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UNICEF’s Innovation Lab in Kosovo empowers young people to become responsible citizens and community advocates.

In Kosovo, young people from all walks of life are stepping into their communities, raising their voices, and becoming pillars of change. And since more than half of Kosovo’s population is under the age of twenty-five, the in-country UNICEF Innovation Lab team sees incredible strength and opportunity in these numbers.

“With young people, especially young people from marginalized communities, they know far better than we ever will what the challenges in those communities are,” says Josh Harvey, Kosovo’s Innovation Lab Lead.

So, he says, “let’s empower them.”

One of the ways the Kosovo Innovation Lab does this is through its By Youth For Youth program, which provides young people with the training and mentorship needed to turn an idea into a sustainable and impactful project. Through a series of workshops, training sessions, and educational experiences, kids are encouraged to lead projects, social ventures, or even start their own nonprofits. As a result, the program provides young people with the skills and tools to help other youth transform their social impact ideas into actionable projects, which benefit their local communities.

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“We’ve tried to remove as many barriers as possible for young people, and people in general, to recognizing that they have a role in achieving what they want to achieve,” Harvey says.

Since 2010, when the lab in Kosovo opened its doors, kids have created: a campaign to raise environmental awareness; the first community-led radio station in Kosovo serving Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians; an arts, culture, and youth co-creation space developed in response to a lack of artistic and cultural opportunity for youth in Kosovo’s Malisheve region; and a number of other community-building projects.

The lab’s connections also go well beyond local communities. For example, the students have been using a mapping strategy developed in Brazil to help young people record problems in their environment that are in need of solutions.

“Young people are connected to each other and are driven in a way that we’ve never seen possible before,” Harvey says of the By Youth For Youth program.

Seeing how passionate the kids are about working together to build stronger communities, no matter if it’s in Kosovo or around the world, is an inspiration to Harvey and the rest of the Kosovo Innovation Lab team.

“If the world is going to be the world we want it to be,” Harvey says, “then we need to make it a place where everybody has a role in bringing that about. I believe that broadly we have more in common than we have things that separate us and with the lab, we found a way of helping people realize that.”

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If you are excited by what you read here and want to support programs like this, good news! Right now, you can support UNICEF’s Innovation Labs and programs through Star Wars: Force for Change, a brand new initiative from Disney and Lucasfilm in collaboration with Bad Robot, that allows fans to contribute at Omaze.com/StarWars for a chance to appear in Star Wars: Episode VII, while benefiting UNICEF’s innovative work worldwide.

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