September 25, 2023 | Monday

The Rise of Youth Leadership in #ReLOaD 2

In a region frequently beset by socio-economic challenges, the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans (#ReLOaD) is carving a path toward empowerment and change. Supported by the European Union and administered by UNDP Kosovo, #ReLOaD has been operational since 2017 and aims to fortify local governance in six Western Balkan nations.

The program is now in its second phase.

As the program enters a critical stage, it is increasingly incorporating community perspectives into policy frameworks. Its emphasis on youth leadership and civic participation allows previously marginalized voices to engage in and contribute to local governance.

A cohort of seven Youth Community Leaders — comprising five women and two men — have been chosen from partner municipalities to pioneer new grassroots activism strategies. Through dialogue with municipal authorities and specialized workshops, these young leaders have not only pinpointed urgent community concerns but also proposed innovative solutions.

Their youth-driven initiatives encompass diverse facets of community life, such as mental health, sports and wellness, hygiene for children with disabilities, public space upkeep, and career counseling. Central themes like volunteerism, civic involvement, and inter-community collaboration are consistently featured in their public discussions.

For example, one municipality recognized the need to address dental hygiene among youth and children, which led to the organization of a focused lecture.

“These are targeted initiatives meant to resolve specific issues, like neighborhood cleanliness, thereby activating both the youth and their broader communities,” said Kaltrina Salihu, a monitoring expert with UNDP Kosovo.

Broadening their outreach, these young leaders have established ‘youth cells’ within their communities, incorporating even more members. These cells collaborate in identifying problems and designing solutions through joint workshops. A recent call to local NGOs urged alignment of their projects with these community-identified priorities, ensuring a multi-tiered approach that leads to actionable outcomes and long-lasting impact.

Scheduled to continue through 2024, #ReLOaD 2 seeks to address complex issues ranging from unemployment to environmental sustainability. Given the high rate of youth unemployment, the program provides multiple avenues for job training and internships. Through both local and regional knowledge-sharing experiences, the initiative aims to enhance the soft skills that are crucial for employability. The overarching goal remains: instilling a sense of shared responsibility between local authorities and young citizens to collectively improve their communities.