Youth innovate to address development challenges in the Arab region

The “First Social Innovation Camp for Youth from the Arab Region” was held for three days on 13 to 15 June 2015 in Amman, Jordan. The main purpose was to provide a platform for young women and men to examine key development challenges facing the region and suggest innovative solutions to address them. The camp is the first event of its kind to be organized on a regional level by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

A total of 65 young women and men were selected out of more than 4,600 applications from across the Arab region. In the camp, participants joined from Egypt, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Djibouti, Somalia, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Qatar, Kuwait, Libya, Tunisia, Sudan, Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The camp focused on seven thematic areas that were in correspondence to the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) 2015 topics. After thorough analysis, youth identified seven topics as the most urgent to Arab youth (in order of importance): Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship, Health, Civic Engagement, Religion and Identity, Young Women Leadership and Participation in Public Space and Conflict and Peace Building.

Design thinking methodology was at the core of the innovation camp which is a unique tool for problem solving, based on a creative process. The aim was threefold: creating shared values, shared ownership and shared vision. Narrative tools that taps into the diverse personal experiences, storytelling icons, storyboarding and prototyping were used to stimulate participants’ learning and participation. The camp did not only serve the purpose of youth innovating solutions but more importantly broadening their horizons and teaching them new tools that could be applied to any life situation. Undoubtedly, great insights on development issues in different contexts were gained as the working groups were made up of youth from diverse backgrounds and nationalities.

Participants were divided into eleven thematic teams, each comprising of five to seven participants from different countries. Each team addressed one key challenge under one of the seven themes. After three days of hard work, the teams came up with eleven solutions.  

Solutions included a mobile innovation tent to reach children deprived of formal education in remote areas; online educational platform that supplements school teaching; a wide awareness campaign on priority health issues; and an online platform that connects employment seekers among the youth to prospective employers/companies. This is in addition to a digital game to promote entrepreneurship skills amongst youth; mobile application to connect volunteers with NGOs, government and private sector; a volunteering caravan to spread awareness on volunteering values and culture; an initiative and online news channel; social media campaign that counters sectarianism; an online platform to inspire girls and young women engagement in public space, and NGO for women empowerment to break stereotypes.

To maintain the momenta, UNDP will send three teams with the solutions that show most promise and progress to the AHDR 2015 launch, to present their ideas to government officials and policy makers. In the meantime, guidance will be provided by UNDP for the next three months to help the teams consolidate their ideas.

To conclude, the regional innovation camp was a great example of using non-traditional approaches in engaging and involving youth across the region in the development dialogue with UNDP. It was a successful illustration of ways to engage youth in the thought and design process of solutions. The youth felt empowered by the experience and were thankful to have been provided a platform for co-creation and collaboration.

For more details on the solutions and the camp, please visit the camp’s space on Teamworks.

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