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In Southeast Europe: Helping Young People Join Society

January 8, 2014

Many young people across Southeast Europe face an array of challenges as they move into adulthood.

Across the region, unemployment is high. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the youth unemployment rate stands at 58 percent, which is four times the EU average.  In Kosovo, 60 percent of the population is under the age of 26, and many of those say they feel they have no choice but to leave the country in order to achieve their goals. 

To help in the transition to adulthood, the World Bank and the Italian Directorate-General for Development Cooperation created the Social Development Initiative for Southeast Europe II. The initiative ran from 2007 to 2013; its goal was to help young people in the region move towards jobs and stability. This task is particularly important after the disruptions caused by the wars of the 1990s.

 “Young people were those who could tip the progress of peace or set it back because they were both the victims of violence but also the perpetrators to some extent, and at the same time they are great assets for the future of their communities,” says Gloria La Cava, of the World Bank Group, who worked on the initiative in its early stages. The initiative’s focus is on helping southeast Europe’s young people transition to work and citizenship. It also works on the inclusion of ethnic minorities, the disabled, and the disenfranchised in the region.

 “It is very important that youth proposals, youth issues, youth ideas become part of the public and political agenda,” says Marco Zecchinato, a former representative of the Italian Development Cooperation Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Open Quotes

Young people were those who could tip the progress of peace or set it back because they were both the victims of violence but also the perpetrators to some extent, and at the same time they are great assets for the future of their communities Close Quotes

Gloria La Cava
Sr. Social Scientist in the World Bank Group

Grants and Training for Future Leaders

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small grants program in the region promoted employment, and social and volunteer opportunities for young people.  Over 1,600 young people provided over 29,000 hours of volunteer activity. The initiative also promoted acceptance and opportunities for youth with disabilities, including a public service video and a conference, which brought experts together from the region.

"One of the insensitivies of our society that disabled youth faces, for example, is that in a high school, if they show a deep interest in math and physics, the teacher would tell them ‘but you are a person with disability, what would you do, why you need to study these things in your life?’” says Lejla Somun-Krupaljja, of the University of Sarajevo.

In Kosovo, because of the high level of youth unemployment in the country, the initiative also financed activities to support young entrepreneurs.  Activities included mentoring, marketing and business training, vocational training, apprenticeships, and micro grants.  Over 800 young people participated in the program.  One such participant, Valon, was out of work for six months until he got an apprenticeship at a store in Pristina. He worked so hard, he got hired. He says, “I feel really lucky to have this opportunity.”

Open Quotes

One of the insensitivies of our society that disabled youth faces, for example, is that in a high school, if they show a deep interest in math and physics, the teacher would tell them ‘but you are a person with disability, what would you do, why you need to study these things in your life? Close Quotes

Lejla Somun-Krupaljja
University of Sarajevo

Offering Role Models

Another goal of the initiative is to inspire and empower. A series of short videos in Bosnia and Herzegovina featuring successful young people aimed to do just that. One such video features Mersud Salman. An artist, and a Roma, he is in his third year of art school and serves as a positive role model for others. He lives in Bihac.

“Its very difficult to accept art, because you can’t make a living off art,” he explains.  “But Bihac accepts us young people, giving us the notion that Bihac is a town full of talented people.” 

His sister Selma Salman, also an artist, agrees. “To all the young people of Bosnia Herzegovina, I would tell them to believe in themselves, to laugh all the time, to be happy with what they have, to be persistent, to learn, and to acquire knowledge, because knowledge is very important.”

And in Moldova, videos to help young people learn about economic development opportunities, social services, and active citizenship were broadcast on multiple television stations and shown in local cinemas.

The Social Development Initiative also supported other activities, ranging from training for government officials who work on youth issues to research on themes of interest to young people.

Open Quotes

To all the young people of Bosnia Herzegovina, I would tell them to believe in themselves, to laugh all the time, to be happy with what they have, to be persistent, to learn, and to acquire knowledge, because knowledge is very important. Close Quotes

Selma Salman
artist

Supporting Social Interaction through the Arts

In Moldova, a campaign to publicize the “Hidden Treasures of Moldova” included an eco-tourism video contest to  get the country’s young people involved in both ecotourism and the arts.  The “Hidden Treasures” book and contest offered opportunities for youth to publicize their country, and, its organizers hoped, a chance for social interaction between different groups.

Ultimately, the work done under a Monitoring and Evaluation trust fund will strengthen the impact of current and future youth programming.  Monitoring and evaluation tracks the impact of the investments made by the project. It provides insight into what works and what doesn’t, and is a key component of future planning – and a lasting legacy of this initiative.