By Rudina Vojvoda
New York, USA, 15 June 2011 – With an estimated 53 per cent of its population under the age of 25, Kosovo is considered to be the youngest area in Europe. Twelve years after the height of the devastating 1999 conflict, Kosovo’s young people have witnessed significant progress. Towns and villages have been rebuilt, most of the people who fled violence now have returned home, and local institutions are functioning. Yet, the youth of Kosovo is coming of age in a society that is still ethnically divided, with the worst socio-economic, health and education indicators of Europe. According to UNICEF, more than 70 per cent of young people are unemployed, the majority of them unskilled.
To discuss the future of Kosovo, UNICEF’s podcast moderator Amy Costello talks to three young people who are working in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, to bring social change in their communities. Ron Salaj, Milica Milović and Sophie Morin work together at the Innovations Lab, sponsored by UNICEF, where they are mentored by a range of personalities and international professionals, take advantage of the latest technology and are given financial support to turn their ideas into tangible projects.
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Building peace, uniting people
In April 2011, Milica, who is originally from Serbia, met Ron Salaj, the coordinator of UNICEF’s Kosovo Innovation Lab. Milica had heard of the Innovation Lab before. Their Facebook page had an inviting message: “Young? Got an idea that will benefit Kosovo youth? Come join us!”
Ideas are what Milica had. She had been developing Recycle smART, a project that aimed to use art as a tool for raising awareness on environmental issues and education for sustainability. The project also had a peacebuilding component.
Milica’s goal was to bring together the youth of different ethnic groups to work on issues that concerned everyone. “We don’t need to talk about peace to build peace” says Milica. “You bring people together to work on some issues and in that way you show that it’s possible for people to work and live together”.
Helping most marginalised
Milica’s project is one of many implemented by the Innovation’s Lab. Ron and Sophie Morin, who has moved from France to Kosovo to support the Lab, have worked on myriad projects encouraging youth to vote, mapping public facilities, working on projects for blind students, among many more.
“The main challenge for the Innovation Lab is to reach out to the most marginalized, most excluded communities, which mean youth and women from rural places, but also Roma and Serbian communities here in Kosovo” says Ron, who travels to different parts of Kosovo to meet with minorities and invite them to work with the Lab.
For Sophie, young people are by nature attuned to change. “Young people are ready to move forward and interact with each other and try to talk to each other,” says Sophie. “I took part in some workshops and the diversity of the participants and the way they interact is really positive and it really gives hope for the future in Kosovo”.
For more information on Kosovo’s Innovation Lab, please visit: