Champions of change: Young innovators from across the Arab world put their creativity to the service of their communities

Report
from UN Development Programme
Published on 09 Feb 2018 View Original

All too often, young people in the Arab states are portrayed as universally, perpetually in despair. While indeed many Arab countries are in a state of turmoil, the truth is that young people across the region are finding ways to keep their societies moving forward.

UNDP's Youth Leadership Programme works with young people in every Arab country who are putting their creativity to the service of their communities, using technology and innovation to support change that matters in daily life.

Twelve of these young leaders travelled to New York to take part in the 2018 Youth Forum and to share their projects and their vision for how young people can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. It's one example of how UNDP puts both youth and innovation at the forefront of our support for development worldwide.

RECYCLING IS SMART

A 23-year-old electrical and computer engineer, Khalil graduated from the American University of Beirut (AUB). He is a scout trainer and chief at Al-Jarrah Scout Association in Lebanon. He has led and assisted different programmes to train children and youth on the mix of soft and technical skills that scouting organisations emphasize. Khalil is now the deputy of Beirut Commissariat and seeks to encourage building healthy communities for youth in Lebanon.

RecLeb - Recycle the Smart Way is a project developed by Khalil that aims to help Lebanese residents sort their waste through a mobile and web platform. This project will help reduce the high levels of pollution in Lebanon resulting from improper waste management and inspire “green thinking" within the community.

CREATING SAFE PLACES

Salma is a 21-year-old geographic information systems and geology student at Sciences University of Tunis. An avowed feminist, she stepped into the entrepreneurial world in 2015 by joining OPTIMA Junior Enterprise as human resources manager, then marketing manager a year later.

Salma developed SafeNes to help increase awareness and ensure safe public spaces. A quick and easy interface enables users to report sexual harassment and contact lawyers for help. SafeNes will also provide safe-zone maps, videos teaching self-defence and instruction on legal procedures related to sexual harassment.

"SafeNes is a mobile app that aims to prevent sexual harassment in pubic places and is a bridge between NGOs and victims of sexual harassment."

ENGINEERING INCLUSION

Mechanical engineer Ali is a member of the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, and has received numerous awards for his work supporting social entrepreneurship and the Sustainable Development Goals.

He launched the online platform Sarood to provide technical resources and training to foster the socioeconomic inclusion of divorced and widowed Emirati women. New home-based labour regulations now provide women with the opportunity to start small handicrafts businesses and perform production activities. Working with local and national authorities, Ali aims to support 2,500 women in 2018.

"[Sarood is] an Emerati project working to empower women, starting from training to selling their goods in the market."

GOING PLACES

Malak is a 27-year-old community and human rights activist working in the humanitarian field. She is currently working on her master’s degree on the role of educational administrations in light of displacement and their impact on civic engagement within Lebanon’s schools.

In Lebanon, some people spend 40 percent of their salaries commuting to work. Malak has developed “Khedni M3ak!” (“Take me with you!”), a carpooling project that aims to solve transportation problems, including traffic jams and pollution. Besides providing a cleaner and safer means of transportation, the app also promotes small businesses along the route.

"My project is a carpooling application that supports girls working in small shops and businesses. I provide cheaper, scheduled and safer means of transportation with exciting offers en route."

CITIZEN BOT

Montassar is a 25-year-old Tunisian architect and university professor. He is also an activist and candidate in the upcoming 2018 municipal elections. Interested in social entrepreneurship, Montassar has developed innovative solutions to address the lack of citizen participation in his hometown of Sidi Bouzid.

He invented Badia, a robot messenger designed to bridge the communication gap between citizens and local authorities. By answering residents' questions about local budgets, the chat bot helps people become actively engaged in the work of their municipalities.

"Meeting all those people from different countries, presenting great projects, has opened my eyes to our ability as young leaders to change the world and make it a better place."

OH YES 'SHE CAN'

Moneera is a 21-year-old student of social studies and economics at the University of Khartoum, and actively involved in civil society. She is a country representative to the African Union Students Council and an executor of Merit360, a programme for youth to tackle the Sustainable Development Goals. After participating in the Youth Leadership Programme in 2015, she has become a mentor for other YLP participants.

Moneera's ‘SHE CAN’ project aims to empower immigrant widows by providing them with viable income. The initiative targets widows who had been economically dependent on their spouses. Often they were married young and had little or no education. SHE CAN offers the means for widows to start small businesses by providing skills training in a trade. The project also equips immigrant women with business management skills, holds health and legal education workshops, and provides micro-credit loans and grants.

"We also collect data from all around Sudan about the cases of women who have faced violence in Sudan."

ENABLING TECH

After taking first prize in the Ismailia NASA Space Apps Challenge in 2016, Khaled has become a mentor to other young programmers. He has also participated in the Valeo Innovation Challenge, the Minesweeper Competition and mentored at IEEE Robotics Competition.

His project, Esmaany (Hear me), aims to address communication with deaf-blind people using various technologies such as a glove and a smart bracelet. The Esmaany team hopes to use their innovative solution to ease communication with the deaf-blind as well as assist in their education. The goal is to reduce inequality and build partnerships among people with disabilities and relevant institutions.

"What we have here is a glove made for deaf-blind people. If you push the button, it will speak the letter written here, so it will be easier for them to communicate."

VIRTUAL REALITY CHECK

Nineteen-year-old Mariam is a physics student with an interest in raising awareness and reducing stigma about mental health challenges in her country. Mariam is actively working on Muharib, a campaign to give voice to people suffering from a variety of mental illnesses in the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE has the highest rate of depression in the MENA region, yet there is little recognition of the issue. After extensive research, Mariam determined that using virtual reality technology could be an innovative and effective way to educate people on mental health. The approach consists of delivering workshops on-site and online, in Arabic and in English, to ensure maximum reach.

"I come from a country that has the highest rates of depression in the region. I chose to use virtual reality because it gives a closer feel to what it's like to go through a mental illness."

THINK MOBILE, ACT LOCAL

Ahmad is a 28-year-old graduate student studying organisational development at Al-Quds University, with a bachelor's degree in political science. Ahmed has earned many awards, including the Ideal Volunteer Prize in Palestine and has served as an Arab Thought Foundation Youth Ambassador.

Through the RASSD Initiative for Palestinian Citizenship, Ahmad aims to address the lack of communication between citizens and local authorities in Palestine. Rassd has a committee to interact with citizens and serve as mediator, encouraging people to take part in the decision-making process. A website and mobile application is designed to equip citizens with information on municipalities’ plans and recommendations.

"Changing the world begins with a small group of thoughtful and committed people, ready to foster awareness raising and advocate for their rights."

ON A MISSION

Medical student Alaa volunteers on medical missions to rural areas with a number of NGOs. She works with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society as president of their Faculty Unit. She has worked with the World Health Organization as a trainer or trainers in social and behavioral change communication focusing on ending female genital mutilation. She founded 'Model Health Systems', an initiative to promote youth incorporation in health leadership and reform of health systems to achieve health for all.

Alaa's project is called Public Health Academia. It's an online learning platform that aims to empower youth in the health sector by providing the necessary knowledge and skills to initiate prevention projects for healthier communities.

"It is mainly concerned with building capacity among us youth to understand, take part in promoting public health policies and debating and engaging youth towards improvement of health systems in Sudan."

NEXT-LEVEL TOILETS

Sinan is a 20-year-old student of mechatronics engineering. He is also a student in Kelley School of Business, an innovator and a life-skills lecturer working with students in rural areas across Jordan. He is the founder of Imagineers, an initiative to get Jordanian university students more involved in social entrepreneurship.

“S-toilet” is a smart public bathroom that can operate off-grid and maintain a high hygienic standard. The project aims to generate a sustainable and innovative solution to the lack of public restrooms in Jordan. The smart toilet will provide underprivileged areas with public sanitation facilities, while seeking to change the culture of public bathroom use and thus ensure the sustainability of the facilities.

"My project is a small public bathroom that will change the culture of using public facilities. It's going to take public sanitation in Jordan to the next level."

CROWDSOURCE EDUCATION

Ahmad is a 21-year-old civil engineering student at Al-Balqa' Applied University in Jordan. He is a founder and head of the Hemam Nahleh venture, an independent youth initiative aiming to engage young people through volunteer work and service to their communities.

A quarter of the population of the Arab world is deprived of education. Ahmad’s non-profit organization, Watan for Educational Skills Development or Watan Edu for short, helps students complete their education by providing scholarships, funded by using the power of social media. The project also aims to enhance students' employability by facilitating further training in their fields.

A CATALYTIC ROLE

UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States plays an important role in supporting youth's work for positive change, including through its Youth Leadership Programme.

The young change-makers portrayed here were chosen after a year of enriching activities and a thorough selection process to join UNDP’s delegation to the 2018 ECOSOC Youth Forum in New York and to share their projects and vision for how young people can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

It's one example of how UNDP puts both youth and innovation at the forefront of our support for development worldwide.