Designing for development in Kosovo

October 25, 2011
Imagine having a team of idea generators with a can-do energy working side-by-side with you. Imagine being able to join a brainstorm on the couch about building a services office for developmentally challenged youth at the University of Pristina (it’s helpful if you speak Albanian), curl up on a bean bag to watch a presentation on peer-to-peer learning, or escape to one of the open computers to fine-tune your proposal, edit your budget, or finish a report. It’s kind of like college all over again. Except here, these projects have real world application and the projected results will have immediate momentum- building effect. The fun part is that this collaborative environment is self-motivated. These youth are serious about change and it’s infectious. The really cool part is watching the staff at the Lab provoke and leverage all of these good ideas into something actionable.

Innovations Lab Kosovo|© U.S. Fund for UNICEF/Peterson

I recently had the great honor of working with the staff of the UNICEF Innovations Lab, a new model for grassroots youth empowerment in countries with high levels of unemployment (in Pristina, 73% of young adults are unemployed). The Innovations Lab Kosovo is the first of fifteen other similar spaces planned within the UNICEF system. It is designed as a central work space to bring local youths and mentors together with international resources to design and implement programs and solution-sets that address embedded civic problems, often times using open-source technology.  What this means is that young people can come to the lab to apply their considerable energy and ideas to address urgent issues affecting their peers and community-at-large. In the process, they learn that invaluable discipline and skillset needed to participate in society.  The Innovations Lab is truly an inspiring place, and I don’t say that lightly.  Bright, airy, and brimming with collaborative spirit, it makes you want to get to work.  Imagine having a team of idea generators with a can-do energy working side-by-side with you. Imagine being able to join a brainstorm on the couch about building a services office for developmentally challenged youth at the University of Pristina (it’s helpful if you speak Albanian), curl up on a bean bag to watch a presentation on peer-to-peer learning, or escape to one of the open computers to fine-tune your proposal, edit your budget, or finish a report. It’s kind of like college all over again. Except here, these projects have real world application and the projected results will have immediate momentum- building effect.  The fun part is that this collaborative environment is self-motivated. These youth are serious about change and it’s infectious.  The really cool part is watching the staff at the Lab provoke and leverage all of these good ideas into something actionable. The Innovations Lab Kosovo is now in its sixth month.   It has two fully functioning pillars of programs: ByYouthForYouth and the Design Center . Sono to be launched is the YAP - better known as the Youth Advocacy Platform, which will be hosting a Youth Innovation Camp in mid-February.  The Lab has already outgrown the sunny space I visited this summer and their newly expanded staff (now near 15) will be moving into 400 square meters of space any day now.  They now have two vehicles under UNICEF’s lease which will be used for programmatic monitoring and evaluation.  In a very tiny country where the under 25’s make up over 50% of the population, it’s exciting to see formats like the UNICEF Innovation Lab model, by design, harness the endless creativity and energy of tomorrow’s problem solvers.  Follow Innovation Lab Kosovo on Facebook , or better yet, take a flight and spend a week with them.  For sure you, and they, will learn something you’ll never forget.