Fostering Youth Impact
Kosovo Summer Youth
(U.S. Department of State)
In 2009, whether Albanian, Serb, or Roma, the majority of Kosovo’s young people faced the same challenges: inadequate education, few job prospects, and little access to practical skills building or career counseling. Secondary school drop-out rates were high, and those who completed training programs still lacked the skills to succeed on the job. In fact, the majority of unemployed graduates of vocational training provided via the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW) tended to be under 25 and possessed no more than a secondary school degree.
For these young people, their poor economic prospects were intensified by their disengagement from civic life. The generation who grew up during two decades of political limbo lacked clear ties to a larger civic community, resulting in feelings of mistrust, anger, and despair, fueling high levels of cynicism and the tendency to blame others for their misfortune. Anxiety about their future made them particularly vulnerable to those who exploit fear and mistrust: extremist and nationalist groups, human traffickers, criminals, and drug dealers.
The Kosovo Summer Youth Leadership Academy (KSYLA) was a unique residential program for high-school youth, designed to prepare young Kosovars to be effective leaders and agents of change dedicated to improving the lives of their peers in Europe’s youngest country.
Working in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Communities, Common Ground was the architect of the program, pitching it to U.S. Embassy staff in Kosovo who agreed to fund the program.
23 youth were selected for the Academy and were chosen from 90+ applicants. KSYLA succeeded in building the self-confidence and leadership skills of those future decision-makers—instilling hope for their country’s continued political and economic security, and nurturing their active and powerful voices to shape Kosovo’s future.
I am now doing my best to make my biggest dream come true! The Academy and all the things you taught us changed my life and made me even stronger and made me follow my dreams. I can't find the words to thank you for changing my life and making me 'the strong person who is giving her best to reach her dreams.' I am applying for my undergraduate studies in international relations and political science now because of your words and what Common Ground taught me. Senem Safci, KSYLA Participant
The Academy succeeded in building the self-confidence and leadership skills of Kosovo’s future decision makers—laying the foundation for a collaborative, nationwide, inter-ethnic leadership pipeline; instilling hope for their country’s continued political and economic security, and nurturing powerful voices to shape Kosovo’s future.
In designing the Academy, Common Ground anchored the program around our ground-breaking LEAD Model™ which includes a variety of important components:
Diverse Backgrounds — With the hope of helping students rise above ethnic tensions that have plagued Kosovo for decades, the Academy brought together a regionally and ethnically diverse mix of Kosovo’s youth.
Becoming Change Agents — The students participated in a number of workshops and open dialogue sessions throughout the week, all aimed at preparing them to be effective leaders and agents of change in their communities.
Embodying Leadership — During one session, students worked in small groups to define “leadership,” then reconvened to share their results and practice giving public presentations.
Collective Problem Solving — Interactive activities encouraged students to work together to solve a collective problem, and to have fun while doing it. They also laid the foundation for important discussions focused on advocacy and community problem-solving.
New Skills, Tangible Results — The teens designed three micro-grant enterprises during the Academy, giving them practical experience in project design, business planning, and budget development. They instituted the US Embassy-funded projects in the months following the Academy.
Tackling Youth Issues — In preparation for our “Street Speaking” activity and to hone their communication and advocacy skills, students each chose an issue that affected youth in Kosovo and wrote about how they would like to see it change.
The Voice of Kosovo — One by one, the students then stood up in Prizren’s central square and spoke passionately about their chosen issues. Though initially scary for some participants, almost everyone cited the event as one of the week’s most rewarding.
There is more than one Kosovo: In Pristina, a new generation is hungry for a future within the European Union, while in the countryside, many live lives rooted in the legacy of a devastating war. The choice between the future and the past will define Kosovo for the decades to come.