The Long Road to ProsperityFeb 24, 2016
The recent news out of Kosovo has been bleak. The tensions between the ruling coalition and opposition is growing and public protests against recent agreements with Serbia and Montenegro have turned violent. The IMF has expressed its concern with Kosovo’s lack of political stability, raising the threat a long-anticipated funding deal will be renegotiated. Persistently low employment rates—especially amongst youth and women—and weak economic growth add to the general sense of gloom.
But let’s take a step back and look at the other side of the story. In 1999, following a decade of conflict in the Western Balkans, peace returned to Kosovo. Between 2000 and 2010, Kosovo’s economy grew faster than the European average. The international community has contributed enormously to the reestablishment of security, rehabilitation of infrastructure, and the creation and strengthening of public institutions. And our Kosovan partners have invested significant resources in reducing poverty, creating jobs, and improving welfare.
While the U.N. has been present in Kosovo for more than two decades, UNDP began its work in August of 1999. This year we will celebrate our 17th anniversary.
Initially, UNDP focused on emergency reconstruction and rehabilitation: building houses, schools, and health centres, and restoring electricity to communities. Thousands of weapons were destroyed. As priorities shifted from emergency to longer-term development, so did our approach. Through innovative initiatives—such as the Capacity Development Facility and the Active Labour Markets Programme—we kick-started the establishment of a wide range of public institutions, created over 10,000 jobs, and helped Kosovo to take its initial steps towards achieving environmental sustainability.
Arriving in Kosovo in October 2013, I felt inspired by Kosovo’s youthful spirit and potential, while fully aware of its difficult past and complexities. It has now been more than two years and I continue to be surprised every day. Sometimes in a good way, other times, well, not so good.
The good? Meeting and working to support the programmers and activists of Girls Coding Kosova. These young women exude boundless optimism and energy. They are using this energy to break down gender barriers in a field dominated by men, fight corruption, and enhance their own skills and employability.
The not so good? That so many other young people I’ve met are out of school, out of work and—more often than not—out of ideas. Too many of them, even if engaged in some kind of learning, are, when asked, unable to describe what their future looks like.
I have realized that if it doesn’t empower and mentor its young women and men, Kosovo could fall prey to a dangerous mix of unemployment, growing frustration, and increasing extremism. Many of the achievements since 1999 could literally be thrown out of the window as a result.
Close to 70 percent of Kosovans are under the age of 35, but relatively few know what it’s like to have a job. Only 40 percent of working age men and 13 percent of working age women are employed. To make matters worse, a majority of them have made it clear in UNDP’s flagship public opinion survey (Public Pulse) that they think that Kosovo is moving in the wrong direction, both politically or economically. Hope in the future seems to be a rather scarce commodity in Kosovo these days.
Of all the obstacles which Kosovo currently faces, I can’t think of a more important mission than providing young people with a chance to participate in public life and to play a role in creating a better future. I have been working with UNDP and our partners every day here to turn this into a reality.
Our outlook has changed to fit the circumstances. We are trying to better understand what it will take to integrate many more young people into the economy and to encourage new generations of entrepreneurs. For women, this also means enhancing access to credit, addressing cultural barriers to property ownership, and eliminating violence in and outside of the household. These objectives are of course also at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals.
I’m pleased that in 2015—building on over a decade of experience in employment generation--we achieved a significant scaling-up of our activities in this area, creating over a thousand new jobs. We’ve sharpened our focus on women, youth, and minorities, as this recent video on our self-employment scheme demonstrates.
But the recent events in Pristina are an indication that we still have quite a long way to go.
In the meantime, I stay focused on the more positive future represented by strong, fearless women like Blerta Thaçi and Zana Idrizi, the co-founders of Girls Coding Kosova. They are, for me a reminder of Kosovo’s immense potential. I know that, if we nurture the talent and energy of emerging leaders like them, Kosovo will become a place where their dreams of a better future—and those of thousands of other Kosovans—can indeed come true.
Interested in learning more? Check out this short movie about our first 15 years in Kosovo: