Empowering a generation of change-makers

There are 1.8 billion young people in the world today, nearly 90 per cent of whom live in low- and middle-income countries — the largest cohort ever.

Yet globally more than 200 million adolescents are out of school and youth unemployment is 13% globally; 3 times higher than the rate for adults. There are many different reasons for this, ranging from escaping conflict to disability to education systems that don’t provide the skills young people need for employment today. But the common challenges are a lack of opportunity and systems that fail to provide skills for work and for life.


UPSHIFT is an opportunity to support youth and adolescents to become a force for positive social and economic change, contributing to a competitive labour force, sustained economic growth, improved governance, and vibrant civil societies. The UPSHIFT programme blends leading approaches to youth and adolescent development with social innovation and social entrepreneurship. UPSHIFT empowers young people to identify challenges in their communities and create entrepreneurial solutions to address them. 

The UPSHIFT approach

UPSHIFT is designed to build transferable skills and create opportunity, with a focus on the most disadvantaged young people. 

The core UPSHIFT content is modular, allowing UPSHIFT to be adapted to different contexts and delivered in different settings – ranging from youth innovation labs to schools and non-formal education centres. Through a combination of Outreach & Inspiration, Human Centred Design workshops, Mentorship & Coaching and, in some cases seed funding, participants gain valuable transferable skills, including problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and leadership. You can find the UPSHIFT facilitation guides here.

UNICEF Innovation

UPSHIFT is an adaptable and scalable approach, which supports the development of skills for life and livelihood and supports youth to positively engage with their local communities as change-makers.

The programme is recognised as a promising solution for youth employment within the World Bank’s Solutions for Youth Employment Impact Portfolio.

UPSHIFT is recommended as a potential solution that can create results at scale for young people by Generation Unlimited and has formed the basis for developing the Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge.

UNICEF Innovation

Results for adolescents and youth

UPSHIFT delivers skills that support future opportunities for life and livelihood for the most marginalized and vulnerable youth. Young people develop transferable skills through both the training elements and the opportunity to work collaboratively, in a supportive environment, to identify and solve social problems.

The ’recipe’ for UPSHIFT looks different in each country, depending on identified needs, but will focus on 4 different areas:-

  1. Building of transferable skills, including problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication and leadership skills
  2. Adolescent and youth empowerment, including confidence, resilience, and sense of agency
  3. Civic engagement, with young people engaging in their communities and earning respect.
  4. Entrepreneurship, as both a skillset and a mindset

UPSHIFT in action 

UPSHIFT started its journey in Kosovo in 2014 and is now in 22 different countries, but more importantly, it is impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people.

UNICEF Innovation

By design, UPSHIFT specifically seeks to engage disadvantaged communities, including girls, young people with disabilities, young refugees and ethnic minority communities. UPSHIFT can be focused on specific issues (e.g. climate change adaptations, water and sanitation solutions) or can be entirely youth-led, with young people selecting the issues that most affect them and their communities.

The day to day challenges faced by young people with disabilities, often mean they become adept problem solvers. UPSHIFT is creating opportunities for youth with disabilities in Ukraine. 

From Kosovo to Vietnam to Sudan, UPSHIFTers around the world are taking action to design that address climate and environmental issues.

At UPSHIFT, UNICEF Kosovo’s Innovations Lab provided Arlinda with all the mentorship, resources and support she needed to drive social change in her community.

Young women are 3 times likelier to be out of education, training and employment. UPSHIFT focuses on empowering girls as community problem solvers.

Anita taking part in the UPSHIFT innovation bootcamp.


To succeed, UPSHIFT is a collaborative effort, with UNICEF convening global, regional and country level partners, from the private sector, government and civil society, with young people at the heart of the design, and implementation process.

As UPSHIFT grows there are exciting new partnership opportunities at country and global level. To find out more about how you can partner with UNICEF around UPSHIFT please contact


What’s Next?

We know that UPSHIFT is a programme which needs to be adapted to the local context, cognizant of the education system, cultural values and the local entrepreneurship ecosystem. The process of scaling is therefore about adaptation, rather than replication.

To develop a generation of skilled, civically engaged young people, we need to reach millions. This will be achieved through both launching UPSHIFT in new countries and through integrating UPSHIFT into national systems, including formal and non-formal education systems. A paper from the World Non-Formal Education Forum, “UPSHIFT: Innovating non-formal education for youth at scale” introduces the issues UPSHIFT addresses, its alignment with UNICEF’s programme priorities, and the strategy and pathway to scale.” 

UPSHIFT Facilitation Guides

We are always keen to share our learning with the wider community of organisations around the world that work with and for adolescents and young people in the social innovation and social entrepreneurship spheres. UNICEF Innovation therefore makes the UPSHIFT facilitation guides available for any organisation or individual to download and use.