I remember the chain of emails that said in all caps lock: PRESENT DURING INTERNATIONAL YOUTH DAY (IYD). I opened the email and hoped somebody else within UNICEF, read Lamija, would proudly represent our organization during this event so that I could continue my daily work. Passing by Lamija’s office later in the day I heard her say:
–Jeremy!- (I knew she was going to ask me about the email) – Did you get the email about international youth day? – Yes. – Are you going to present? – No, I was expecting you would do something. – I hoped you would do it…
It appeared we both had the same strategy to try and avoid disappointing our UNICEF office. After a bit of discussion Lamija left me no choice but to carry the UNICEF colours on IYD. And so I decided to present something on a subject I am passionate about – technology in emergencies inspired by the work of Patrick Meier (who we interviewed for IT Girls!).
On the day of a lot of people showed up, including senior management and Lamija. The presentations were quite interesting, and this email that was received with its fair share of cynicism, led to an excellent opportunity to learn about what other young people were doing. But things became MUCH MORE interesting when Deputy Resident Representative Zahira from UNDP told us: let’s organize a competition for 5,000 USD for young people under 30 to come up with an innovative idea to address issues that are relevant to them! This stayed in the back of my head and I remembered a discussion we had when developing a youth strategy that teaching IT skills to young people was an area UNICEF should explore.
Walking in the corridor I saw Lamija and she said: let’s talk about the challenge! Do you have time for coffee? – Of course! After remembering our conversation about the importance of IT skills for young people, Lamija suggested: ‘It’s a good idea… but let’s do it for girls’! BOOM… ITGirls, even though it was not called that yet (that’s for another blog post), started as a concept. We were so excited and so we started brainstorming on who to get involved! Aleksandra from UNWOMEN? Yeah she’s cool! Erma from child protection? Yeah sure she just started but that’s fine! Later Erma suggested Arijana? Yeah sure the more the merrier! And the female version of the A-team plus one male was formed!
Little did I know down the line that with this amazingly competent, sometimes dysfunctional team we would i) win the competition ii) successfully implement the first phase and iii) have such a great time doing it! ITGirls is not the biggest project I have worked on but it is the most interesting. Taking an idea from scratch and seeing it become reality is something that I encourage everybody to do and I can’t stress enough how by making a small effort these things will happen.
Being pessimistic is not a good idea. Why bother attending the IYD? Well it allowed me to get involved in a unique project where i) I had the chance to meet and hear about inspiring girls wanting to improve their lives by learning IT skills, ii) I interviewed a role model of mine, Patrick Meier and most importantly iii) I saw a group of exceptionally motivated young people take an idea from a concept to a reality with all its ups and downs. Even though I am not in Bosnia and Herzegovina anymore the IT Girls project will forever remain one of the most rewarding journeys I embarked. It started a year ago today, and was made possible thanks to the dedication, and hard work of the girls below.
On IYD we want to encourage all the young people to take initiatives and take risks. The information era has provided our generation with an enormous opportunity where one can learn anything online! This is what we are trying to encourage through IT Girls and this what we encourage you to do!