Kick Starting Teen-Driven Leadership in Kosovo
Kosovo is the youngest nation in terms of population in Europe. 42.23 percent of Kosovo’s population is under 25 years old and the youth are encountering many challenges.
Youth unemployment in Kosovo is over 57 percent — again one of the highest figures in the region and in Europe. This high unemployment rate is due to a combination of several factors, explained Kushtrim Puka, program manager for sustainable development and philanthropy at the Kosovo-based organization Forum for Civic Initiatives (FIQ).
One reason is the struggling economy. The government is the largest employer in the country, which is a sign of economic distress because the private sector is floundering. Even though GDP appears to be increasing, it is a result of capital spending and not actual economic growth. The private sector is mostly comprised of small and medium enterprises, but a few large corporations have the highest volume of employees. None of these enterprises, however, are hiring youth, which is in part due to the country’s poor education system that results from a lack of investment.
Students are not receiving the education they need to prepare for employment. Kosovo youth enrolled in school tested four to five grades behind other students in the region. They are falling behind, which means that every year tens of thousands of students graduate from high school but are not in a position to start at university and lack the skills necessary to join the labor market.
Puka believes part of the solution to the high youth unemployment figures is to encourage youth to become more involved in the decision-making process for their generation. To spark this process, FIQ organized the “For youth, by youth” project in 2016, supported by a grant from the Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD).
“Our main focus as a foundation is youth and social entrepreneurship. Whenever we work, we try to provide a comprehensive solution, to serve as a complete support mechanism that consists of training of skills that they need,” said Puka. “We need to be able to provide a comprehensive mechanism that is there to support them regardless of what they need at a certain point in time.”
For this program, FIQ selected 16 high school and early university students who displayed a willingness to change their communities in the four municipalities of Northern and Southern Mitrovica as Young Ambassadors. The ambassadors went through a training program to learn skills such as leadership, community outreach and organization, project management, and time management. The ambassadors then ran community outreach campaigns, working directly with selected projects run by youth organizations in their neighborhood to address a central problem in the area. FIQ gave a small portion of its BTD grant to the young people to carry out their community programs, which was a significant learning curve for the teenagers.
Excitement over the "For youth, by youth" program is one of the main reasons BTD supported the project, and partly why BTD continues to work with FIQ.
“We thought the approach to the funding was really important. We decided to give [them control of the funding] to have them really think more effectively,” said Puka. “We gave them the responsibility of being the ones to decide who from the community would receive the funding for community projects. We could definitely see an improvement in their engagement when they were the ones making a decision.”
The Young Ambassadors ran a variety of programs. One led clean-up actions for a river that was polluted by a factory. Another cleaned a park, built a fence, and designed a mini basketball court for children to play at. Yet another attempted to decrease trash in their neighborhood by placing recycling bins at key locations in the city.
Oltion Beshiri, a 23 year old Pristina native, served as a young ambassador in 2016. He had the chance to work with younger people in his community to help them carry out projects and feel empowered.
“The Young Ambassadors program was the ‘roof’ to help the young population in Kosovo to share their ideas and to be helped by FIQ,” said Beshiri. “My favorite part of being a Young Ambassador was working closely with FIQ, working directly with the ideas of youngsters, and watching the youngsters become happy with their projects.”
The Young Ambassadors became community leaders, and they were able to feel the success of working on a project from start to finish, said Puka. Moreover, the community supported their work because of the good the projects did for everyone.
Excitement over the “For youth, by youth” program is one of the main reasons BTD supported the project, and partly why BTD continues to work with FIQ.
“There’s an immense interest from young people to join this action,” said BTD Program Coordinator Tijana Kljajević. “The ‘Young Ambassadors’ program has been well received by local municipalities, in which case Pristina and Mitrovica South have already signed memorandums of understanding to support the grant giving mechanism for informal youth groups working and implementing local actions in these respective municipalities.”
One of the greatest successes of this program is that the Youth Ambassadors stay involved. FIQ tries to keep the youth they work with engaged and many of them continue to work on projects, serve as mentors, and start partnerships with FIQ.
Beshiri, for example, has continued to be an active participant in the community. He is currently working to promote Kosovo internationally through his “Image of Kosovo” project. Although he is not working with FIQ directly right now, he keeps in touch with the organization and knows that FIQ would help him carry out any social projects that would improve the community. This is one of the most valuable things Beshiri gained from participating in the Young Ambassadors program.
“It's not all about ideas,” said Beshiri. “You can have tons of ideas, but without finding the organization or company that can trust your idea, there is no life on it.”
And more and more young people are expressing their interest in joining FIQ’s program to pursue their ideas. In 2018, FIQ will launch a program to match the youth volunteers with programs, organizations, and mentors in their community. Puka is hopeful that the more youth become involved in their local communities, the more they will push for youth-related policies in any given field.
“It is good that the program is empowering them to believe in themselves. They went through the whole process, and we showed them it is possible. Then they start having a more open mind,” said Puka.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.