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Up to Youth Program Supports Sweet Entrepreneurship in Kosovo

Published 03/10/2023 by Lizzie Hickman

Group of Up To Youth program participants in Kosovo.

By Lizzie Hickman

Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager, to have the entire world of possibilities open for you to explore? Many of the world’s young people lack the resources to pursue or invest in their dreams, but that’s where Up to Youth, a five-year initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), steps in.

A group of Up To Youth participants attend and present at a professional development event.

Up to Youth works to support young people in Kosovo ages 15-24 years old who are vulnerable to social exclusion by mobilizing and engaging them in meaningful ways to create positive change. Participants are given opportunities to identify key challenges in their communities, design solutions and lead implementation of activities that address youth priorities while developing business and life skills that increase their own employability. The program, which is implemented by Global Communities in partnership with LINK LLC, Moonshot, Peer Educators Network and LENS, supports 450 young people in nine municipalities across Kosovo. An additional 435 participants are currently in training as part of the program’s newest cohort.

Azize Curri-Grabanica heard about Up to Youth from an announcement by her village leader, who shared opportunities for young people to attend different trainings designed to help them be agents of change in their own communities. With more than 40% of its population under age 24, Kosovo is counting on its young people to drive social and economic progress. This remains a challenge, though, as 30% of young people are not enrolled in any form of education, employment or training. They also face an unemployment rate of more than 50%, which is significantly higher than their older counterparts. As young people urgently seek jobs to support themselves and their families, initiatives like Up to Youth are crucial opportunities for them to make important connections and enhance skills that enable them to actively participant in the economic development of the country.

“I applied to the program and was lucky to be among those selected,” Curri-Grabanica said.

She joined Up to Youth’s School of Entrepreneurship in November 2020, where she learned the steps to successfully launch a business. The School of Entrepreneurship goes beyond teaching participants about basic business principles and focuses on financial literacy, obtaining financing, accessing mentorship opportunities and strengthening skills in problem solving and public speaking as well.

Curri-Grabanica presents to a group of funders and fellow Up to Youth program participants.

“Thanks to Up to Youth, I no longer fear speaking out my thoughts, regardless of who is the audience, be it peers, politicians, professionals or even my professors,” Curri-Grabanica said. “I am aware now that I might not always be right, however, my thoughts are important to share.”

Up to Youth strives to help program participants like Curri-Grabanica discover their natural talents to empower them to start their own business ventures or launch meaningful careers. The program’s School of Entrepreneurship offers a 12-day intensive course where young people are taught how to conduct market research, create business models, how to implement marketing strategies and the basics of business finance. Additionally, participants are encouraged to turn challenges into possibilities and are trained how to find solutions through social ventures. After enrolling in the course, Curri-Grabanica recognized an opportunity to capitalize on her natural talent for creating baked goods.

It never crossed my mind that in such a short time I would be able to become self-employed and start my own business. The reason I joined Up to Youth was to learn new things.

Azize Curri-Grabanica, Up to Youth participant and Ziza Sweets owner

In 2020, she launched Ziza Sweets, a small business that bakes and sells holiday-themed cookies, cakes and muffins locally. As the business continues to gain success, Curri-Grabanica expressed it is important for her to give back to the community. She created a ‘Beautify and Be Happy’ initiative, where she donates proceeds from Ziza Sweets to help support young people with special needs in the Vushtrri and Mitrovica municipalities.

“The skills I gained during the 12-day intensive program have helped me to kick-start my business,” Curri Grabanica said. “It was during this program I discovered that I wanted more in life. One of the Up to Youth team members helped me to come up with my business idea and instilled in me the belief that I could make it.”

Over the next year, Up to Youth is focused on developing strategies that will lead to sustainability and continued engagement and support of young people after the program is completed in April 2024. To date, nearly 3,000 young people and parents have participated in Up to Youth’s community outreach activities and 27 youth-led initiatives have been implemented to address community challenges in Kosovo as a result of the program.