In my last post, I shared some of the lessons our team learned through the UNICEF partnership with Aalto University and Makerere University. This week, Makerere Student and UNICEF friend Felix Mwebe shares his thoughts on his experience in the Aalto partnership and other UNICEF innovation projects he’s since been involved in. Below are his ideas about the value of engaging with youth, and the lessons he’s learned about the best ways to do it.

Jennie Bernstein
Project Assistant
Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

Good co-operation: Students Abel Rwego (to the left) and Felix Mwebe and industrial designer Neil Ryan working together at the UNICEF Uganda Innovation Lab in Mbuya, Kampala. Photo credit: Kjersti Gjems Vangberg
Good co-operation: Students Abel Rwego (to the left) and Felix Mwebe and industrial designer Neil Ryan working together at the UNICEF Uganda Innovation Lab in Mbuya, Kampala. Photo credit: Kjersti Gjems Vangberg

“Don’t assume what young people can or can’t do. Instead, think of what they could achieve if they had adequate support and mentoring. If mankind has this kind of attitude, this world would be a much better place to live.

The time I spent volunteering at the UNICEF-Uganda Innovation lab, my involvement in the Hackathons and the work with Aalto-UNICEF-Finland Collaborations, are some of the best experiences and exposure life can ever give to me. The projects were particularly challenging with time, requiring members to work in multidisciplinary teams, interacting with professionals in the fields of WASH, Education, Government and Technology. At the end of each day we were always seated at around a table to develop innovative solutions.

Co-creation workshop at the UNICEF Uganda Office with participants from UNICEF WASH, T4D, Public sector in entrepreneurship and Makerere University. Photo credit: Tara P Panthai
Co-creation workshop at the UNICEF Uganda Office with participants from UNICEF WASH, T4D, Public sector in entrepreneurship and Makerere University. Photo credit: Tara P Panthai

What lies within the beating heart of a young volunteer? What is it that inspires them to move, to act, to help? It is important for organisations to accept young volunteers on an equal basis, making the organisation more appealing to young people:

  • Young people love competition: in innovations, hackathons and games, so develop them to use in recruitment efforts, training, and even when volunteers are actually performing their tasks. Healthy competition will add zest and excitement to the work young volunteers do.
  • Reassess volunteering programs with young people in mind. How would they change if young people were involved? How could they be done differently? Do you have any projects that specifically target young people?
  • Ensure that policies and practices are not discriminatory. Can you abolish age limits by changing the kind of activities available?
  • Do you have young people in decision-making roles? How could you include them effectively? Think about how you can use their knowledge and life experience.
  • Be more flexible. Can you do things outside of normal working hours? Can work practices be updated to accommodate young people? Could you use the Internet more effectively?
  • Listen to what young people have to say and help them build upon their ideas. Acknowledge your volunteers, people don’t know they are doing a good job unless you tell them.
Felix and the summer team 2012 at the UNICEF Innovation Lab, Kampala. Photo credit: Andrew Clutterbuck
Felix and the summer team 2012 at the UNICEF Innovation Lab, Kampala. Photo credit: Andrew Clutterbuck

Through my engineering education background and volunteering exposure, I obtained new skills, that can be applied in real life and ones that can be included on a CV demonstrating experience in particular fields. And most importantly, I repeat myself and most importantly, I made great friends along the way.

For a fulltime student or worker, it seems unlikely that one would take time out of his or her busy schedule to volunteer, but we all believe that volunteering is part of civic duty. Young people can bring enthusiasm, energy, creativity and flexibility to an organization. If the organization works with young people, in any way, young volunteers can add value to services by bringing a youth perspective through new ideas, theories and knowledge.“

By Felix Mwebe

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Read more stories about our cooperation with academia:

Lessons from students and academia: Part one – Aalto University collaboration

Academia: Design for UNICEF

Building the next generation of global innovators

More…

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