“UPSHIFT taught us how to implement a project, we learned things that we hadn’t done before” says Petar from Gracanica/ Gračanica. This week he arrived to Prishtina with his team to attend UPSHIFT’s Certification Ceremony.  UNICEF Innovations Lab Kosovo hosted seven teams to celebrate the successful implementation of the social impact projects they led in the municipalities of Gracanica/Gračanica, Lipjan/Lipljan, Suhareka/Suva Reka, Gjakova/ Đakovica, Shtime/ Štimlje, and Prishtina/Pristina.

Aged 16-24, these youth had for the first time in their young professional lives, most of them high school students, the opportunity to implement their idea of how they want to make their communities better. For this, the teams had access to small budgets of up to 2000 euros, a library of equipment, no-cost workspace and implementation support of the Lab’s team of professional project managers, software engineers, communications and marketing specialists, and graphic and web designers,

At the ceremony, now friends among each other, they spoke of the activities they had carried out, all part of the project design they crafted at UPSHIFT, where they met five months ago in October 2015. The Lab organizes UPSHIFT, which has now seen its 4th edition in Kosovo, to bring together for 3 days youth who have identified a challenge in the communities where they live and much as a business incubator teaches them innovative methods to develop their ideas and lead their projects in a hands-on, learn-while-doing approach.

Petar’s “Live Puppets” project team wanted to see children be creative rather than spend their time in front of the TV or computers. So four students, each in different life-paths studying Agriculture, English, Electro-Engingeering and one of them still in high school, came from the towns in which they study, to their home in Gracanica and on weekends organized art workshops making puppets from eco-friendly items with more than 100 children. Impressed by the excitement this was received with in their local community and parents, they now want to go beyond what the initial project stage had planned and are preparing with the children a puppet theater show.

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In Lipjan/Lipljan, a town home to members from all communities that live in Kosovo, the camps that the Open for All team organized for the first time in recent years brought together youth of different ethnicities to learn together and socialize.

Shtime’s/ Štimlje local theater saw for the first time in the last 16 years a play, organized by the team leading the Professional Development project. With a sociology student among them they treated issues like drugs through theater shows. The team wants to continue the work they started in their municipality and are now establishing an NGO.

The “E di” team in Gjakove/Đakovica, wanted to see accountability and transparency in how the teachers of their schools are hired. So they built an online platform, found cooperation in two schools in their community whose teachers’ CV were published and together with volunteers they hired went around schools talking to peers about the quality of education they are receiving, they’re needs and challenges. Have a look at their platform!

Other projects such as “Creative House” – built the Red Box, a blog where anyone can leave a message and make their voice heard. Leave yours here! “Science for Youth” – made possible scientific laboratory work with students and science teachers of public schools whereas “IT has no Gender” – created space in Prishtina for talented girls in technology to report on difficulties they face in working in this field that doesn’t have many of them in Kosovo in comparison to boys.

These Kosovo youth are now a community of young social innovators that want to see inclusion of all in their communities, and show the grit and passion to make change for the better happen.

“Our journey started at UPSHIFT and we don’t know where it will take us. What’s clear is that we would have never been able to do this had we all not started there and without the support we were given” said Arbenita, one of the young project leaders of the Professional Development team.

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Organized as part of the By Youth For Youth programme of the Lab, UPSHIFT seeks to increase the employability and professional readiness of Kosovo youth teaching them skills of entrepreneurship. It’s a new dynamic model of workshops, which brings together ideas from youth and innovative educational methods to solve social problems in their local communities.

The Innovations Lab Kosovo, UNICEF’s programme connecting youth with technology and tools for social impact recently celebrated its 5th anniversary in Kosovo, and is growing in countries all over the world. The Lab remains committed to supporting Kosovo youth in leading solutions for the challenges they care about. In 2016, the Lab plans to expand UPSHIFT, help youth find volunteer opportunities by launching the Kosovo Volunteers platform, help them learn coding from professionals and peers to build tools and platforms for social good among other initiatives.

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