UNICEF launches M-Report to give Kyrgyzstan’s youth a voice

Young people in Kyrgyzstan need opportunities to speak their minds on issues affecting them. Introducing M-Report, UNICEF aims to provide just that.

By Sven G. Simonsen
<p>Бабинур (20) (солдо), ЮНИСЕФ консультанты, Исабек Асанбаев, Денис (15), Сулейман (16) жана Улугбек (15).  Кыргызстандагы M-Reportдон бардыгынын чоң үмүттөрү бар.</p>
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016/Sven G. Simonsen

01 November 2017

Young people in Kyrgyzstan need opportunities to speak their minds on issues affecting them. Introducing M-Report, UNICEF aims to provide just that.

Kyrgyzstan has become the first country in Central Asia where a system utilizing UNICEF’s innovative U-Report* technology is available. Called M-Report, it allows youth to share their views and opinions on issues that are important to them, for free, by SMS and online.

This is an amazing tool; it could help our voices be heard in a new way,

- дейт М-кабарчы болгон Бабинур.

Struggling youth

The ‘M’ in M-Report stands for both molodezh, the Russian word for ‘youth’, and mnenie – ‘opinion’. M-Report users – called M-Reporters – will be invited to participate in SMS polls on important questions every two weeks. On M-Report’s website, www.mnenie.kg, where the poll results are published, they can initiate and take part in debates, and present ideas they have.

Research suggests that most young people in Kyrgyzstan are politically disengaged and disillusioned. That is also Bubinur’s impression:

“I would say only 15-20 per cent of young people are involved. For so many others, political problems, the country’s problems, take second place. Because they are struggling to make ends meet – even to survive,” she says.

“But this is very unfortunate,” Bubinur adds. “Older people tend to think they are more clever than young people, but that is not always the case. Young people are interested in the outside world, and sometimes they are more informed than older people, for example about global issues, and the environment.”

Бабинур (20 жаш)
ЮНИСЕФ Кыргызстан/2016/Свен Симонсен
Бабинур, которая недавно стала М-репортером.

Young people are interested in the outside world, and sometimes they are more informed than older people,

Input for decision-making.

In Kyrgyzstan, the main purpose of adapting the U-Report technology to create M-Report is quite specific: to make the country’s top decision-makers more attuned to youth perspectives. M-Report aims to increase youth-based input and youth participation in political and social decision-making.

“We want to build a dialogue between young people and decision-makers,” says UNICEF Youth and Adolescent Development Officer Gulzhigit Ermatov.

“Today, there is a sentiment among young people that they are ignored and discriminated against. We will ask questions about the issues that matter to them, and make sure that government policies are informed by their perspectives.”

M-Report is jointly operated with the National Institute for Strategic Studies, under the Government of Kyrgyzstan. Polling topics are approved by an ethical committee where members include representatives from a number of non-government youth organizations, besides government ministries and agencies.

“M-Report is made possible by Kyrgyzstan’s democratic system, and our hope is that it will contribute to making it even more vibrant, by giving voice to the country’s youth,” says Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Representative in Kyrgyzstan.
  

Growing the user base

To become an M-Reporter, one sends the word Alga (‘forward’) by SMS to the code 4747. M-Reporters are anonymous, but identify themselves by age, gender, and geographic region when they register. All M-Report participation is free of charge.

M-Reporting by SMS is so far available to clients of two of Kyrgyzstan’s three largest mobile operators, and negotiations are ongoing to include the third.

<p>Бабинур (20) (солдо), ЮНИСЕФ консультанты, Исабек Асанбаев, Денис (15), Сулейман (16) жана Улугбек (15).  Кыргызстандагы M-Reportдон бардыгынын чоң үмүттөрү бар.</p>
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016/Sven G. Simonsen
Babinur (20) (left), UNICEF consultant Isabek Asanbaev, Denis (15), Suleiman (16) and Ulugbek (15) all have great expectations for M-Report in Kyrgyzstan.

As the number of M-Reporters grows, M-Report will become a valuable source of real-time, first-hand, youth relevant information. It also has the potential to strengthen government transparency and accountability.

According to 15-year-old Denis, a volunteer promoting M-Report at his school in Bishkek, growing the user base should not be a problem.

“There will be interest in M-Report, because young people have a lot of problems in this country. And this program is designed to change their situation,” Denis says, seconded by Suleiman (16) and Ulugbek (15), two other volunteers from the same school.
 

A tool for peacebuilding

The introduction of M-Report in Kyrgyzstan has been made possible with funding from the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund.

Alleviating youth grievances is a pressing issue here. In periods of political and social turmoil, most notably in 2005 and 2010, youth were prime actors in violent conflicts. At present, some seek to exploit youth disillusionment, targeting extremist and nationalist narratives at those seeking moral guidance.

* U-Report, which M-Report builds on, was first introduced by the UNICEF Global Innovation Lab in Uganda in 2011, and has since been rolled out in nearly 30 countries. It is designed as a mobile technology platform for youth to share opinions and information about their living conditions. U-Report is used in a variety of ways in different countries – such as to consult with communities on the efficiency of interventions, to alert populations of outbreaks of disease, and to mobilize for immunization campaigns. While M-Report utilizes the U-Report technology, it is not legally or formally linked to U-Report.