Upshift, the program that turns students into changemakers

On the first day there were 24 members, but in the blink of an eye they became 37. What they appreciated most of all was the opportunity to socialize with other peers, to share the disorientation of those who find themselves far from home and friends, to come together to imagine a different future together, for themselves and for their country. They are Ukrainian boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 19 who took part in “Ideas in action for Upshift”, the program of Unicef And Junior Achievement Italy dedicated to developing 21st century skills among disadvantaged young people.

The boys, during the Innovation & Creativity Camp, have devised product or service solutions to give support to those returning to Ukraine who will look for a home, to accompany those who suffered physical impairments during the war, to support those in need of psychological support, for a green reconstruction. The focus of Upshift, in fact, is to give young people a voice on issues with a strong social impact, starting from concrete challenges that touch them closely. It is a cascading path that very strongly activates many transversal skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, communication, negotiation skills.

Focus Ukraine

The Upshift program, developed by Unicef ​​internationally, in Italy it is aimed at students at risk of dropping out of school, NEETs, young people with fragile families or outside the family, unaccompanied foreign minors, young migrants and refugees. Thanks to the combination of laboratory courses, teacher training and the support of young mentors, young people acquire the skills and tools necessary for analyzing problems and devising creative and innovative solutions. Because if talent is universal – reads the presentation of “Ideas in action for Upshift” – the opportunity is not.

«This year “Upshift” addresses a particular invitation to young Ukrainian refugees, it wants to be a concrete and quality response in support of their social inclusion in the contexts of arrival», tells Elena Locatelli, Unicef ​​emergency education expert in Italy. At the moment, the picture of how many Ukrainian refugees are enrolled in Italian schools and how many attend Ukrainian online teaching is not clear. Probably many, especially among the older ones, are studying alone and therefore also have a strong need to socialize with their peers, both Ukrainian and Italian. “Ideas in action for Upshift” offers them the opportunity to follow a quality path of socialization and inclusion that integrates formal school paths. «We know very well how important the exchange between peers is to develop social-emotional skills. This is why Unicef ​​this year with Junior Achievement Italia has decided to strengthen the program also in non-formal education contexts. It is a way of helping young people to better face the situation they find themselves living but also to prepare themselves to build their country together when they return, to have a vision of the return. There is a great desire to be protagonists, the youngsters are well aware of the problems they will find when they return: in the Innovation & Creativity Camp in August they demonstrated their ability not only to identify the problems of their communities, but also to propose creative solutions» Locatelli explains.

Skills for building inclusive communities

That’s why it can be said – they are words of Miriam Cresta, CEO of Junior Achievement Italia – who by training 3,500 young refugees in 21st century skills between now and 2024, of which a thousand Ukrainians, whether or not enrolled in our schools, and 340,000 Italian students aged 5 to 18, make a contribution «to build prosperous and peaceful communities»: an impact recognized by the fact that in 2022 the organization was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. «And that’s why», continues Cresta, «it is essential to create a system with Agencies, with all Third sector associations, Municipalities, public, private and religious bodies that are active in the Ukrainian emergency so as to share needs and opportunities for young refugees. The “Ideas in action for Upshift” program will be implemented in many Italian cities but only in synergy with the local communities will it be able to achieve the desired impact».

The latest update published by the Interior Ministry on 27 September 2022 counts 171,546 people in Italy fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, of which 49,172 are minors. As of June 13, the Ministry of Education reported 27,506 Ukrainian pupils admitted to schools after February 24, but now no longer provides any data for the current school year. As of 31 October 2022, there were 5,153 UAMs of Ukrainian nationality in our country, 27.3% of the total. The theme of the loneliness of Ukrainian boys compared to their peers and the difficulties of socialization, therefore, is all there.

Leveraging 21st century skills and entrepreneurship

Upshift was born in 2014 in Kosovo and has been validated in over forty countries. In Italy, more than 2,500 young people and over 600 Msna have already been involved, who have created more than 200 ideas with a social impact in the various Innovation & Creativity Camps. Since 2020, Upshift has been one of the models being tested under phase III of the European Child Guarantee (Child Guarantee), aimed at preventing and combating child poverty and social exclusion of minors in Europe.

Sarah Martelli, an expert on young people and adolescents in Unicef, recalls the launch of the partnership with Junior Achievement Italia: «It was 2018. We started Upshift in Sicily with unaccompanied minors, leveraging entrepreneurial education for the growth of soft skills and inclusion. We found in JA Italia the right ally to activate the potential of young and very young people». Every year since then, “Ideas in action for Upshift” has “shed its skin”, working in different territories, with children with different backgrounds, in schools as in the CPIAs, but always proving to be very effective in creating social inclusion. “It happened again this summer with the Ukrainian boys,” he confirms Giacomo Giovannini, COO and contact person for the project for Junior Achievement Italia: «They came from different families and communities for minors, they did not know each other: in the end their strongest request was on “how does the journey continue”. They expressed a desire to both being able to work more together with Italian peersand to take personal action, without limiting oneself to waiting for the war to end in order to be able to go home”.

The methodology

Upshift is based on skills-based teaching, cooperative teaching, learning by doing and design thinking. Students are presented with challenges of a social nature, to which they are called to give innovative, creative and sustainable solutions. The program is modular and can be declined both at school and in non-formal education contexts. The Upshift program provides students with its own experts and mentors from universities and companies. Working with kids who come from different countries, the international and polyglot dimension is the norm: “In the case of Ukrainian kids, however, language is not a matter of course”, he admits Alessandra Barraco, project manager of the project. The organization’s network has once again proved to be an added value: «In Italy we host two colleagues from JA Ukraine, who know and share the methodology: one of them has already conducted this summer’s workshops. This availability allows us to maximize the impact. There are also many teachers among the Ukrainians who fled the war, who could be involved as future mentors», reflects Barraco. But the most beautiful thing is the contribution made by Ukrainian girls and boys who lived in Italy before the war and who in the past had already participated in the “Ideas in action for Upshift” program with their class: «They made themselves available, in the spirit of the give back». In short, the tool is there, the resources as well: applications are still open for young people interested in participating in the course.

The photos accompanying the article were taken at the Elis Foundation, in Rome, during the workshops with the Ukrainian students.

Upshift, the program that turns students into changemakers