day we breach them will be the day we stop being special. It will also be the day I will step down.
Hopefully, this website reflects the collective progress that we have made over the years, while it also gives you the information as well as the inspiration to get involved.
Professor Dr. Theo Gavrielides, IARS Founder & Director
10 Years IARS - Dr Gavrielides' speech at the 10 years' anniversary event - November 2015