The Young Men Initiative (YMI) is a comprehensive program aimed at addressing issues of youth development, gender equality, and gender-based violence in the Western Balkans. The program has been implemented in phases over the past 16 years, with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MOTT, Oak Foundation, Austrian Development Cooperation, Government of Switzerland and CARE.
Development of Methodology for working with young men (2007-2013)
Was the pilot phase, in which the methodology and curriculum of Institute Profundo’s Program H was adapted to Program M. Program M includes series of workshops for young men with topics that include gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, emotional wellbeing and violence / conflict resolution. CARE and its partners adapted, tested and evaluated this model over a period of 2 years in work with boys/ young men in secondary schools and communities in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Program M expanded the methodology to more schools, reached target groups outside of schools, extended its geographic coverage, and promoted the program at a national level. The project worked with several local partners and two international partners in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo.
Development of Program Youth (2013-2016)
This phase of the project builds upon CARE’s comprehensive and programmatic effort to fight interpersonal and gender-based violence (GBV) as well as to improve gender equality in the region. This program phase was implemented in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo*, and Serbia and aimed at building knowledge and attitudes of young people concerning gender equality and healthy lifestyles and decreasing levels of GBV. During this phase, Program Y was developed – an evidence-based educational curriculum that contributes to the development of functional knowledge, attitudes and psychosocial skills of young people, which are an important predisposition for their healthy and safer growing up. Based on modern pedagogical methods of work, which include collaborative and participatory learning, Program Y prepares young people to recognize and understand risks, to think critically about the consequences and it prepares them to make decisions that are in the best interest of their health and the health of their peers. With this intervention, YMI contributed to bringing positive changes in attitudes and behaviours among young people of the secondary school age group that relate directly to health, violence and gender equality. This was done by addressing the issues on multiple levels through:
○ Increasing capacities of youth organizations’ staff to deliver non-formal life-skills education in schools and communities; ○ Increasing capacities of high-school teachers and school staff for delivering formal life-skills education at schools; ○ Gaining support and ensuring engagement of relevant government institutions for program non-formal, but also formal recognition and application, and ○ Raising awareness and changing attitudes of youth toward various aspects of health, violence, and gender equality.
Scaling up of Program Y (2017 – 2020)
Focused on scaling up and mainstreaming earlier achievements related to the implementation of Program Y via targeted advocacy and close cooperation with Ministries of Education, public gender agencies, academic institutions, secondary schools, educators, media, and other stakeholders. Within the scale up process, advocacy/lobbying efforts resulted in program verification/ accreditation for the professional development of teachers, school staff, and youth workers in Kosovo*, Serbia, B&H and Croatia. As a result, Program Y has been implemented as part of the official school curriculum and extra-curriculum program in 130 high schools in the Western Balkans. 120,000 high school students and 1,600 teachers were educated within this initiative. Also, CARE and its partners across the Balkans have initiated the movement “Future 4 Youth” which aims to bring diverse voices of civil society, informal citizens groups, parents, teachers and other stakeholders around the same goal – to address and advocate for violence prevention, gender equality, life skills and health education in schools across the Balkans.
Institutionalization and further development (2020 – ongoing)
Institutionalization focuses on officially integrating Program Y into the national educational curriculums and acquiring official accreditation/solution for training of teaching/school staff in targeted countries. CARE and its partners work closely with the Ministries of Education to achieve this goal and ensure the realization of long-term solutions that will last beyond the program lifetime. We continued to strengthen position of Program Y and life skills education via targeted advocacy and as a result 5 ministries in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as ministries in Serbia, Albania and Kosovo* provided strong support by issuing permission for implementing Program Y in high schools. Through multi-sectoral working groups and in cooperation with relevant institutions, CARE and partners developed Strategies for Institutionalization of Program Y in high schools, as well as guidelines for its integration on university level.
As part of institutionalization efforts, different monitoring, supporting and quality assurance mechanisms are being developed. Schools of Excellence have been established in all countries, as role model high schools leading the implementation of Program Y and those with a consolidated cooperation with the YMI projects, and with staff and management that understands and supports the importance and necessity of life skills education. In 2022 CARE and partners developed Standards of Schools of Excellence as a main quality control tool for program implementation, as well as certification standards for peer educators as a part of Standards of Schools of Excellence to simplify the process.
Additionally, in this phase YMI continues to advocate for the introduction of gender-transformative life skills programming in elementary schools and on the university level, as well as further strengthening of Future4Youth Movement and mobilization of communities to take an active role in educational policy change.
Development is both programmatic and geographical. In 2022, CARE and local partner started piloting Program M in North Macedonia, and also shared their expertise and methodology in Jordan and Georgia, as well as across CARE International family.
During this period, CARE International Balkans recognized the rise of violence and extremism in the region, and that preventative initiatives with youth, that engage both the education and social welfare system, show the most promising results in prevention of extremism. With this in mind, Program Y+ was developed, aimed at working with young people at risk (Young people at risk is a general term for a number of circumstances that put young people in a more vulnerable position due to problematic behaviors such as substance abuse, school failure and juvenile delinquency, along with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety (LeCroy & Anthony, 2009)). Program Y+ is intended for professionals and youth workers working with young people at risk in civil society organizations or institutions. The purpose of the program is to empower staff or people working with young people, including experts, to implement programs in direct work with young people at risk, in order to prevent violence, improve emotional regulation and develop critical thinking, through a focus on gender justice and acceptance of diversity.