Innovation Boost for Youth to Become Champions of Change

Young people in Ukraine do not have a lot of faith in the way they are governed.

UNDP research has revealed that 32.1 percent of Ukrainian young people (aged 18–35) have low interest in politics, and 48 percent do not trust politicians or the authorities. Half of young people (48 percent) believe they have no impact on the state’s development. Human rights awareness in Ukrainian society is equally low.

In this context, how can UNDP inspire youth to engage in policy making at local and national levels, particularly using innovative approaches?

Innovating for democracy and human rights

The U-Inn Challenge (#UInn) was launched in August 2017 to collect the best innovative ideas about how to strengthen democracy and promote human rights in local communities.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine partnered with UNDP to implement U-Inn, a competition to develop ideas related in various ways to Sustainable Development Goals 16, 10, 5 and 8 (to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, reduce inequalities, create equal opportunities for women and men, and promote decent work for youth).

The process included 14 thematic events, including a Social Innovation Workshop, a Global Goals Jam, a U-Inn Camp, study visits to CSO hubs to Perechyn (in Zakarpattia Oblast) on democratization and to Chernihiv on human rights, and a U-Inn Pitching Day.

The events brought together a total of 541 young enthusiasts. Although only 6 teams (out of 90) were declared winners in the final contest, the other applicants developed skills they can use to become change makers at home. They learned about new e-democracy tools, project management and the human rights-based approach, to put to use in the activities of civil society and youth organizations.

The winning ideas

An independent jury chose the six winning ideas, which varied widely in thematic and geographical scope.

1. A Lviv-based youth team from the Institute of Innovative Governance NGO developed an inclusive web-checker to analyze public sector websites and provide recommendations about how to meet the needs of persons with visual impairments.

2. A team from Odesa created a mobile app for civic activists and journalists to detect potential corruption risks in Odesa city council’s decisions.

3. In Kyiv Oblast, young civic activists opened an open space to communicate with youth with intellectual disabilities.

4. A co-working centre with a social enterprise was set up in Domanivka village in Mykolaiv Oblast. The coffee-shop is a social enterprise, while the co-working offers variety opportunities for local youth to engage into cultural and civic activities

5. Filmmakers from Donetsk Oblast shot videos portraying internally displaced persons in Mariupol whose rights have been violated, and plan to use those films to advocate for human rights.

6. Finally, enthusiasts from Stanytsia Luhanska, a town in Luhansk Oblast near the contact line with the non-government controlled area, opened a centre for children with disabilities.

Learning to build bridges and make a positive impact

The U-Inn initiative gave a spillover effect to increased wave of civic youth activism across Ukraine. Youth from rural areas, towns and cities across Ukraine have realized that they can become real change-makers, if they match their visions of democracy and human rights with the needs of their local communities.

44% of the U-Inn participants confirmed that they already apply gained tools for influencing policy-making at local level, 78% of them use the principles of tolerance and non-discrimination in their daily work with communities, and 58% of the engaged youth apply obtained knowledge of the human rights and protection of fundamental freedoms.

As the U-Inn challenge was themed around the Sustainable Development Goals, the young people were encouraged to link their ideas with the selected Goals.

Lessons learned

1. The challenge revealed strong youth leaders in urban and rural settings around Ukraine, and with proper guidance and mentoring they managed to build their teams, establish cooperation with the local officials, and implement their ideas.

2. Young people need platforms for non-formal education and networking (camps, study visits, informal meet-ups) to get inspired, find like-minded peers, translate their ideas into quality projects, and find opportunities for their realization.

3. The trustful and responsible partnership between central government, local authorities, youth centres, civil society and media is needed to foster youth innovation effectively.

4. The eligibility criteria to apply for such projects should be clearly thought out. It is very important to define the topics of focus, the age limit for the youth to be involved, and the gender balance of the teams.

Way forward

This unique experience has the potential to be shared, adjusted and implemented across Ukraine — from cities to cities, villages to villages. The Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine is already promoting the U-Inn model among the local and regional authorities as an effective way of fostering youth participation.

Change-makers are vital in all societies, and it is high time to engage them with innovative approaches!

Text: Olena Ursu, Oksana Khomei Photos: Andrey Krepkikh