Seeding the ‘Innovation Generation’ at UNICEF’s Innovation Labs Open Day

By Arianna Freschi

As a young girl or boy living in Azraq’s newly established Village number 5, you might perceive your future as uncertain and unpromising. Your journey to Jordan, through Syria to the Jordanian Border, was long and dangerous. Though you might have only lived in Azraq for a few months, you are likely to have been out of school for several years. Beyond the hardship of daily life, you face the dangers of early marriage and child labour, psychological damage, violence, and exploitation. But your potential to become a key innovator for the future of your community, and your country, is waiting to be cultivated and unleashed.

As of July 2016, the Azraq Camp hosted 54,690 registered refugees due to a rapid influx of arrivals from the border. There are significant concerns about the wellbeing of youth in Azraq. Low access to educational services, in addition to several years of missed education, led to only one student passing their High School Tawjihi Exams in 2016 . Children also suffer from boredom and are in need of psychosocial support to overcome trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS).

Participants plan their group task at the Azraq Innovation Lab Open day, October 3rd 2016.
Participants plan their group task at the Azraq Innovation Lab Open day, October 3rd 2016.

Children facing an uncertain future require skills such as resilience and problem solving. These skills can help them create a positive vision of their future based on their own capabilities, and empower them to become agents of change in their own communities.

On 3 October 2016, over 40 young refugees gathered at Relief International’s new Makani Centre in Azraq Village 5 for an Innovation Open Day, which also marked the launch of Azraq’s first innovation lab. Over the next month, an additional four labs will open in the Azraq refugee camp; three in Za’atari refugee camp; and 10 mobile labs will be established outside of the Azraq camp .

The Innovation Open Day gave participants an overview of social innovation and allowed facilitators to select the first cohort of 25 participants to attend the innovation bootcamp. The youth’s enthusiasm was palpable as two facilitators from UNICEF’s technical partner Beyond Excellence, opened the session with engaging introductions and ice-breaker games.

The 25 young individuals selected will participate in a four-day intensive bootcamp in which they will be taken through the process of social innovation. This is designed to enable them to think creatively about problems affecting their communities. They will be tasked to redesign their villages based on any potential improvements they envisage and create sustainable plans to launch new activities benefiting all.  At the end of the four days, each group will pitch their innovative ideas to a panel consisting of the camp authority, private sector partners, and UNICEF representatives. The winners will be awarded funding to implement their ideas in their communities, becoming actual makers and changers.

A group of innovators building structures sturdy enough to hold a falling can of Pepsi.
A group of innovators building structures sturdy enough to hold a falling can of Pepsi.

In choosing the 25 participants, these ‘young innovators’ were divided into groups and assigned tasks designed to test their leadership, creativity, and team-working skills. They were given straws and tape to design and build structures sturdy enough to hold a falling can of Pepsi. Also, they were tasked to draw exactly 40 identical circles on a sheet of paper and fill each with different images within a limited time. The competitive element of the tasks increased their eagerness to do their best. These seemingly simple tasks contained valuable lessons on teamwork, including developing a shared vision, listening to others, and effectively dividing up roles. Each task was followed by a group discussion on the teams’ strengths and weaknesses. Beyond the activities themselves, the youth were encouraged to participate in organising the event itself, setting up and cleaning up after each task, creating a real sense of involvement in the process.

The participants of the Azraq Innovation Lab Open day with the Facilitators and UNICEF staff.
The participants of the Azraq Innovation Lab Open day with the Facilitators and UNICEF staff.

At the Azraq Innovation Open Day, facilitators scored the participants based on several indicators, identifying which students to invite to form the first cohort of the ‘Innovation Generation.’ The goal of this Innovation Open Day was to identify a group of creative self-starters who will design the Innovation Lab space, equipment, and lead initiatives for other youth in the camp. It was a success.

This Innovation Lab programme aims to empower a small group of youth to affect the larger population through initiatives led by the youth themselves. It enables participants to envisage a better, future society, and work to transform this vision into reality. By the end of the program, the participants should confidently state: “I can build something out of nothing, I can create my future!”

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