By Dana Zucker, Communications Lead: UNICEF Innovation. 

I’ve just returned from Kosovo where the UNICEF Innovations Lab Kosovo, in partnership with local NGO Peer Educators Network (PEN), successfully and impressively completed their second weekend-long UPSHIFT: Social Impact Workshop.

UPSHIFT is the cornerstone activity in the Lab’s By Youth For Youth (BYFY) programme, which empowers youth to transform their social impact ideas into actionable projects, providing young leaders with first-hand experience developing and implementing projects, programmes, and social ventures.  BYFY acts as a “pre-incubator,” bridging the gap between idea and sustainable, impactful project by providing funding, equipment, office space, and—most importantly—capacity building through training and mentorship.

UPSHIFT: Social Impact Workshop prepares young people from Kosovo’s marginalized communities to identify, analyse, and take entrepreneurial action against challenges in their communities—helping vulnerable young people realize their role as agents of social change, and building their leadership skills, professional readiness, and resilience along the way.

The direct benefit of UPSHIFT is building the professional capacities of youth, training them in hard skills they will need to be successful, and teaching them to be leaders and agents of social change so they can make a positive contribution to their communities.

Why is UPSHIFT necessary in Kosovo? Unemployment rates are high, making youth feel hopeless about their future.

  • On average, 36% of Kosovars ages 15-24 are not only not working, but also not in school and not being trained.
  • Of those that are seeking employment, 55% are unemployed1.

In advance of the UPSHIFT: Social Impact Workshop, Lab staff travelled to schools, youth centres, and even homes of young people in villages across Kosovo’s Ferizaj region, providing introductory trainings to 375 boys and girls in problem identification, causal analysis, and user research. The practice worksheets from these trainings became the applications for teams of interested youth; the Lab assessed hundreds of applications against criteria including the scope and scale of the challenge, the quality of the user research, and applicant need (i.e. does participation in UPSHIFT represent an opportunity that the applicant could not otherwise secure). The selection panel chose 10 teams of two-to-four young boys and girls to join the weekend-long workshop.

UPSHIFT Outreach Phase © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Outreach Phase © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Outreach Phase © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Outreach Phase © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015

At the close of the workshop, the 10 teams exhibit and pitch their solutions to a panel of local authorities and business leaders, members of the development community, and former UPSHIFT participants. The panel then selects five teams to implement their projects with ongoing support from the Lab. Support includes: up to EUR 2,000 in seed funding, access to co-working space and a library of equipment, three months of mentorship from a professional staff mentor, training, and access to design, marketing and communications, and product development support and services from the Lab.

March 13: The Workshop Begins 

UPSHIFT Workshop Registration © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Registration © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Registration © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Registration © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Registration © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Registration © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Registration © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Registration © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015

UPSHIFT leaders delivered motivating and inspiring opening remarks, underscoring to participants that they are part of something much larger than themselves and that they are here to create a better and brighter future… that it’s not just about winning, but about learning and professional readiness, and that with the skills they are about to learn, they can be agents of social change from now on, not just this once.

UPSHIFT Workshop Opening Remarks © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/DanaZucker/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Opening Remarks © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/DanaZucker/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Opening Remarks © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Opening Remarks © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Opening Remarks © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/DanaZucker/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Opening Remarks © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/DanaZucker/March2015

The atmosphere was energized and determined; participants came with great ambitions: “to prevent early marriage;” “to end school violence;” “to create a common bond between Serbians and Albanians;” “to find a way for people with Down Syndrome to be socially accepted and included;” “to educate about preventing obesity;” “to create awareness about optical health; “to provide a space where art is accepted and appreciated;” and more. This was not your average 16-year-old conversation… (What were you worrying about when you were 16?!)

It was time to get started. After a group icebreaker of “Two Truths and a Lie,” participants went into their teams and got to work.

UPSHIFT Workshop Day 1 Warm Up: "Two Truths and a Lie" © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Day 1 Warm Up: “Two Truths and a Lie” © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Day 1 Warm Up: "Two Truths and a Lie" © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Day 1 Warm Up: “Two Truths and a Lie” © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015

Every good solution starts with a good understanding of the problem. Prior to the Workshop Weekend, UPSHIFTers spent several days identifying challenges in their communities, analyzing their underlying causes, and conducting research with people impacted by–and connected to–those challenges. In Phase 1 of the Workshop — the Understand Phase — UPSHIFTers turn what they’ve learned into problem trees and a design goal, along with personas and user stories to guide their work. This approach is sophisticated and challenging — these techniques are used in technology and innovation firms worldwide, and for some UPSHIFTers it’s the first time they’ve worked in a group or even been asked their opinion.

March 14: Day 2

Some of the kids were too excited to sleep, so the day appropriately started with an energizing exercise called “Big Picture” where youth came together by identifying individual objects that relate to each other, and then acted out a scene capturing them all. The Lab’s efforts to encourage bonding were already paying off.

UPSHIFT WorkshopDay 2: Energizer © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT WorkshopDay 2: Energizer © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT WorkshopDay 2: Energizer © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT WorkshopDay 2: Energizer © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015

Day 2 of the Workshop was jam-packed. Youth had to put their sleep depravation aside and get down to business. They had Phases 2&3 to accomplish today:

  • Design Phase where they transition from thoroughly understanding their problem to designing their solution using creative ideation techniques such as brainstorming and modeling.
  • Build & Test Phase where they explore an iterative approach to prototyping key elements of their solution by building, testing, receiving feedback, and improving on their initial idea.
    UPSHIFT WorkshopDay 2, Phase 2 & 3: Design and Build & Test Phases © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
    UPSHIFT WorkshopDay 2, Phase 2 & 3: Design and Build & Test Phases © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
    UPSHIFT WorkshopDay 2, Phase 2 & 3: Design and Build & Test Phases © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
    UPSHIFT WorkshopDay 2, Phase 2 & 3: Design and Build & Test Phases © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT WorkshopDay 2, Phase 2 & 3: Design and Build & Test Phases © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT WorkshopDay 2, Phase 2 & 3: Design and Build & Test Phases © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015

It was during this afternoon that I made my rounds to interview and speak with all participants. Their responses were surprisingly mature, inspiring and sobering. Here are two interviews for you:

Project Title:

  • “Let’s See”
    The "Let's See" team © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
    The “Let’s See” team © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015

Team members:

  • Arbnor Karaliti
  • Uresa Ahmeti
  • Alma Gashi
  • Albrim Tahiri

How old are you?

  • 16, 17, 18, 16

What problem are you trying to solve?

  • Lack of awareness of optical health because a lot of children have eye problems but they are under recognized.

Why did you pick this problem?

  • One of the boys in our group is a victim of this — he couldn’t see in class so he moved to the front row and finally realized he had a vision problem.

How does this affect the larger community?

  • We also discovered that people were dealing with headaches, and trying to cope by repeatedly taking pills. It was a really long time before they realized that their suffering was because of their poor vision.
  • During the application process we spoke with community members and found out that people couldn’t afford to buy glasses for their children even if they wanted to.

What have you learned from participating in UPSHIFT?

  • New skills: brainstorming, prototyping, and group work. Totally different from how we do things in school. We thought it [UPSHIFT] would be easier; we are experiencing challenges and nerves we have never experienced, and now know the advantages to group work and have an appreciation for the process of solving a problem step by step. Because of UPSHIFT, we have actually learned how to make a project so we can make anything we want soon. Parents, teachers and government here don’t value experience as much as money, so lots of people don’t understand why we participated since we aren’t getting paid. We think our new knowledge and success will prove them all wrong.

How will you apply your learning from UPSHIFT in your life?

  • We plan to make an educational awareness programme about optical care that is accessible through a brochure so many people, even those without internet, can access it. The brochure will include eye exams and facts so that people can get all the information they need in one package.

What is some advice you’d give to other youth who have not been through this UPSHIFT program?

  • You shouldn’t waste your time being on social media. You need to try new things to get to the right places.

What do you hope to do professionally?

  • Politician, math, psychology.
  • Writing, ambassador, study abroad and then come back to Kosovo to make it better because we are the ones who can fix it. Everything depends on us.
  • I want to be an architect that people will remember. I really like Mimar Sinan’s architectural style.
  • I’d like to go into fine arts.

Anything else?

  • We (the 2 girls in the group) are lucky. Our families encourage us to educate ourselves & participate in everything. This is rare. We have no pressure to marry early and because of this we can be ambitious and try new things. It would be good if more families could be like this instead of promoting early marriage.

Project Title:

  • “Meet your Career”
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Creating Career Orientation Guidance for Youth © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Creating Career Orientation Guidance for Youth © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015

Team members:

  • Denis Baftiu
  • Arianisa Ramadani
  • Arietë Shabani
  • Dorotea Ramiqi

How old are you?

  • We are all 17 and are in the same class at school

What problem are you trying to solve?

  • Currently there is no career orientation center in school. We have no one to help us figure out what’s the best career path forward. We don’t even know what’s out there or what are our options.

Why did you pick this problem?

  • We are all experiencing it now, and we know from speaking with friends, family and community members, that everyone has also experienced this stressful, overwhelming and difficult journey.

What have you learned from participating in UPSHIFT?

  • We have learned different ways to solve problems, steps to take, and how to design projects & solutions. We don’t do anything this in-depth in school! Brainstorming is something completely new.

How will you apply your learning from UPSHIFT in your life?

  • We plan to make an actual website where people can learn about different career paths.

What is some advice you’d give to other youth who have not been through this UPSHIFT program?

  • How to brainstorm! You can get so many ideas and identify so many problems when you take time to do this, especially with a group of people.

What do you hope to do professionally?

  • Mechanical engineering
  • I don’t know… that’s why I need a Career Orientation Centre! I like architecture, medicine, biology, chemistry, and political science….
  • Biology and tourism
  • Medicine

All teams worked until the last minute, and then it was time to let loose and blow off steam with some local and pop-culture playlists. Impressively, some teams went back to their group stations to continue working into the wee hours.

March 15: Day 3, Pitch Day

In the morning, teams worked through the last phase — Making it Real — where they finalized their projects by outlining the resources and materials they’ll need to implement and sustain their solutions.

Just before it was time to pitch their solutions to the judges, the Workshop leaders gathered all participants to congratulate them on their accomplishment of getting to this stage, provide them with their Workshop certificates, and remind them about the greater goal and that they shouldn’t be discouraged if their group is not selected to receive the award of 3 months of UNICEF and PEN’s support.

UPSHIFT Workshop Day 3: Certificates © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Day 3: Certificates © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015

And then, the time had come. Teams rehearsed and then presented a compelling summary of their solution by walking the judges through their entire UPSHIFT journey. Each team had two opportunities to present to the judging panel that included:

  1. Laila Omar Gad, PhD: Head of UNICEF Office, Kosovo
  2. Josh Harvey: Lab Lead, Innovations Lab Kosovo
  3. Bujar Fejzullahu: Executive Director, Peer Education Network (PEN)
  4. Fani Farmaki: Senior Programme Officer, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
  5. Christian Geosits: Head of ADA Office – Austrian Development Aid (ADA)
UPSHIFT Workshop Day 3: Teams Pitching Ideas © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Day 3: Teams Pitching Ideas © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Day 3: Teams Pitching Ideas © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
UPSHIFT Workshop Day 3: Teams Pitching Ideas © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015

It was a difficult decision, but for a good reason — all teams did an incredible job. In the end, the five solutions selected to be further cultivated were:

  1. Creating awareness about optical health
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Creating Awareness About Optical Health © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Creating Awareness About Optical Health © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
  2. Creating space for art expression and art exhibition
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Creating Acceptance of Art and Art Spaces © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Creating Acceptance of Art and Art Spaces © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
  3. Preventing early marriages of young women and young men within Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Preventing Early Marriage © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Preventing Early Marriage © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
  4. Encouraging interaction between Serbian and Albanian communities through English-learning classes
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Facilitating Bonding Between Serbians and Albanians via English Learning Classes © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Facilitating Bonding Between Serbians and Albanians via English Learning Classes © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
  5. Establishing career orientation guidance and outlets for youth
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Creating Career Orientation Guidance for Youth © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015
    UPSHIFT Workshop Winning Team: Creating Career Orientation Guidance for Youth © UNICEF/Innovations Lab Kosovo/UPSHIFTWorkshop/NjomzaKadriu/March2015

To date, between the UPSHIFT programs and other youth empowerment initiatives orchestrated by the Lab, nearly 3,000 youth have been reached via community outreach, which means they have received training on problem identification & analysis, how to determine causes of a problem, and how to understand the situation from the perspective of the users. Thousands more have learned about these skills and techniques via the Lab website, traditional and social media, and general word of mouth. More than 126 youth-led projects have been implemented, more than half of which continue even after their engagement with the Lab comes to a close. From these 126 projects there are approximately 61,056 youth directly involved or directly benefited, and 120,630 youth are indirect beneficiaries of these projects.

Attending, supporting and observing the UPSHIFT: Social Impact Workshop was my first field experience since joining UNICEF Innovation in November 2014. It was UPlifting and inspiring. By educating and improving the lives of these youth, we are creating a ripple effect that can impact an entire country. We often talk about the importance of improving “systems” and “institutions,” but at the core of them all are individuals, and what we need are smart, driven and enthusiastic individuals willing and able to dare to take ownership for improving the status quo. In one weekend, at one hotel, Kosovo just got 40 new agents of social change.

1Kosovo Statistical Agency, Labour Market Survey 2013, November 2014

Giving Kosovo’s Youth a Voice to be Forces for Change

Print This Story