Young people today have the power to drive big and positive changes when given the chance. They are globally connected, they are great innovators. At the same time, they witness the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss and anticipate much worse to come in their lifetime.
Many young people in Central and Eastern Europe are not conscious enough of the consequences of wasteful consumption and their own lifestyle and that they can become part of the solution. In addition, due to the lack of experience and opportunity, they share the view that they do not have the power to contribute to positive change in their society.
WWF YOUTH WORK AIMS AT:
In order to fill this gap, it is more important than ever to engage, empower and include youth in WWF’s work. Young people in CEE can be united - as citizens, donors, activists and consumers - for the benefit of nature.
WWF is active in creating a youth community in the region, particularly in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. Most of the work is implemented by WWF-CEE member organisations on country level coordinated regionally to create more and meaningful impact by supporting the development and empowerment of young activists through youth development activities and programmes and cultivating partnerships with youth organisations and networks, e.g. Fridays for Future, Scouts, Junior Achievement.
OUR VISION BY 2030
- Our goal is to ensure that the new generations become active environmental stewards, positive influencers and policy advocates for a nature-positive future in the Green Heart of Europe.
- We are working to empower, inspire and mobilise young people who are a formidable force for achieving a sustainable future of harmony between people and nature.
- We define youth empowerment as giving young people the space, the “know-how” and experience, resources and opportunities to be involved in decision-making, self-expression, and execution of their ideas.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE ... on a regional level
WWF-CEE REGIONAL OPINION SURVEY
Since 2021, every year we conduct a youth survey among 1,500 young people across our region to better understand their perspectives, interests and motivation in life.
The latest results from August 2023 show that young people find that changing policies, influencing business development and raising awareness among people are the most impactful ways to protect nature. They look at WWF with expectations to provide the education programs for that, to create the communication campaigns and put the conservation expertise and efforts into that. The scientists, family and friends, NGOs and favourite brands are among the top 5 reliable sources of information for the youth in Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, where the survey was held this summer.
One of the most important missions of WWF is to combat the climate crisis. To accomplish that, WWF is always looking for climate heroes!
Under the Climate Heroes project throughout 2020-22 we engaged with young active citizens (15-24 yo) in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Czech Republic. The aim of the project was to empower youth to contribute to halting climate change - raise understanding, build capacity and facilitate active networking to encourage determined action of young people from the respective countries. During the 2 rounds of the leadership program about 120 climate heroes were trained, who in their turn, organized over 50 initiatives to engage their peers.
The Climate Heroes training program includes developing leadership and organizational skills, proposing, planning and implementing initiatives and civic actions and directly getting involved in activities and discussions about climate change.
The experience and lessons learnt from the trainings held in the project were developed into a guide to help young people become active citizens that have the knowledge and the experience to make a real change in the society.
... on a country level
YOUTH EMPOWERMENT IN BULGARIA
WWF-Bulgaria strongly believes that the empowerment of young people can make them advocates for sustainable development of the country. Its youth programme is based on three pillars.
Through a series of collaborative idea-generation events followed by a comprehensive education program organized by WWF-Bulgaria, young people are given a specific environmental challenge in a limited time frame with the aim to present creative solutions. Until 2023 more than 600 young people, over 100 guest speakers, mentors, facilitators and more than 50 corporate, institutional and NGO partners participated in the Panda Labs innovation program.
Panda Labs is one of the first initiatives of WWF-Bulgaria that successfully combines the pressing need for green innovations and Research & Development with active involvement of students and young adults.
Youth involved in policy advocacy
WWF-Bulgaria organized numerous role-play games (i.e. Economic-Social Simulations) and training for young people. These activities focussed on how to become goodwill ambassadors for environmental causes and how to efficiently speak up and have young people’s voices heard by decision-makers. For this purpose, round tables with local and national authorities, hosting over 8 events with more than 100 participants during the implementing period were organized.
The youth-led organization related to WWF called PanGea has the goal to create an active youth community for eco-minded young people, to participate in decision-making, connect with peers, and access developmental opportunities and reliable ecology information. The active core team consists of 60 members with over 300 additional volunteers who support local initiatives and environmental actions. With the communication for the youth activities through WWF channels the movement has reached more than 500,000 people online with more than 15,000 people through social media engagement.
YOUTH EMPOWERMENT IN HUNGARY
The Hungarian PandaBanda is a community of volunteers established with the support of WWF-Hungary. The young pandas are trained to gain deeper knowledge of the conservation work of the organization and the way it is communicated to the public once a year. Trained volunteers can join the WWF team at outdoor events and exhibitions. In the season 2022-2023 the new PandaBanda project was a series of 1-day hikes (PandaTúra) near Budapest for children aged 10-12. While out in the woods the participants could learn about local flora and fauna and understand how they can protect these natural resources. During the year PandaBanda volunteers gain tools and skills on environmental education and project management.
From 2022, trained volunteers and interns can join the country-wide education program, called “WWF for Children” in which they facilitate programmes on biodiversity, local ecosystems and ecological footprint.
WWF-Hungary's environmental education team also uses alternative educational tools to initiate discussion with young adults. The participative theatre education performance BLINDSPOT (VAKFOLT) is a collaborative effort with KÁVA Theatre. The performance is followed by a workshop where it is demonstrated through historical events how humans unknowingly disturb ecological networks and what actions one can take to protect our environment.
WWF-Hungary welcomes students coming from the field of conservation, wildlife biology, environmental, and communication studies to work with the team as interns.
YOUTH EMPOWERMENT IN ROMANIA
WWF-Romania has a long history of “Education for Sustainable Development” (ESD). Starting from scratch in 2011, the first university course on this topic was dedicated to training a generation of young eco-educators. Since 2015, the course “Eco-Education for Green Schools” has been integrated into the formal school system. 30,000 students were inspired by WWF both on a national and international level with help from the Global educators network (with WWF-Austria, Serbia, Greece, Turkey and WWF-Belgium, Germany, Switzerland). As a result of the long years of work in this field in 2023 nature-education was introduced as one of the pillars in the new Romanian education law. All schools in Romania have to dedicate one week to ESD. Every child in Romania should go through one week intensive training on environmental topics - the "Green School week”.
In the meantime WWF-Romania organised a number of youth-related activities, such as the “Zero Plastic Ambassadors”. Recently the programme involved awareness raising and education including presentations in schools in Brasov and Tulcea on the topic of plastic pollution. About 300 children and 100 Zero Plastic Ambassadors (16-18 years old) took part in field activities and clean-ups. The project was implemented in cooperation with the Scouts of Romania. WWF-Romania also included an educational component in Earth Hour 2023 to motivate students to connect with nature and create class vegetable gardens. Over 160 teachers and 3,200 pupils from across Romania enrolled in the programme and received a gardening kit which contained vegetable seeds and instructions on how to grow them.
YOUTH EMPOWERMENT IN UKRAINE
Even in the times of war the team of WWF-Ukraine continues the development of their work with young people. In 2023 they launched an online-course targeted especially at youth called "Planet Welfare: What Everyone Should Know and Can Do".
For the first six months over 4,200 people signed up for the course of which more than 34% finished it fully and took their certificate of completion. Additionally more than 23,000 young people were reached through communication and engagement campaigns. Over 360 got involved in volunteering and training activities with the WWF-Ukraine team.
As part of the project “INSURE” in 2022 a Youth Leadership programme inspired by Generation Earth (WWF-Austria) was developed. The heart of the programme was a 5-months training on topics like leadership, project management and nature-based climate solutions. The selected participants had the opportunity to create their own initiatives to promote among their peers and communities. 98 young people applied for this initiative before the outburst of the Russian military actions in Ukraine. 15 participants were selected and 13 participated in the full environmental leadership programme.
The “INSURE” project was aiming to achieve integration of nature-based climate solutions into Ukraine’s policy reform agenda by establishing the necessary knowledge base and stakeholder support while building the capacity of key drivers of change. A key part of the project was the Youth Empowerment component.
DID YOU KNOW THAT …
The first 100% biodegradable and fully compostable laminating film was invented by two young people in Bulgaria: Gergana Stancheva and Angela Ivanova. Their start-up project is named Lam’on and their innovative product made of corn is already on the market.