It is always refreshing to see young people who are willing to contribute to the resilience of their country despite the many challenges they face. Seeing a young man or woman take the lead to drive change in their small communities or create a space for innovation for their peers will definitely bring a sense of relief. Relief because their efforts show that there is always hope, there is always a flow of positive energy waiting to be harnessed. At UNDP Syria, we have the advantage of observing and working closely with a diverse group of youth from different walks of life and representing different parts of Syria, this group are part of the Youth leadership program (YLP).

The first team to welcome us and initiate interaction with the Accelerator lab was the YLP team. They showed a genuine interest in the work of the Accelerator Lab and wanted to help in any way possible. The YLP team introduced us to the activities of the YLP program, their events globally and nationally, and the individual initiatives within the program. While we were being introduced to the youth initiatives, we immediately recognized a success factor for the Accelerator Lab. Why? Simply because they are:

Innovators: Each one of the youths in YLP either has their own initiative or innovated a sustainable solution that is responding to a need in their societies. Together these youth form an integral part of Syria innovation ecosystem.

Community Experts: Youth have the firsthand experience and direct knowledge of their community challenges. They best understand the dynamics of their community and can bring a fresh perspective to the table and come up with new ideas.

Change makers community mobilizers: Coming from different parts of Syria, with their initiatives they have the power of driving change and mobilizing their communities for development. They can be partners in communicating our concepts and ideas to their peers and communities both at local level and global level. With their various initiatives, youth can help us in our outreach efforts to connect with communities across Syria especially marginalized segments of it.

SDGs advocates:  Youth have great role in raising public awareness on SDGs among their families, peers, and communities.

Most importantly they are Leaders: those youth were chosen to be part of the YLP program because of the leadership potentials and capabilities they have. They can contribute to the development of their young counterparts not just through their initiatives but also thorough being a role models for Youth activism.

The bootcamp & the manifestation of collective intelligence

YLP team informed us about an ongoing planning of a bootcamp, which was intended to be a “graduation ceremony” for YLP6 participants. The YLP team expressed their interest in inviting us to be part of this bootcamp. Of course, we recognized an opportunity and agreed to be part of the bootcamp; We decided to use the bootcamp to soft launch the Accelerator lab, where we can introduce our work and test the water or (experiment) to see what works and what does not for our official launch event.

Although it was not an easy task to stand in front of such knowledgeable, passionate, and active audience, the 2 days bootcamp was a great opportunity for us to meet with YLP members in person. 35 participants from YLP were chosen to be part of the bootcamp, they were chosen because of their leadership skills, active citizenship, innovative thinking, and their contributions in their communities through their initiatives.

 The first day was an introduction of the accelerator lab and its work in Syria, the introduction answered why, what, how when and where questions. We also discussed the 100-day learning cycle and gave successful examples from other countries and presented challenges they are working on. Finally, we introduced the concept of solution mapping, we explained what are grassroot innovation, their importance for sustainable development, and where to look for them. We gave the youth a chance to present local solutions or indigenous knowledge they witnessed in their communities and which are contributing towards achieving SDGs. It was like a remote solution safari that reflected the diverse ways each Syrian community addressed its needs and challenges.

The second day was more practical and fun. In the first half of the day, we conducted System mapping activity. We gave the youth a chance to choose from three topics to discuss during the activity. The topics were: child labor, increased GBV cases, and youth unemployment. Surely enough the topic they wanted to discuss was youth unemployment. It is an issue that directly affect their life, they are the experts on it! For youth the activity was simple, a brain storming activity about what are the main drivers of youth unemployment and who are the main stakeholders. However, for the accelerator lab it was a chance for us to experience the true manifestation of collective intelligence. Each one of the participants presented their own perspective on youth unemployment, it was like painting a picture each opinion and perspective helped us get closer to completing the picture. During the discussion we could sense how their diverse educational and cultural backgrounds helped in building a better understanding of youth unemployment. Moreover, it helped us sense how much important, complex, and urgent is the issue of youth unemployment in Syria, so we decided that we are going to adopt this as one of our frontier challenges of this year. It was insightful to see how a simple activity, a 45 minute activity, gave us the chance to gain deeper understanding of such an urgent issue, and helped us see how actively engaging and involving the main stakeholders, who are directly influenced by an issue, is much more productive than just working for them or ignoring them.

What is next, harnessing the energy of youth

Accelerator Lab Syria is now interested in making the best use of the talent available within the YLP program. Accelerator Lab can benefit a lot from their enthusiasm and dedication. The valuable insight in the bootcamp reflected their potential to be an active part within the accelerator lab. How? They could be:

Solution mappers:

These young people are the experts of their own communities, they are aware of its needs, culture sensitivities, strengths, and weaknesses. Those youth can help us by acting as an entry point to their communities. Their already established networks will help us reach solutions holders, ongoing grassroot initiatives and vulnerable hard to reach segments.  The different set of skills they already had or the one that they were trained on can be employed in our ethnographic research’s, co-creation workshops and community engagement efforts.

Explorers:

When asked about the sources of data and information gathering the youth showed deeper knowledge and appeared more mature in a surprising way that exceeded our initial expectations. Their concrete knowledge of the local context is very promising from the exploration side. We have a trusted network to rely on when we search solutions or explore Problems. Most of them possess technical skills that can be employed to expedite the process. From the bootcamp we learned that they only needed little details to understand the whole system.     

Experimenters:

It was quite inspiring how the youth who participated in the event needed very little instruction to ‘get going’ on new activities. Whether it was writing down a 100-day challenge which formed part of a 1000-day journey or silently conducting a science experiment in under an hour whilst being disrupted; the youth prevailed. Moreover, the youth understood what it meant to have a testable hypothesis which immediately transformed the nature of collaboration from a vague ‘what?’ to a concrete ‘how?’. From an experimentation lens, this shows untapped potential that is simply in need of something good to do. However, it was clear that the biggest barrier to overcome was a fear of failure. We have the trust that these young men and women can be part of our future the experimentation portfolio.

 

Give something back

“We have already attended many workshops, what we want is not another workshop, we want to be part of the solution, we want to take an action with the accelerator lab.”

“We are so excited for having an accelerator lab in Syria, what can we do to part of it and how can we help?”

I have a lot of good ideas to work with the accelerator lab, when can we meet?”

These are some of the comments we received from youth by the end of the event. These comments reflect the active civic-mindset of youth. There are many scenarios on how to harness the energy of youth. However, the important question is how we can give back to them. The accelerator lab budget is very limited, YLP program is 0 budget so there is limited financial resources to use as incentives for youth. We are sure that they are not looking for money or personal gain. However, there should be a work formula that makes them feel valued, empowered, and rewarded; Be it by building their capacity, giving them a platform for their initiative to be recognized by different partners, or simply by connecting them with funding opportunities. We do not have yet a clear plan of how to benefit active youth, we are still looking at available non-financial options. One way to find out how can we give something back is by consulting with youth themselves as they are the ones who know better what they need.

 

To know more about YLP program UNDP:

https://www.arabstates.undp.org/content/rbas/en/home/democratic-governance-and-peacebuilding/youth-leadership-programme0.html

YLP Syria initiatives:

https://seersociety.net/

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