Shaping the future based on solidarity and through the passion of volunteers

Volunteering and the concept of designing solutions to problems through thinking are changing Kosovo.

Leonora Aliu
KOVO platform
UNICEF Kosovo Programme
10 October 2019

There is a saying about volunteers. “They don’t get paid, not because they are worthless but because the work they do is so priceless it does not have a price.” This saying, which at first sight may sound too romantic, has a logical explanation. And Labinot Berisha, officer for Youth at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, gives that explanation.

“Volunteering is a work which does not benefit an individual, but the entire community and the country that applies the concept of volunteering and that recognizes volunteering, benefits significantly, because volunteers do an incredible work for the benefit of all, with a very low cost,” he says.

Nonetheless, when the idea of recognizing voluntary work started in 2016 in Kosovo, this concept was not perceived like this by everyone.

Berisha, who has been the leader of the process of drafting the Administrative Instruction on recognizing voluntary work in Kosovo, explains how this concept was completely new in Kosovo, compared to the shape it has now, until cooperating with UNICEF Kosovo Office.

“It was a new concept and it was difficult to convince people that it is worth establishing a legal basis to guarantee dispositions that regulate voluntary work, its recognition, and the legal parameters that guarantee the safety of volunteers,” he says.

Labinot Berisha
UNICEF Kosovo Programme/2019/L.Aliu
Labinot Berisha from the Ministry of Youth and Culture says that young people are being empowered through the recognition of volunteerism work.

With the support of UNICEF Kosovo, now there is an electronic platform, KOVO, which is a platform that has created an electronic market between employers and young people, volunteers and jobseekers. This platform is already completely based on Kosovo’s legal basis. The Ministry has employed an officer who monitors and maintains it. Thanks to this partnership between UNICEF and the Ministry of Culture and Youth in Kosovo, around 10,800 volunteers are now registered on KOVO, and about 300 non-governmental organizations which continuously recruit volunteers in implementing their projects, with the assistance of KOVO.

In Kosovo, youth represent the largest group age of the population, with over 35% belonging to ages 15-24 and over 65% under the age of 30. Despite this potential, unemployment rate in Kosovo, according to the data from KAS, is 25.3 percent, which is the highest among the young group ages. The highest unemployment rate is in the age group of 15-24 with 49.1%. According to AFP’s results in TM2 2019, the rate of inactive workers is quite high, with 60.1%, with special focus on women with 79.6%, compared to men, 40.6%.

On the other hand, one of the main employment criteria in job competitions in public or private institutions in Kosovo remains professional experience. “How can young people gain work experience when they have never worked and with such a high rate of unemployment?” elaborates Labinot Berisha.  This was one of the additional reasons why voluntary work had to be regulated by legal basis and to establish parameters which recognize this work as professional experience and which can help the youth,” he says.

According to Kosovo’s legal basis, 220 hours of voluntary work are recognized as one year work experience.  Therefore, the recognition of voluntary work in Kosovo can be regarded as a means of empowering youth, since it has created many opportunities for professional development and informal education for young people in Kosovo.

The significance of this is best explained by young people themselves who are engaged in voluntary work, through the Mentorship Scheme, a UNICEF project implemented by Kosovo CSR Network. The Mentorship Scheme aims to contribute to empowering and developing young people by increasing the capacity and the ability to participate in the workforce, policy-making and decision-making processes, through volunteer mentoring from private sector and other young professionals. It has different objectives and models depending on the circumstances of the youth they are targeting. The Mentorship Scheme connects young people participating in UNICEF's Adolescent Development and Participation (ADAP) Programme initiatives with volunteer mentors coming from the private sector and alumni associations.

For example, the advice and support that a young person who is starting a business requires is markedly different to the support a youth who is at-risk of dropping out of school will need. Zana is 28 years old was part of this scheme. She has studied Sociology and is enrolled on KOVO as a volunteering mentor for informal education programs that UNICEF and UNICEF Innovation Lab, in cooperation with Ipko Foundation and other partners, such as Innovation Centre in Kosovo, implement.

Zana Cana
UNICEF Kosovo Programme/2019/L.Aliu
Zana Cana is a mentor at UPSHIFT, StartUp and Ponder.

Zana has been part of informal education programs for two years now, such as UPSHIFT, Ponder, Podium, StartUp, etc. One of her motivations to provide voluntary work, despite her 10-year engagement in various organizations, according to her, is the deficiencies she saw in the formal education system and her inability, as a young girl, to attend programs like those of UNICEF, which help in her personal development and creating solutions for problems in the community.

“First, it was the huge difference between teacher generations and students, very classical and traditional teaching methods, students’ lack of interest to be autodidacts, the dynamics of technology and world trends that frequently contrast the classical education method that is employed in schools,” Zana says. “Seeing these gaps in our education system, and analyzing them, I had this wish to give some personal contribution to eradicating this bad phenomenon because I think Kosovo can be changed for the better through education.”

All UNICEF informal education programs stimulate the concept of designed thought, in finding solutions to problems in the community. Like volunteering recognized legally, this concept too is considered new in Kosovo. “We can say that UNICEF is a pioneer in piloting this concept and, aside from my contribution and personal development through my voluntary work as a mentor in UNICEF programs, I wanted to be among the first people who apply this concept because it is for the general good,” Zana says, who, apart from her engagement as a volunteering mentor, also runs a social enterprise and works full time at the Innovation Center of Kosovo. Zana is young too and she says that this was an advantage for her as a mentor for the youth. “Another thing that distinguishes educational UNICEF programs from all other programs is the peer-to-peer method of education that involves exchanging experiences with people who are not too old, in terms of lecturers, but young people too have seen it as something unique because they felt more free to talk to us and share the barriers they face in their every-day life,” she tells.

Rinor Kastrati, who works as a manager of business development in his family business, had almost the same experience in this direction. He is a graduated economist and has done a Master’s degree in Business Administration, at Syracuse University, in New York, USA.

Rinor Kastrati
UNICEF Kosovo Programme/2019/L.Aliu
Rinor Kastrati become a mentor at UNICEF educative programs straight after he came from his studies at the US.

Right after his return from America, last year, Rinor joined two workshops organized by UNICEF. “Specifically, I worked as a mentor in UPSHIFT and Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge,” he says. However, this was not his first voluntary work he did. “As a winner of the scholarship of the Transformational Leadership Program, I was obliged to do 400 hours of voluntary work in community service. While in this case volunteering was partially imposed, the reason why I joined UNICEF particularly, with its tiring three-day activities, and not another organization, was the wish to contribute to the community and the good job that this organization does,” he tells, adding that for him voluntary work is very important because its positive effects have a multiplicative dimensions among generations. “In the past I was educated by people who worked entirely voluntarily, and whose aim was only my education. So today, I have a moral motivation to give for the younger generations because I am convinced that, in this process, I will inspire someone else tomorrow to become a volunteer, and thus this virtuous chain will continue,” Rinor says.

The interrelation between communities and generations is another advantage of being involved in voluntary work, which is also appreciated by Vlora Shabiu, economist from Prishtina, as well as Jelena Bulatovic from Gracanica.  Both were mentors in education programs of UNICEF and UNICEF Innovation Lab such as Ponder and UPSHIFT.

Vlora tells how, through Ponder, she was able not only to provide her experience to young people, but also to learn more about them. “Voluntary work with the youth made me understand more about their condition, their needs, and about Kosovo itself, what it is like and what its future is,” she says. “And this helped me a lot to develop professionally,” Vlora tells, who, apart from voluntary work that she provides, also works full-time at Ipko Foundation.Jelena, a third-year student at the Faculty of Law in Belgrade, runs her own youth organizations in Gracanica, and her goal is to educate young people as much as possible on eradicating the stereotypes that exists in the Kosovo society. “While working at UPSHIFT as a volunteer, I made many friends from all communities and I saw how much in common we have, and that we are able to fight the stereotypes that exist in the society,” she tells. “Thank to the work we did there, today we are implementing a project to raise awareness among all young people from all communities in Gracanica not to use drugs because we saw that this is a problems that unites us all in our municipality,” she says.

For Jelena voluntary work has had significant importance as she has now gained the experience she needs to find a job after graduating.

Like Jelena, many young people in Kosovo will have the same opportunity, who either were registered volunteers on KOVO or will be registered in the future, because the legal basis established gives them the opportunity for empowerment and advancement in their careers, and that by doing the most sublime job – by contributing to the benefit of the community in which we live.

This, according to Labinot Berisha from the Ministry of Youth and Culture in Kosovo, is being done in the noblest way possible. “Through voluntary work, and KOVO, we now have a platform that gives us the map of youth in Kosovo. A map that clearly shows that we are raising professional generations and, above all, based on solidarity among us.”

 

 

 

 

Vlora and Jelena
UNICEF Kosovo Programme/2019/L.Aliu
Vlora on the left and Jelena on the right are also volunteering as mentors for young people.