What follows is an account of a round of interviews organized by UNDP and UNV Ukraine and held in Kiev on 21, 22, 23 and 24 July 2015. The interviews were meant to get Future Makers Global in sync with the way Ukrainian institutional actors and their main stakeholders think about employment, social cohesion and data for accountability; they also attempted to scope grassroots constructive initiatives in the country, and to forge stronger ties with them. The interviews were run by myself and @nataliegryvnyak.
Policy priorities and trends
Youth policy in Ukraine is being developed in the shadow of the 2014 revolution known as Euromaidan. The events of 2014 resulted in a change of government, with new policies being ushered through; a newfound energy and confidence in civil society, especially young people; and a generally very positive outlook on the role of youth by society at large.
The post-Maidan Ministry of Youth and Sports claims to be “very open”, and is recognised as such. It is making a real effort to include and ingratiate the civil society. A new law on volunteering was introduced, which improved significantly the legal landscape: setting up NGOs has been made easy; non-affiliated volunteers have been recognised as having the same legal status as those affiliated to NGOs; the requirement of insurance for volunteers has been scrapped. Significant difficulties remain at the operational level, as the law has not been translated into lower-level regulation and policy. Bureaucratic hurdles, especially surrounding financial matters, remain significant for youth NGOs; this is partly due to the generally very conservative and risk-averse attitude of the lower echelons of the civil service. Like other international organisations (for example the European Union) the U.N. maintains an excellent partnership relationship with the ministry.
The mid-term (2016-2020) objectives for the Ministry are encoded in a document called the State Programme. The SP’s priorities are:
- employment (also via recognition of non-formal education)
- national patriotic education
- support to young IDP
Youth unemployment in Ukraine is possibly the lowest of the six countries under consideration (17.8% in 2013 according to the World Bank). It does not tend to be mentioned as a national emergency when talking to public officials.
On a longer-term perspective, the Ministry is working to adapt its policies to European Union standards, and to set up a national network of youth centres. There is an interest for social innovation and entrepreneurship, but so far more as a aspiration. Volunteerism and intercultural dialogue are intended also as instruments to reinforce national unity; in Ukraine, the word “volunteer” is (not uniquely) associated to voluntary militias who take up weapons to join the conflict in the East.
Preliminary interest in our program has been expressed by ministry staff and advisors, as well as staff of the presidential administration.
We also met the EU delegation in Ukraine. An experienced officer told us that the EU’s strategy to establish a “safe belt” surrounding the Union is perceived to have failed. The Eastern Partnership policy is currently being formally revised; an input gathering phase is already finished, and that input is now being processed. Realistically, the revision will be concluded in 2016.
News from the grassroots
Ukraine has a very active civil society. Its scope ranges from environmental protection by cleaning up littered sites (Let’s Do It Ukraine, part of a global movement, that drives hundreds of thousands of participants, and has significant private sector partnerships), lifestyle and sport (X-Park), promotion of cycling (Kiev Cycling association), open data and civic tech (SocialBoost, at the centre of a very large network of 1000 software developers) and energy efficiency (Energy Country), as well as more traditional and structured youth NGOs like the scouts (Plast), Chamber of Commerce-type philanthropy (Enactus, ISEC), NGOs targeting social issues like the integration of institutionalised orphans, or people with disabilities, into the fabric of society, and the students self-government bodies. Many NGOs aim to ameliorate the uniquely Ukrainian issue of internally displaced people (IDPs); these are Ukrainians from the Donetsk region that relocated west to escape the conflict. Finally, grassroots initiatives are present not only in Kiev, but all across the country, especially in the regional centers.
The NGO/youth activism landscape has some unique characteristics.
- Many NGO leaders are unpaid. They devote to their NGOs their spare time, but have day jobs – often commercial businesses in event organising, logistic, marketing and communications.
- This, however, creates a tension between the need for staying independent and that to have paid people to deliver better results. As a consequence, an initiative called School of Social Projects has emerged to train activists in fundraising and organising. A similar need in the cultural sphere resulted in a School of cultural activists.
- EuroMaidan had an enormous influence. Everybody we met had participated personally, often with very active of leadership roles; it taught Ukrainian youth how effective at delivery smart, connected crowds can be even in the absence of formal organisations. The most life-changing experiences were perhaps not so much the protest itself, but the almost instant provision of services to keep the protest going; security to defend the activists, improvised nano-hospitals in tents to treat the injured or ailing (there was even a reanimation tent), logistics and information (call centres, websites etc.) to keep the movement supplied with people, food, water, warm clothes and medicines. Opportunistic episodes (with people claiming to be "working for Maidan" draining the common pool of resources) were very effectively prevented by an impromptu system of identity verification based on a phone hotline. Additionally, Maidan gave to activists a shared experience and a sense of fraternity to support future common initiatives.
The city of Kiev is attempting to redevelop and renovate its Trade Fair Center. This is a very large area (about 200 hectares), connected with the Kiev metro. At the moment the structure is unfit for purpose and needs significant investment. We met a member of the newly appointed management team, who said they would consider a partnership for programme activities to unfold within this area.