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On United Nations Day, Caspar Peek, UNFPA Representative in Ukraine, talks about the potential of youth in Ukraine and how UNFPA helps to fulfill it.



  • UNFPA in Ukraine has launched a number of initiatives for young people. Why do you focus so much on youth?

We think about the future, and young people are the future. In Ukraine we see two things happening. Firstly, there is a negative population growth, which means that there will be fewer people in the future. If you want to grow as a country, which Ukraine has to do, economy has to grow. And this growth will become a burden of the young people. So we have to invest in them now to make sure that they will cope.

The second thing is out-migration, which is a huge issue in Ukraine.  If you ask young people all around Ukraine what their plans for future are, probably, half of them will say: “Leave”. Thus, we have fewer people, and many of these few are willing to leave the country. So, what it really tells you is that you have to invest in the young people to make them stay. So how to make it possible? By creating jobs, but also by giving young people essential knowledge, skills and conditions. There is knowledge, as education indicators in Ukraine have been good for a long time, which is why young Ukrainian professionals are in demand overseas. But soft skills and conditions are not there yet.

  • It happens often that young well-educated Ukrainians decide to leave the country and apply their knowledge and skills abroad. How can we retain there skillful people in Ukraine?

It’s not necessarily that they want to leave. But they after feel that there is no future in Ukraine. Also, young people are not interested in spending a lifetime in one company and then retiring. Now they want to do something that they believe in, that gives them meaning. These days you can make any idea work if you have access to credit. In Ukraine, access to credit is a problem, which makes talent wasted. There might be a plenty of talented young people with great ideas. If none of them get funded, then none of their ideas will work. So, we have to think about giving them access to small credits as well as provide them with the skills necessary for entrepreneurship.  

Another part to consider where young people are. In Ukraine people typically leave smaller towns and look for opportunities in 5-6 biggest cities. A key challenge is to make it interesting for young people to stay where they are. This entails creating jobs, giving opportunities to start family planning, providing access to quality education, and recreational opportunities to name a few. If these are not in place, then young people will be thinking about moving somewhere else.

  • That’s why UNFPA initiated Youth WellBeing Index in Ukraine?

Yes, this tool will help local actors to see how youth-friendly they are, respond to the needs of young people and retain them. We measure, inter alia, participation in local communities, participation in the political life, recreation and job opportunities. Basically, everything that creates a community, in which young people would like to stay. We hope to roll it out in all midsize cities in Ukraine, and a plenty of mayors have already indicated their interest in having this tool for their communities.

  • Are they ready to translate results of Youth WellBeing Index into policies?

 That’s the point at the end. Now we see a major transformation of how the social contract between the state and the citizen's works. It used to be topdown. But now it’s about participatory citizenship. Ask people what they want and need. Then build it far that. Now, due to decentralization, local authorities can use the results of Youth Well-Being Index and operate then use with their budgets. With this tool, we also will be able to compare what values cities learn from each other.

  • In comparison with millennials, what is different with Z generation in terms of employment and entrepreneurship?

I am not sure that it’s about generations. Knowledge and skills have always been there, I think. But it’s more about having access. It often happens that within one country there are two coexisting groups of youth. One of them is hypereducated, adjusted, connected, more open and tolerant to diversity. Another one is less educated, maybe more rural, poorer, less open to diversity. Unfortunately, it also translates into economic power, although into political power. In fact, the inverse might be true. I’m not so worried about the educated young people. They will manage and find some occupation. I’m worried about the other group, which is much bigger. They are on the edge of instability, of becoming easy targets for radicalization or manipulation by populists.

  •  Are Skills Labs, a UNFPA program for career potential development, directed mainly towards this group?

​​​​​​​ This program helps people to get skills to function in the workplace at all levels. What we see typically is that more educated ones sign up for Skills Labs. But we need to bring in everyone. Ukraine should prepare for many manual jobs to be taken away from humans. At some point most manual workers will be unemployed because of robots, so they need to have soft skills that the new emerging market demands. For instance, decision making or teamwork. These are essential skills, taught neither at schools nor at homes. Participation in a Skills Lab cannot solve all the issues, but it can put you on the right track. It can show you what employers are looking for.


  • Pact 2020, which UNFPA has signed, is meant to create 10 thousand internships for young people. How far are you now in reaching that goal?

Pact 2020 is a pan-European initiative. In Ukraine it was launched by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in 2016, and we partnered with them from the very beginning. We are aware that it is not easy for fresh graduates to get a job. This project helps them to get over the threshold and make the first step in their careers. So far over 22,000 young people have benefited from it: find first job or internship.  UNFPA also uses this initiative as an opportunity to bring education on healthy lifestyles to workplaces. Pact 2020 is one of the best and the most practical initiatives that I’ve seen on the ground here.


  • What goals does UNFPA, as one of the key players supporting youth in Ukraine, set for the upcoming future?

Gender issues and youth empowerment are essential parts of our country program. There are huge imbalances, yet opportunities as well. We want to see young people well-educated and well-socialized, making decent living in Ukraine. This is pivotal for demographics, economics, and political stability. UNFPA has not got into political mobilization yet, but we’ll study it in our Youth Well-Being Index. We want to see young people empowered and equipped with all the skills, knowledge and conditions to fulfill their roles as the future leaders of this country, which they inevitably will become.

As for the Skills Labs, we want to scale it up and make it available not for a thousand, but for a million people. This can be solved by making a free online course, which will be accessible anytime from anywhere. We also want to get more partnering organizations that will maintain and sustain Skills Labs.

In terms of gender, we see that girls do not often have the same level of self-esteem and do not go into the same professions as boys do. For example, they avoid STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). So, we’ve been losing talent there. Moreover, inequality is built into the workplace in terms of salaries and working conditions - it’s very hard to be a mother and an employee. So we want to make this feasible and build a fair just society. Finally, we often think of democracy and human rights as luxuries, but nothing can be further from the truth. Most nice countries are so nice because of their democracies, not the other way around. Democracy and human rights are essential tools to have a rich, prosperous and happy next generation. That’s what we are working on in Ukraine.