Empowering Young People through Up to Youth

Launched in April 2019, Gift of Caring Ministryis implementing a five-year Up to Youth Activity in Kosovo, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), committed to improving the capacities and enabling the aspirations of youth so that they can contribute to and benefit from more stable, democratic, and prosperous communities. The Activity works with the youth in nine municipalities to help them become a source of change for their own and for their communities’ positive development; and encourage youth participation in development efforts leading towards an effective democratic society, and strengthened economies.

Despite being one of the poorest countries in Europe, with the support of USAID and other donors, Kosovo is slowly but steadily liberalizing its economy, reforming its schools and empowering its 38 municipalities. Brimming with potential and ambition to fully integrate into the local economy but frustrated by the lack of opportunities available to them, youth have an integral role in determining the economic and political future of Kosovo, but only if they are empowered with accessible, meaningful training and guidance. Youth under the age of 24 represent 42% of the entire Kosovo population, yet they face a 52% unemployment rate. Many of them are not in school and have no skills or training to help them successfully join – and remain in – the labor market; the national unemployment rate is currently 27%, and 30% of its economy is informal. Without alternatives, youth are vulnerable to risky behaviours, migrate irregularly to other countries and back, and rely heavily on outside remittances, few of which are sustainable. The combination of limited employment opportunities, frustration with corruption at all levels of government, ethnic tensions perpetuated by families and an overall sense of disconnectedness, affect the decisions of many youth and make them susceptible to manipulation from negative influences and poor choices. Also bullying and gender- based violence, particularly in rural areas, remain rampant.

Up to Youth’s approach strengthens youth resilience to risky behaviours through three primary objectives: 1) Mobilizing youth to be forces for positive change, 2) Developing and demonstrating life skills and soft skills among youth, and 3) Developing, building and supporting resilience partners in fostering an environment for youth to engage in ways that are both positive and meaningful. The Activity divides participants into groups of younger youth (aged 15-18) and older youth (aged 19-24) and engaging them in age-appropriate activities. Special attention is extended to youth who are often marginalized and excluded from other youth-focused projects.

The Activity is implemented through a Positive Youth Development (PYD) lens, ensuring that the key principles of assets, agency, contribution and enabling environment are integrated across Up to Youth activities. Participants develop advocacy and awareness campaigns for youth in school, and community projects and enterprises for youth out of school. They gain leadership experience by participating on a Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and then dispense valuable advice to their peers. Up to Youth also uses an evidence-based approach to youth learning, in part by equipping them with the skills they need to demonstrate agency in leading community asset mapping, and analysing data to identify youth-related challenges and stressors in the community. The Activity also offers engagement with other youth and community stakeholders to design and implement solutions such as advocacy campaigns, community projects and social ventures.

Developing and Demonstrating Life/Soft Skills Among Youth

Youth participate in Up to Youth on several different levels. At the highest level, Up to Youth has established a Youth Advisory Board to act as a dialogue platform responsible for directly representing the voices of youth within the activity. Youth on the YAB have the opportunity to provide real input to Up to Youth: they review program documents such as participant applications and training modules, and meet regularly with program staff to discuss the activity’s interventions. Up to Youth also offers paid internships that enable interns to gain real work experience and acquire the necessary skills to make them more employable in the job market. Additionally, these internships help youth develop and support resilience partners in an environment that encourages youth to engage in their own development and that of their communities. In order to engage the most vulnerable and hard to reach youth, Up to Youth trains YAB members to identify key influencers in the community to act in two important ways. In the first, youth build relationships and foster trust allowing them to convincingly convey a message to at-risk youth about better opportunities and how to access them. The second way is to forge strong relationships with government and service providers that make them more responsive to youth, and to consider their priorities and their engagement seriously. In these ways, youth are empowered to meaningfully engage municipalities and resilience network partners, encouraging these entities to support important youth initiatives.

During the start-up phase, the Activity has recruited and held elections for the YAB, trained youth on social network analysis and Do No Harm principles.