IREX launches the Ukraine Identity through Youth Program

IREX launches the Ukraine Identity through Youth Program

James Whittingham


Screenshot of the UNITY Youth Advisory Council introductory virtual meeting on Zoom.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is partnering with IREX to lead a consortium of international and local partners to implement the Ukraine National Identity through Youth (UNITY) program. The five-year program aims to influence over one million youth with activities that support their leadership towards a values-based Ukrainian identity, make sustainable changes in the enabling environment, and catalyze Ukrainian capacity to continue that work during and beyond UNITY.

UNITY will support youth innovation, entrepreneurship, and career preparedness; broaden youth engagement in civic and community problem solving; support youth-driven respect for diversity and pluralism; and make substantial contributions to research and learning on youth-related data, trends, and approaches to inform youth policy and programming.

"UNITY comes at an historic moment of transition in Ukraine,” said IREX President and CEO Kristin Lord. “The project will allow IREX to collaborate with and support young Ukrainians as they define their own national identity and future around shared values of human rights, democratic principles, and equity.”

The program will use positive youth development to engage youth along with their families, communities, and governments so that youth are empowered to reach their full potential. Recognizing that youth participation is essential for effective programing, IREX recruited 47 members of a youth advisory council through an open call for applications, interviews, and group discussions to embed youth perspectives in UNITY’s mission and help design and implement activities.  The Youth Advisory Council is made up of three age-differentiated tiers—freshmen (age 10–14), sophomores (15–19), and seniors (20–35). Forty-five percent of council members come from rural areas or smaller towns, 53% identify as female, and 47% as female. The members of the council have already started to serve in their roles during virtual meetings in observance of COVID-19 safety protocols.

The program officially launched at an online event on December 10 with guests such as Vadym Huttsait, Minister of Youth and Sports of Ukraine; Jim Hope, USAID Mission Director; and Kristin Lord, IREX President and CEO.Minister Huttsait, an Olympic gold medal winner, shared thoughts on his journey from a taking up fencing as a child to an becoming Olympic champion: “If you believe in yourself, if you invest in your dreams, you can achieve them. But it needs hard work, you cannot sit on your hands. Even if you are denied or fail, keep pursuing it. I wish you the best of success, together we will be able to achieve positive change.” 

Also in attendance were special guests Alyona Alyona—a Ukrainian rapper whose songs tackle important issues such as bullying, body positivity, and female empowerment, and Ukrainian blogger and singer Jerry Heil. Both special guests spoke to launch participants and Youth Advisory council members about the importance of working together and the power of ideas.  “Your actions today are testament to the fact that you are confident, you think out of the box, and you are young people who make innovation happen” stated Jerry Heil to Youth Advisory Council members, “in fact, you are the innovation and you have five years to change the country for the better.”  

IREX is implementing the UNITY program with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with Building Ukraine Together (BUR), Center for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR Ukraine), Making Cents International (MCI), International Republican Institute (IRI), and Zinc Network.

For updates on UNITY, follow the IREX in Ukraine Facebook page