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Off to a great start: Youth Challenge 2019/2020 in North Macedonia

Last year young innovators from North Macedonia managed to create solutions to #ENDViolence against and among children and were recognised as one of the global winners.

In 2018, half a million young people from 16 countries participated in the Youth Challenge movement.

Unlike last year, now we are tackling an entirely new challenge, focusing on the topic of digital inclusion.

Tag along by reading our story below and feel like a part of the incredible journey of GenU 2019/2020!

The global Youth Challenge 2019/2020 was announced in September 2019 and this time around it is happening in 40 countries around the world! Representing the values of the GenU global initiative, the Youth Challenge calls on young people from 40 countries to take part as the leading voice in the co-creation of innovative solutions that will address the challenges that youth around the globe face every day and may have to face in the future.

Learn more information about the local challenge on the official website, available in Macedonian.

The challenge is an inclusive process which aims to inspire young innovators to design solutions to improve education, employment and civic engagement in their local communities by providing the financial resources and expertise, helping them make their dreams for a better future a reality!

The inspiring youth in North Macedonia & why exactly “Digital Inclusion”?

This year, the UNICEF Country Office partnered up with the Foundation Telekom for Macedonia so that even stronger and better support would be provided to the participating teams. The local challenge was implemented by our organization, SmartUp and locally supported by one of the most valuable youth voices in the country, the Scout Association of Macedonia.

Looking for a way to help those that need help the most, when deciding on the local challenge, we took a closer look at some information regarding one of the most vulnerable civil categories: children and youth with disabilities.

“There are between 93 and 150 million children with disabilities around the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that in many countries “living with a disability doubles a child’s chances of never enrolling in any type of educational institution or program”.

“In North Macedonia, the total number of children with disabilities enrolled in schools is just 0.5% of the total number of students. “

These facts were more than enough for the local GenU team to decide on what the local challenge should address, and so we set the title of this year’s challenge to be:

“How can digital technology contribute to the inclusion of children and youth with disabilities in education and in everyday life?”

Anxious to begin this year’s adventure, we launched the open call for applications for all youth in North Macedonia between the ages of 14 and 24 on October 10th 2019, urging them to form teams of 3 to 5 members and apply!

Spreading the word and making the toughest choice

Wanting to share this amazing opportunity with the nations’ brilliant young minds, in October and November 2019 we visited more than 20 institutions including high schools, daycare centres for special education and rehabilitation, various faculties and facilities which have programmes that support or promote inclusion of people with disabilities as well as local scout committees. In addition, we organized two consecutive informational sessions in the city of Skopje, where young people came to learn more about the challenge.

The atmosphere from one of the “Info Days” informative sessions

More than 600 young people expressed strong interest in joining the Youth Challenge movement and 218 applied to participate, 22 of which were young people with disabilities who wanted to use their personal experiences to create useful and truly helpful solutions.

We can proudly say that the young people in North Macedonia are fully aware that children and youth with disabilities deserve to be included in all societal activities equally, independently and with confidence, and they are ready to set in motion the change that is needed to make this happen.

Outreach presentations facilitated by Ms Jana Neshkovikj, the project assistant

Unfortunately, the capacity for the challenge is 10 participating teams, so we had to make one of the toughest choices: Which 10 teams, out of the 53 that initially applied, should be a part of this unique journey?

After long and hard consideration, the participating teams were selected: “Digital Heartbeats”, “Bionic”, “Сајбер Извидници” (Cyber Scouts),“Mind Benders”, “Unstoppables”, “PortComSign”, “UNICO”, “Нешто Нетипично” (Something Unusual), “from Zero to Hero” and “Инфинити” (Infinity)!

Pre-workshops: Breaking the ice

We first met the participating teams on November 29th, on the first day of the “pre-workshops”. Welcoming speeches from Foundation Telekom for Macedonia’s Lea Lipsha and UNICEF Representative Patrizia Di Giovanni marked the official opening of the Youth Challenge and with their encouraging words, we were off to a great start!

Ms Di Giovanni (UNICEF MK) and Ms Lipsha (Foundation Telekom for Macedonia) addressing the participants

The facilitator, our teammate Sofija Bogeva, had prepared a detailed agenda that inspired and engaged every person there and after her opening remarks and introduction, we got to work!

Opening remarks by Ms Sofija Bogeva, the facilitator of the challenge

During day one, the participating teams learned more about inclusion and the types of disabilities from Marija Velinovska Velkovska, a special educator and rehabilitator, working with children with disabilities. After a short break, professor Ivan Chorbev of the Faculty of Computer Science & Engineering took the stage and talked about the possibilities of using assistive technology and the potential to add to the limited selection of products and tools.

Mr Ivan Chorbev and Ms Marija Velinovska Velkovska during their individual presentations

Teamwork makes the dream work

The main goal of the pre-workshops was to provide the proper environment in order to ensure a better understanding of the problem and the target group so that the teams would be able to smoothly immerse in the process and come out with more effective and user-centred solutions later on.

Part of the atmosphere during the pre-workshops

So, on the second day of the “pre-workshops” with the help of four dedicated mentors: Vesna Soleva, Tatjana Angjusheva, Teodora Nikolovska and Nikolina Cvetanovska, experts in the field of market research and market strategies, the teams worked on mapping the potential stakeholders and their needs.

“I am joining this year’s challenge as a mentor because I believe that technology should be used to make the world a better place to live. All of us, who are directly involved in the current digital changes have the responsibility to share our experiences and ideas in order to contribute to a better common good. “

-Nikolina Cvetanovska, marketing mentor at the pre-workshops

At the end of day 2 the facilitator, Ms. Bogeva instructed the teams in the basics of conducting ethnographic field research, building empathy and conducting interviews as the teams had two weeks to complete this exercise in their local community before starting the main activity of the challenge: the three-day workshop for co-creation of innovative solutions known as “the Bootcamp”.

The teams left the pre-workshops energized and with great ambition, excitedly looking forward to meeting up again in order to translate the gathered results into tangible solutions!

Read more on what the 10 participating teams accomplished during the Bootcamp in our next blog and find out which 5 teams have moved on to the next phase of the challenge!

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