At YouthBank Romania, young people take all the crucial decisions about how to raise funds and which sustainable development projects to back.
The programme, an offshoot of the International YouthBank, a youth-led grant-making organization, has been running for twelve years in Romania and its success can be seen by the fact that students have now become leaders themselves within the programme.
One such ex-student is Programme Manager Alexandra Soare who explains how the programme works within the particular context of Romania and describes how the organization is now poised to take a new step forward.
YouthBank Romania is a non-formal education programme coordinated by the young for the young and is formed of groups of up to 20 students who meet to fund raise and choose sustainable development projects to receive the money.
Once they are signed up, the young people have training sessions on fundraising, communications and grant-making. They gain hands-on experience with real money and responsibility. Projects chosen to receive funds are as diverse as group clean-ups of a neighbourhood to sponsoring a student with cancer through treatment.
“We target a wide range of people, urban and rural, wealthy and not which means students get to interact with people they might not have come into contact with otherwise,” said Alexandra.
Diversity is built into the programme so that, for example, often excluded communities like the Roma and the Hungarian minority are actively integrated.
‘Gamifying’ the experience
“The biggest challenge we face is gaining people’s trust in a country where the NGO and Sustainable Development culture is still growing. Then we have to keep teenagers interested in the programme over the long-term. It is not that easy to convince a 16-year-old that they can raise, say, 400 euros and then at the end of the year they may see an impact. They have grown up with technology and instant results so we are trying to ‘gameify’ the process by giving small regular incentives and updates,” said Alexandra.
Another bigger challenge is to keep youth and their experiences from leaving Romania, which faces many social problems, once they are adult.
Despite all that, YouthBank has chalked up some major successes.
“Some kids wanted to mount a festival in their school yard, something that had never been done before. The idea was to fund raise to buy equipment for children in rural areas. We are now on our 8th festival proving that it is a truly sustainable idea and has become a tradition. Each year they fund raise for a different cause. This year they came up with the idea to create tools for blind people who may be visiting so that they can ‘see’ different tourist sites in braille. So there is real innovation.”
The next step is to expand. Currently the programme is running in 10 communities in Romania. The plan is to expand the network to new cities and by 2020 have 20 YouthBanks up and running around the country.
Since its implementation at a national level there have been more than one thousand YouthBank members (main beneficiaries), around 3,000 grantees (secondary beneficiaries) and nearly 400,000 direct and indirect beneficiaries of implemented projects.
“We would also like to shift the emphasis from purely events-based fundraising to social entrepreneurship which will be of benefit career-wise to participants, to raise the quality of the projects themselves and increase the capacity of the trainers,” said Alexandra.
The last word goes to Diana Gherghelejiu, a member of YouthBank Sibiu: “After 3 years as a YouthBank member I can strongly say that this programme is an extraordinary experience for every teenager that wants to do more than homework during high school years. The phenomena through which a group of people becomes your family, a family with a common goal, feels incredible and I do not know what I’m going to miss the most: the brainstorming sessions, the interviews or the meetings. What is clear is that there’s nothing more complex, educational, interactive and fun than being a YouthBank member.”