I have a PhD in Philosophy, and I work at the University of Osijek. I joined the project because I wanted to do something to improve local youth policies. In this project I understood that it is crucial to send our messages through the appropriate social networks. I learnt that people younger than 27-30 years old can have even more experience in social media than us, and use different channels. Therefore, to address them and communicate with them we needed to find their platforms. In addition, it was great to do activism, and to sit together and discuss with politicians. I worked in a group dealing with youth policies. First, we analysed programmes of different political parties from our city where we learnt that only some of them supported progressive youth policies. For the second activity, we had a debate with political candidates for the mayor position in Osijek. At the meetings we discussed the content of our charter, which includes 14 entries on how to improve youth policies in Osijek. The candidates read it, and we will soon follow up on these activities because we can meet with the current mayor of Osijek. The whole project is described in the manual we prepared: it is a tool for youth activism and describes the work of our groups. Overall, the project experience was very fun, but also challenging because we needed to learn how to communicate with young people — and in lockdown it was especially difficult. I also understood that young people like graphically well-presented content with less text — clear and interesting content. The debate with candidates, in particular, was a big deal.
In this solidarity project, the young founders of the Croatian Mladforma NGO pulled together an extensive network of youth activists to raise awareness about the most pressing problems in the community. Their creative social media campaigns highlighted the most concerning issues and brought forth the voice of young people. Without doubt, they have started to transform their home, Osijek, into a real city of youth.
You participate if you act on the problems of the world. Youth participation is similar! Especially because young people are the ones who feel, suffer, see, and thus are more motivated to solve world problems. There is lots of potential in their actions. Therefore, we need to let them, and help them, to do so.
Mirna Šostarko, project coordinator and co-founder of Mladforma NGO, and Hrvoje Potlimbrzović, project participant and an active member of the organisation today, told us their story.
Back to the beginning! Your initial idea was to unite and activate young people in your city, Osijek. How did you identify this need?
The project No Filter was conducted by a youth initiative called Mladforma, which had been founded a few months before we wrote the project. We were all young people working at civil society organisations, desiring to do something informally for our city, on our own. We aimed at connecting all active young people from Osijek — to create a political, cultural, and social youth network. Another motivation for this project was the kick-in of COVID-19. We were used to doing activism in real life, but we were concerned by the question: “How to do activism online?”.
How is being young in Osijek?
Our city is situated on the east side of Croatia. It is the fourth biggest city with about 80.000 inhabitants. Since we have a university with a long history and lots of young people, there are also quite a few organisations proposing opportunities for them. But when I (Mirna) was younger, like many young people, I wanted to go to Zagreb and have access to more activities. Now in my early thirties, I love Osijek. I think it has everything for young people that a city should have, and it is not crowded. We just have to be active, improve it even more and use its full potential.
So what were the main activities you implemented?
We decided to develop a local solidarity project. We provided young people with four non-formal educational modules on media literacy, critical thinking, activism and digital competencies. After this, our participants had the basic knowledge to create their own online activism campaigns. They then worked in six small groups which focused on different themes, such as human rights, quality education, quality free time, youth policy, space for youth and sustainable development. Youngsters met online, and discussed the topics through video call. Then they created and shared their own creative content regarding the issues they explored. Additionally, we had a final panel discussion, “Youth and activism: Where we stopped and where to go next?”. We invited four guest speakers who are experts in the youth field. More than 40 participants joined us.
Who were the core members of the project team?
We were seven young people developing and conducting the project. We organised ourselves and our work based on our strengths in real life. I was the project leader as I have relevant experience. We had another person with strong media literacy competencies, another person skilled at social media, etc. One challenge was that we didn’t decide all group themes before, because we wanted to give freedom to the youngsters to select their own topics. This made it difficult to find expert group leaders in the specific areas. For example, in our team nobody was a master of sustainable development, but luckily we managed to find a person among other young members of Mladforma.
How did you make the project visible?
Mainly on our organisation’s Facebook and Instagram pages. In a small city like Osijek it is easy to have local media (TV, radio, newspapers, websites) publish your news, so we had more than 40 appearances through these traditional channels as well. And thanks to participants’ successful campaigns, people also discovered us on a national level.
The project lasted one year, right? What were the most important phases of the implementation?
We clarified the plan when we wrote the project. Firstly, we needed to educate young people. Then, after the training, they would form working groups and launch their own social media campaigns. The process would end with the final discussions. This structure worked perfectly! We also had some side activities and research.
Did you have to overcome some notable difficulties at any stage?
Everything went smoothly, but COVID-19 represented a challenge. We had six well-functioning groups whose members met at a first workshop, and then continued working with regular online meetings, group by group. Unfortunately, we missed the chance of really connecting the groups with each other. On the other hand, we didn’t have much choice, because back then it was impossible to organise face-to-face seminars. Next time we would put more effort into creating a big, unified network. We did give them a chance to meet each other at the final discussions though, as all the participants were invited.
How did you engage participants in the activities?
Before starting the group work, participants (about 30 youngsters) had some general training, consisting of four modules, as previously mentioned. To make it more interesting, we involved an influencer who could better explain how to talk about important topics online. Then in the six groups, even if they had group leaders, we tried to empower participants to self-manage. This way, each group had different work dynamics. In one group, a different person took over the lead every week, while in another, each participant was responsible for one specific part of the work. In addition, for 18 weeks of the project, every week another group posted their contents on Instagram: their fruitful work created more than 80 posts and more than 270 stories.
What were the highlights of the project?
In addition to the things we did online, we also had some side activities. We managed to organise a live action for International Women’s Day. As way too few public spaces or institutions are named after women, despite their fantastic achievements, we changed the names of three streets and three schools to the names of great women from our city. Another cool action, which began before the project, but continued during it, is that we covered up violence-provoking graffities with colourful, new art. Finally, the activity we are most proud of: we conducted a discussion with all the candidates for the position of Mayor of Osijek.
How did you manage to convince all candidates to answer your questions?
In reality, easily, because in the pre-election period there was a debate in which they participated, broadcast on national TV. During the show, all our Mladforma members wrote the same questions on the transmission’s Facebook channel, so they could not ignore us. They read those questions out loud but didn’t have time to answer them. Later, a candidate sent a message to our organisation, saying they were willing to reply and inviting us to meet. We said that it is not fair talking to one candidate only, so we invited all of them for a discussion — and luckily, they said yes. It was so impressive that afterwards we saw other young people copying us — motivated to start talking to politicians. And that is great, because it means we inspired youth to get in touch with decision-makers, and initiate dialogues.
What did you learn?
I have had previous experience as a youth worker, but this project involved much more informal work. It helped the seven of us to bond with each other, since we had to be flexible, and react fast to every change. As I coordinated the whole process, I learnt to have faith in all team members, and let go of some responsibilities. I needed to trust the team that they were all doing their best. And indeed, some of them still make part of our organisation’s core, and others are present as participants. Some ex-participants, like Hrvoje, have become our core team members.
On an organisational level, what have you gained?
Before the project we had about 30 young people active, and by the end we had at least 80 young people following us and sharing our posts. We continue working in smaller groups with other young people involved, broadening the circle of issues we raise awareness about. As proof that we are on the right track, this project has been presented as a good practice example locally, and we were among the top five finalists of the 2021 SALTO Awards, in the Youth Participation category.
What are your plans for the future as an organisation?
We did a charter of 14 things to improve for youth in Osijek, then after the project we asked a focus group to select the three most important points out of the 14. The results: to have a youth centre, more quality free-time activities, and quality education. The next step is to bring these recommendations to our new mayor’s table. We also plan to work more on solidarity, LGBTQ, and women’s rights.
Can you give an example for effective youth activism?
In Croatia, there is a movement about criminalising abortion and gay adoption. To shift the focus of society, we are trying to run a peaceful campaign against their message. Last time, we asked our followers to take photos with written messages promoting that love is love for everybody. This content was shared and liked by a lot of people! We also have another initiative about period poverty. We want to collect money and donate hygienic and menstrual products to schools.
Is there anything you would recommend to other young people?
In our project, the project leaders were 29-30 years old, but until now we haven’t found anybody among the younger participants who were willing to write and conduct new projects like this. They tend to wait for somebody else to lead the process. Once somebody starts, they have ideas, they contribute and participate. But I would recommend young people to have courage. It is easy to realise a project like this in their communities, including doing the logistics and documentation as well. A solidarity project provides a good framework, and there are also the national agencies who can help them in case of any doubts or concerns. For example, our Croatian national agency has been super supportive and has always answered our questions. Also, they should know that they can count on us, experienced young people who want to help and offer mentorship to them along the way. All they need to do is start.
The work in the group aimed to create quality online content about human rights, but I am glad that for those of us who participated in it, this work was much more. For me as a mentor, much more important than all the visible results was one visible only to us inside the group: creating a group of trust, with young people who think, ask questions and take responsibility. This was one of the basic ideas of Mladforma from the beginning. I was lucky enough to work in a wonderful team, motivated and ambitious, which tested and brought my mentoring skills to new levels.
Nikica Torbicateam member
The topic of human rights has always been important to me, and it was my pleasure to have the opportunity to teach myself and others, as well as learn from others in the group. Although at the beginning I was a bit sceptical about the possibility of creating quality content on social networks, working in a group confirmed that more heads work better than one and that it is possible to conduct a quality campaign through combined effort. Over the last year, I have gained new collaborators and friends — which is why our story has continued even after the project!
Through our activities, we have strived for the younger generations, who follow various kinds of content and people on the Internet, to offer something educational in a slightly different form and in the simplest possible way — while still concerning their everyday life. If we manage to encourage only one young person to make better use of their free time, we have already succeeded.
Bruno Koićteam member
Young people made their creative voices heard, and developed a lot of exciting multimedia content on topics such as human rights, youth policies, quality education, youth spaces, sustainable development, and quality free time. One of their biggest outcomes is the charter of 14 suggestions to make their city a more youth friendly place. A real help for decision-makers!
Handbook in Croatian
“Social networks as a tool for youth activism”
This is the title of the illustrated booklet that gives an idea about the concept and the activities of project participants.
About the project
European Solidarity Corps / Solidarity Projects
EU Youth Programme Priority:
Participation in Democratic Life
Youth Participation / Activism and Decision Making
The numbers speak for themselves! 33 young people worked in 6 groups and created valuable social media content about 6 issues. Apart from their more than 80 posts and more than 270 stories on Facebook and Instagram, they were featured more than 40 times in the media.