“Now, we can continue to be part of the solution!”: Young Leader Reflects on Sustainable Development in Syria as Delegate Programme Continues

Earlier this year, UNDP and the UAE´s Arab Youth Centre (AYC) extended their Youth Development Delegate programme (YDD), a joint initiative that aims to promote and strengthen youth inclusion and engagement in sustainable change. Now spanning 13 Arab countries, the YDD enables one young person from each participating state to work in local UNDP offices, allowing them to gain hands-on multilateral development experience while supporting and influencing youth programming from within.

In this Q&A, YDD Syrian delegate Aya Albitar reflects on her work with the programme and explains how it can continue to support innovative, impactful, and youth-led development in Syria.

What is the YDD? Why is it important?

In Syria, everyone is affected by the economic and social challenges resulting from the crisis. But the stakes are particularly high for youths. We make up 21% of the population, and we are often especially vulnerable to the issues faced by our society.

Since we have our whole lives ahead of us, decisions that are made now will impact upon us in the future. As such, it’s important that we have the opportunity to help shape the sustainable development processes that will affect us. We have a valuable part to play, and can bring fresh ideas, approaches, and perspectives. But at the moment, our potential is underutilised.

The YDD aims to help change this. It supports young people like me to support my peers to take a more active role in our country’s development process. It gives us the opportunity to develop the new skills, networks, and spaces that we need in order to develop innovative solutions to proactively address the difficulties we face.

What does your role as a youth delegate involve?

As a youth delegate, I work at UNDP Syria under the guidance of the organisation´s youth focal point. I get to develop my leadership skills and learn about the youth strategy and the agenda of 2030 , while coordinating with other young people and supporting them to ensure that their needs, perspectives, and ideas are heard.

My work focuses on the implementation in Syria of the Youth Leadership Programme (YLP), a broader UNDP initiative conducted across the Arab region. The YLP invests in young women and men to unleash their potential as social innovators, leaders, and thinkers — basically, to become a force for change! Through our YLP here at UNDP Syria, we aim to equip young people with the tools that can help them develop new approaches to address the challenges they see, whether in their own communities or across the country as a whole. We are helping to apply the 2030 Development Agenda and its 17 goals to our local context, which means trying to encourage sustainable development, improve livelihoods, and support the Syrians to respond with resilience to the challenges they face.

What activities have you and other young people worked on so far?

Our YDD programme took off in spring 2020 just as the global Covid-19 pandemic was taking hold. We had to adapt very quickly to operating remotely. Despite this challenge, we successfully launched our YLP, with activities that reflected the overall YLP theme for 2020: pandemics, peacebuilding, and climate change. We used the impact of the pandemic and Syria´s worsening economic crisis as an opportunity to learn and to engage with more young people, who were heavily affected by both crises.

For example, as part of our peacebuilding work, we conducted training and an associated social media campaign to encourage young people to put aside their differences and build common ground. We also coordinated with UNDP Syria´s Accelerator Lab in organizing “YLP and Accelerator Lab Introduction” event that gathered a group of young Syrian entrepreneurs and changemakers in Syria to identify innovative ways to speed up local progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

In response to the pandemic, on a national level, we arranged COVID-19 medical consultations in sign language, to support young people with hearing loss. While I and other Youth Development Delegates supported the UNDP RBAS Regional Youth Team in the development of a regional online campaign in 2021 to share tips and stories related to moments of demotivation and finding hope. The campaign encouraged youth to discuss mental health and coping mechanisms, a topic that is not usually openly discussed in the region.

In total, by the end of YLP6-Syria, we worked with 140 young men and women from different governorates in Syria to implement the National Action Plan.

In 2021, coinciding with the start of the seventh year of UNDP´s overall YLP initiative, we expanded our focus on community building as well as entrepreneurship and job-seeking. These last two issues are especially important for young people, many of whom are unemployed. Through our specially-designed workshops, young people explained their needs and the ideas and solutions that they had to address them. We then developed a new National Action Plan based on these inputs, and started to implement it via a group of regular activities, the YLP7 Meetup Series. Each week, young leaders from different backgrounds now meet to share ideas, learn from experts, receive job-seeking tips, and develop their entrepreneurial skills. By harnessing the networks of our previous YLP participants, we are reaching more and more young men and women and supporting them to put their plans into practice.

What about YDD and YLP over the next 12 months?

The extension of the YDD is really important for YLP and the youth of the region as it will give the opportunity to another group of young leaders to learn and build on what was achieved over 2020 and 2021, and continue to be part of the solution.

In Syria, the youth team is planning to make the most of this year by engaging with even more alumni from the Youth Leadership Programme, so that we harness their networks, reach even more young men and women, and involve them in the planning and delivery of innovative sustainable development activities.

Follow UNDP Syria´s Youth Leadership Programme on Facebook.

Learn more about the UNDP and AYC Youth Development Delegate programme here.

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