Great young minds think alike: Innovating for development
“The idea came to me in the middle of the night and I immediately knew it was a winner,” says UNDP’s Dejan Dokuzovski. “I was so anxious not to forget it that I texted a note to myself. The phone was still in my hands when I woke up the next morning!”
What can technology do to help youth unemployment?
- An app for smartphones and a website that will map all existing data on opportunities for jobs, traineeships, internships and volunteer programmes, can really help young people get real-time information on all available employment opportunities.
One of the youngest recruits to UNDP’s Office in Skopje, Dejan was already working on a youth project when he came up with the big idea that would win UNDP in fYR Macedonia one of six places in a region-wide internal competition for innovation.
“Over 54% of young people in fYR Macedonia are unemployed but the country still doesn’t have any online tools to provide regular information and updates on job and career development opportunities,” explains Dejan. “That’s quite surprising when we know 90% of youth have access to the internet – at least half of them through cheap smartphone deals. So my idea was to find a way of meeting that need and what I came up with was an app for smartphones and a website that will map all existing data on opportunities for jobs, traineeships, internships and volunteer programmes. We know this information is out there and we know our partner organizations, like the municipalities and university faculties, NGOs and private companies, are all ready to provide us with the data. It’s just a matter of bringing it all together in one place.”
Fittingly, it was with another of UNDP’s youngest staff-members from the Good Governance team, Nina Nikolik, that the idea was then developed into the prize-winning proposal. “This idea of Dejan’s really inspired me and the rest of the team,” says Nina, “The moment it was put forward I knew it could genuinely help a lot of people our age. I mean what could be more useful than a one-stop site where a job opportunity or an internship is just a click away?”
“I’m delighted it was Nina and Dejan’s proposal that won,” says the Head of UNDP’s Good Governance cluster, Mihaela Stojkoska, “It’s really pleasing to see a solution for youth unemployment developed by young people themselves. And now the proposal’s been accepted we’re fully committed to including young people in every step of the application development to make sure it reflects their needs.”
The competition was launched in May 2013 by the Regional UNDP Centre in Bratislava, with proposals invited from all territory and country offices and funding of up to 10,000 US dollars offered for each of the six winning proposals.
“We set up the 2013 Innovation Fund to provide seed money for Country Offices willing to generate and explore new approaches to development in a “portfolio management” approach,” explains Giulio Quaggiotto, UNDP’s Knowledge and Innovation Practice Leader in Bratislava. “The aim of the competition was to bring a variety of innovative solutions to our clients and tackle complex issues by tapping into citizen experts and putting into practice approaches mediated from other sectors and organizations. The focus this year was on ideas with the potential to increase citizen engagement, especially amongst those social groups who have traditionally been the hardest to reach.”
Once the call for proposals went out in May, the Country Office in Skopje was quick to respond, setting up a creative team that soon managed to generate nine exciting ideas—all of them in line with the key competition criteria that each idea should be informed by the 5 open innovation principles.
“We jumped at the opportunity to compete,” says Jasmina Belcovska Tasevska, UNDP’s Innovation Champion in Skopje. “And our confidence was pretty high because this Office has been gaining itself a strong reputation for innovation in recent years. Last year alone we won two awards—one for developing a disaster app and another for opening a new line in local democracy. Both of these initiatives made the national headlines and showed that innovation can truly have a major impact in the field.”
In developing the application, Dejan and Nina will be partnering with UNDP’s Social Inclusion cluster and drawing on the Employment Team’s extensive experience in generating employment opportunities. This is the team which in 2007 helped the Government develop a highly successful Employment Programme—a programme which has since helped more than 5,000 people find secure employment by creating their own companies or formalizing their existing businesses.
After submitting their proposal, Dejan and Nina waited a nail-biting two months to hear the results. All in all, the Regional UNDP office in Bratislava received 52 proposals and the selection panel (which included innovation experts from Nesta) went through each carefully before announcing fYR Macedonia one of the six winners.
To put the proposal into practice, UNDP has established a partnership with the Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering. Building on excellent previous cooperation together and working through the Social Innovation Hub they recently established, the Faculty and UNDP are now developing the specific steps of the application.
The development of the app has gained the attention of UNDP’s national partners in the struggle to tackle youth unemployment, especially the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the national Employment Agency —all of them keenly anticipating its success.