The challenges facing young people in Albania may not be unique, but the actions being taken to transform these challenges into opportunities are. Among other issues, these young people – particularly those living in the pilot cities of this programme – are at risk of becoming involved in criminal activities from a very early age. RAYS (Reconnecting Albanian Youth and Society) is focused on directing this particular at-risk group towards positive life choices and alternative pathways as they grow. It is aimed at creating an enabling environment that allows them to engage in extra-curricular initiatives, designed both with and for them.
The initiatives that RAYS has undertaken are focused on art and sport as well as providing young people with soft skills such as leadership, advocacy, teamwork and conflict resolution. Through the ‘Youth-Led Initiative’ – a funding scheme in support of youth-driven community actions, RAYS is currently mentoring 12 groups of young people in implementing 12 community and advocacy campaigns. Bringing young people and other local stakeholders together to change the status quo and address some of the problems that most concern their communities was key to the successful implementation of these youth-led and youth-driven initiatives.
As part of the efforts to direct young people’s life choices away from crime, RAYS has created the ‘Youth-Led Initiative’. This allows young people aged 14-18, living in three Albanian cities, the chance to engage in youth engagement and youth activism. The initiative features youth-driven actions that promote social cohesion and inclusion, encourage civic engagement and informed decision-making, promote art- and sport-based activities and encourage responsible actions for environmental integrity. A new funding scheme, worth up to UK£2500, made available to 12 groups of young people. This equipped them with the financial resources, tools, skills and access to policymaking bodies to address some of their own needs and al- lowed them to implement a series of local community and advocacy campaigns. RAYS sought to address the fundamental issues this particular at-risk group faces and direct them to positive life choices, away from crime.
Adopting a coproduction space
RAYS has identified that one of the key solutions to be both inclusive and successful is to meaningfully involve young people and children in the design and delivery process of the RAYS initiatives. Adopting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach – which takes no account of individual needs – is ineffective when it comes to addressing the needs of young people and the communities in which they live. RAYS treats young people as equal partners in the decisions that impact them. By codesigning and cocreating alongside young people and other local stakeholders, RAYS ensures the results obtained meet the needs of those young people.
Building on the potential of youth
Aiming to empower these leading groups of young people, RAYS has improved their project management and advocacy skills in order to ensure they have the tools and abilities required to implement their initiatives and become agents of change. Through this, RAYS has achieved more than just providing a platform for these young people to share their know-how. It is also changing the narratives and perspectives that surround how young people can become an integral part of local solutions.
Supporting collaborative governance
RAYS fosters a collaborative environment and is supporting these young people in sitting at the table with policymakers at a local level. For example, some of the groups have brought to the attention of their local governments the need for specific actions on matters of public space use, youth engagement and informed decision making.
The implementation of the Youth-Led Initiative is still ongoing. The fact that young people are being given the chance to be heard is an important step towards connecting them with key stakeholders at a local level. Young people consider the Youth-Led Initiative as an important experience, as it is helping to bridge the gap and create links between youth and local institutions in their cities. This benefits the youth community as a whole. In terms of impact, when we speak with the young people involved about the impact of these initiatives, one thing in particular resonates with them. It is the idea that once they are better equipped with financial resources and skills and meaningfully involved in the design and implementation process, they are genuinely empowered to bring about positive change within the communities where they live.