National Pro Bono Week – Interning to Empower Youth in Kosovo
Last week was National Pro Bono week. To celebrate the OxHRH and OPBP are running a series of posts highlighting graduate students’ experiences interning with public interest law organisations. OPBP provides annual grants to enable students to undertake unpaid or poorly paid public interest law work at organisations and law firms across the globe. Romy Faulkner, one of the successful applicants in the 2014 grants process, writes about her experiences working at the UNICEF Innovations Lab in Kosovo.
I recently spent three weeks at the UNICEF Innovations Lab in Pristina, Kosovo. I was interested in working at the Lab in order to gain a better understanding of what ‘innovation’ means in the context of human rights advocacy, a core aspect of the Lab’s work. I was aware of the movement towards innovation within the development and humanitarian sector, and I wanted to learn how innovative approaches can empower members of the public to enforce their rights. The UNICEF Innovations Lab works with the most marginalised young people in Kosovo, providing them with skills to understand and advocate for progress, change, and improved rights protection in a society still working to heal the scars of conflict.
I had the opportunity to support the Lab’s Youth Advocacy section. The Youth Advocacy Platform works at the grassroots, supporting young people from marginalised ethnic minority communities to design and carry out their own advocacy campaigns. The Innovations Lab staff work actively with the young people, providing them with resources and training. However, the crux of the program is that the young people have ownership over their own campaigns. They conduct community needs assessments to ascertain the most pressing rights concerns, then design and carry out their advocacy campaigns to raise awareness of the concerns amongst relevant stakeholders. In essence, the Lab equips young people to independently and sustainably advocate on behalf of their communities.
My role involved documenting this rights advocacy campaign process and analysing it for possible improvements. I collaborated with other members of the Lab to develop recommendations for re-designing the process, in preparation for the next stage of roll-out.
Over the course of the internship, I gained a better understanding of what innovation can mean in the context of rights advocacy. The Lab staff work on a horizontal basis with their ‘target population’ of young people in marginalised communities. They engage directly and constantly with the youth, not imposing their ideas upon the communities but rather giving them the resources to improve their own situations. The Lab aims to empower young people to advocate independently, without the need for NGOs or aid agencies to support them or to advocate on their behalf. In essence, the Lab is working to diminish the need for its own existence, enabling people who are marginalised to create their own sustainable solutions.
To this end, a core aim of the Lab is to make young marginalised Kosovans more aware of their rights. The Lab team identified that many young people in Kosovo have a limited understanding of their rights, which increases their vulnerability to discrimination and rights abuse. Lab employees were therefore in the process of designing a ‘Know Your Rights’ online platform, a website that provides information about approximately 100 core rights under Kosovan law in language that is very accessible to young people.
All programs are designed with the beneficiaries at their heart, using a strongly human-centred design approach. The aim of the Lab is to be flexible enough to respond immediately to the needs of young Kosovans. The young people with whom I interacted expressed the feeling that the staff members at the UNICEF Lab were more receptive to their interests than other NGOs working to promote the rights of minority communities. UNICEF is making great strides, and it is exciting to consider how innovative methods of working with ‘end users’ could be further infused into legal work in developing contexts globally.
Additionally, the internship helped me to understand the usefulness of inter-disciplinary work in tackling the concerns that our world faces. There is much that lawyers can learn from approaches used in design, engineering, business and so many other disciplines, to generate more comprehensive solutions. I am immensely grateful to OPBP for having made this experience possible.