Awakening the spirit of innovation for Kosovo’s youth

Jul 25, 2016


Children and youth in Gjakovë/Djakovica are emanating with innovative concepts and creative ideas; they want to transform illustrations and hypothetical designs into tangible objects; they crave a platform where they can express themselves through creating things. However, they struggle with limited opportunities to do so within the public school system. 

Vllaznim Xhiha, a Kosovan with professional experience in engineering, knows that creating opportunities for innovation outside of the classroom can lead to more student engagement in the classroom. So he set on a mission to create a ‘maker-space’ for children and youth in the municipality. He founded BONEVET (“Do it Yourself”) as a non-profit community center dedicated to empowering and training Kosovo’s youth in programming, coding, manufacturing, and woodworking. The first of its kind in Kosovo and the region, BONEVET has had immediate appeal to Gjakovar youth, and—since its establishment in February 2014 more than 437 young people have graduated from BONEVET’s courses and over 44 “Makers” have become annual members of the maker-space. 

“These students have such great potential”, says Lekë Zherka, the Executive Direct of BONEVET. “We are able to see this is in all the work that they do. We have a fully equipped and professionally maintained manufacturing facility, with capabilities such as metal machining, electronics, robotics, 3D printing, programming, and automation. They’re able to make anything they’ve ever dreamed of!”.

The building in which BONEVET operates was donated by the municipality of    Gjakovë/Djakovica. The spaces throughout the building have no doors, encouraging peer-to-peer collaboration and flow of ideas, and providing a welcoming environment for all. “We are thankful for this space, and we hope to replicate the BONEVET experience in all major cities across Kosovo” says Vllaznim. 

One of BONEVET’s principles is to encourage the kind of hands-on exploration with resources and materials that is rarely available to youth in Gjakovë/Djakovica. The BONEVET team assists boys and girls of all ages to gain their first experiences with working with materials through collective and individual skills development and workshops. “At BONEVET, we hope to change the mindset of the younger generation in our town”, Lekë says. “We aim to foster a drive to learn and stimulate long-term engagement in the work youth do. It’s important to us to build a new generation of innovative, creative, and hardworking makers”. 

With the high level of discrimination against women in fields like programming, computer science and robotics in Kosovo, BONEVET also takes pride in its gender-balanced workshops. They help young women get experience working in IT and encourage them to cultivate their interests in this field. Beratrisa Zherka, a thirteen-year-old girl from Gjakovë/Djakovica, received a robotics masterclass scholarship in May, 2016. “Since I started the masterclass, I have been able to learn concepts earlier than I do in school. Now I am always prepared for my classes and I get good grades”, she says. Beatrisa, who aspires to be an architect, looks most forward to participating in the BONEVET ‘Arts & Crafts’ workshop, where she will learn relevant analytical and design skills.

Currently, BONEVET has 10 ongoing courses, each of which is focused on different skillsets and tailored to different age groups. From education programmes on electronic circuitry and current intensity, to 3D modeling and 3D printing, youth in Gjakovë/Djakovica are encouraged to experiment and to build their own prototypes. “We’ve had 10 year-olds create miniature houses with lights that can turn on and off”, Lekë says. “We’ve also had students create remote controlled robots. ‘Makers’ can take apart old computer and other technology to create new things”. 

The innovative spirit of BONEVET is the same approach UNDP and UNV take in Kosovo when designing collaborative initiatives such as the Codesign with youth in Kosovo. Due to these similarities in approach, UNDP has already partnered with BONEVET during the social innovative challenge Digi-Gjakova as part of its anti-corruption programme, financed by the Swiss Development Corporation. 

With a similar dream to UNDP’s – to contribute to the sustainable development of Kosovo – BONEVET aims to produce a new generation of qualified and experienced youth who can foster innovation and spur competitiveness in Kosovo’s economy. 

As they say at BONEVET, “If you can imagine it, you can make it”. 

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