Bridging the Gap: How IREX Fosters Trust Between Ukrainian Youth and Local Governments

Bridging the Gap: How IREX Fosters Trust Between Ukrainian Youth and Local Governments

Matthew Vanderwerff, Teresa Meoni, and the UNITY team

photo of male and female youth working together in  group. They are all looking down at documents on a table

To build trust between Ukrainian youth and local governments, the USAID Ukraine National Identity through Youth (UNITY) program, implemented by IREX, piloted a new approach to foster collaboration between local government officials and young stakeholders. This approach aligns with IREX’s Framework for Building Trust in Leaders and Institutions, which emphasizes the importance of demonstrating competence, showing good intent, and promoting belonging. 

To enhance youth engagement in the development of local, publicly funded youth development programs, UNITY introduced a new approach for youth and local government officials that included community needs mapping, norm building, and a training on public participation and forming advisory committees. The activities were piloted during workshops for teams of 93 local government officials and youth representing 12 communities brought together to design more inclusive and youth-centric policymaking practices.

Bolstering Engagement

While there are a range of tools available for youth in Ukraine to participate in local decision-making, local authorities do not always engage youth when making youth-related policies. This oversight often results in local government policies and programs that fail to address youth needs and this leads to the erosion of trust between youth and local authorities—perpetuating a cycle of disengagement.  

According to the Youth Engagement in Decision-Making assessment conducted in December 2023 and January 2024 by UNITY, 36% of Ukrainian youth surveyed reported that they did not believe their local governments listened at all to their opinions. Furthermore, 26% of respondents cited the belief that local governments are unwilling to involve and listen to youth opinions as a barrier to participating in local decision-making.

Without meaningful youth participation, government programs and policies may not effectively address the concerns and priorities of young Ukrainians. More importantly, it damages trust between governments and youth, as the latter perceive their voices and perspectives to be discounted.

A New Approach in Policy Development

To help bridge this gap, the UNITY workshops equipped participants with knowledge and skills to effectively communicate needs and priorities, thereby increasing community buy-in of youth programs. These workshops were essential, as they helped policymakers understand the value of building trust and participating in activities that promote trust as an essential step to gain support for their decisions. The training also helped local officials realize that previous programs were often not aligned with the needs of youth.

“Communicating has helped us identify youth interests to align policies with needs,” said one youth activist, as local officials in her group agreed. “Face-to-face interaction yields the most honest answers.”

Trust Building Improves Perceptions 

The activities bolstered trust in youth toward local policymakers, according to post-workshop surveys. Initially, 45% of youth believed their local government officials had the skills necessary to effectively address youth-related issues. After the training, this figure rose to 65%, highlighting increased trust in the authorities. 

Before the workshops, officials rated their trust-building abilities higher than the youth surveyed did. Specifically, 85% of public officials who participated felt that they clearly communicated their intentions and reasons behind their actions when addressing youth-related policies, while only 40% of youth agreed. After the trust-building activities, youth perception of their local authorities improved, with 71% believing that local government officials clearly communicated their actions.

Supported by UNITY, the mixed groups of youth and local officials will continue trust-building activities, presenting their draft youth development policies to youth and key stakeholders in their communities. These public events are crucial in developing trust between youth, public officials, and among members of the wider community; and helping local governments communicate the importance of funding youth development programs during the war. 


UNITY is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by IREX in partnership with Building Ukraine Together,  Making Cents International, the International Republican Institute, and Zinc Network. 

The goal of the program is to support Ukrainian youth—dreamers and doers—as they build prosperous careers and businesses, contribute to thriving civic spaces in their communities, and lead the movement for Ukraine’s peaceful and democratic future.