Building 21st century skills in young change-makers in Ukraine
UPSHIFT empowers vulnerable young people with building 21st century skills to start social entrepreneurship ventures for the benefit of local communities
Young people in Ukraine are coming of age during turbulent times. Dramatic historical developments culminated in two revolutions, which drastically affected country’s economic and political development. In unstable environment, boys and girls face multiple barriers for social inclusion, such as marginalization of vulnerable youth, a stark divide between urban and rural populations, or scarce allocations for youth and adolescent programming. For many young people, these challenges are exacerbated by the ongoing conflict in eastern regions and resulting forced displacement. Youth has a few opportunities for to participate in decision-making processes and advocate for their rights.
Young people’s looming anxieties about future often emanate form the gaps in existing educational system. Though widespread and accessible for many, the system is not able to equip young Ukrainians with modern skills. One in three young people in Ukraine believe that the education system does not prepare them for employment. The government has started the educational reform towards a competency-based approach. In the meantime, young people are caught between transforming education system and radically changing world, where fast-moving technologies and globalization dramatically alter demands of the labour market.
Beyond employment opportunities, modern skills are critical for young people to engage in civic activities and maintain mental wellbeing. As UNICEF research shows, adolescents with strong life skills are more likely to display positive outcomes amidst adversity. They are also more resilient to the mental health challanges. Moreover, relevant skills help young people embrace their roles as positive members of their communities.
At the same time, young people carry potential to drive social change. Their creative energy and passion for innovations are valuable resources for the country. With proper support young people can co-create sustainable, peaceful and prosperous Ukraine.
 Nationwide poll “Youth of Ukraine 2017,” conducted by the New European Center and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Institute in cooperation with GFK Ukraine.
 Ukraine Adolescent Study 2018-2020. UNICEF, Centre for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development.
UPSHIFT Ukraine is a complex solution to address multiple challenges that jeopardize futures of young Ukrainians. UPSHIFT empowers vulnerable young people to be innovators in their communities, while advancing their professional skills.
UPSHIFT is a global programme that focuses on youth social innovations and entrepreneurship. It was first launched in Kosovo in 2014, and now covers 23 different countries. UNICEF adapted UPSHIFT to the Ukrainian context in 2018 with the support from the European Union. UNICEF’s local partners, NGO Professional Development of Kharkiv, first implemented the programme in Kharkiv. In 2019, building on its successes and support from the EU and the Government of Japan, UPSHIFT Ukraine expanded to the conflict-affected areas in eastern Ukraine. At the moment, the program covers all regions of Ukraine and continues to advance. For instance, in Kyiv, UPSHIFT develops partnership with the private sector, such as collaboration with ING Bank.
UPSHIFT Ukraine supports adolescents and youth, including the most disadvantaged, as agents of changes. The project combines human-centred design workshops with mentorship to unleash creative problem-solving skills of young leaders. Working in teams, boys and girls receive training in social innovations and tools to identify problems in their communities and to develop solutions that can address these problems. After comprehensive educational stage, teams compete for seed funding to implement their initiatives. UPSHIFT equips young people with much-needed professional skills—such as teamwork, problem analysis, critical thinking, or project management—and provides them with real opportunities to make positive changes. As a result, the young people build skills and resilience, while their communities benefit from the solutions they create.
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures in 2020, UNICEF adapted UPSHIFT curriculum for the online edition through the support from Arc’teryx company. With this change, young people can participate in the workshops remotely and design responses to mitigate the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities. For many boys and girls, UPSHIFT became an opportunity to keep up with learning during the pandemic. Alongside, they develop much needed professional skills, like online facilitation or digital tools for project design.
UPSHIFT has a scalable approach, so it can be adapted to different contexts. In Ukraine, the programme has four objectives:
- Developing 21st century skills that are crucial for the challenging transition from school to the labour market. Among them are problem-solving, teamwork, communication, leadership, and critical thinking.
- Empowerment of disadvantaged and excluded adolescent and youth, including strengthening their resilience and sense of agency.
- Building sustainable civic engagement, with young people becoming change-makers in their communities and gaining leadership.
- Social entrepreneurship, as both a skillset and a mindset for implementing their projects with social impact components.
The results for 2018-2020 of UPSHIFT Ukraine are very impressive:
- More than 760 young people took advantage of training opportunities to develop 21st century skills and design their innovative social projects.
- 95 youth projects were supported through small grants and mentorship for the total amount of more than 225,000 USD.
- The implemented projects have diverse foci, ranging from non-formal education, media literacy, human rights, social inclusion, and to environmental justice.
- As estimated, more than 127,000 people benefited from implemented projects and collaboration with young leaders.
UPSHIFT Ukraine continues to expand nationwide with new modalities. The programme promptly responded to the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic, seizing new opportunities for e-learning as well as introducing mixed approaches for working with young people. During the unprecedented times, the cutting-edge programme reaches more young people and provides them with 21st century skills-building opportunities. This support empowers young leaders to bring positive transformations into their communities and across Ukraine.