SHIFT programme supports passionate youth fighting for a cause

SHIFT, a programme by international NGO Save the Children with creative partner Bridge, recently completed its first phase of sponsorships to help young people in Myanmar turn their passions into action and make a difference in society. SHIFT’s goal is to amplify the voices of young people by providing them with access to financial resources, tools, funds, and mentorship networks. To do so, it conducts 3-day co-creation workshops with driven and promising groups of under-25s to help them find ways to address issues that are important to them. It then connects the groups with agency partners to design and execute social campaigns.
SHIFT was created by Andy Nilsen, Director of Advocacy, Communications, Campaigns and Media at Save the Children. Andy brought Save the Children together with Bridge, a Yangon based social impact agency, aligned on the idea that “Young people can shift the world.”
“Young people have energy, optimism, and hope for the future – and they are more likely to volunteer their own time to support a cause they are passionate about,” Nilsen said. “But young people are also ignored or not taken seriously by, they need, they will be able to lead positive change on the issues that matter most to them also think it’s important that young people engage with civics and governance early in life. Society will improve if people believe they can have a positive impact. This is very important for an emerging democracy like Myanmar, especially when you consider that 46% of the population is under 25.”SHIFT sent out its first call for applications in August 2019, asking youth groups to submit a short write-up in which they pitched ideas about an issue they wanted to address, plus details including how that issue impacts young people like them, their proposed solution to tackle the issue, and their initial creative ideas to raise awareness. SHIFT selected three passionate youth-led groups – dubbed SHIFTers – whose social campaigns it would fund. These were Air Quality Yangon, formed to educate people about air pollution; Young City Shapers, who find sustainable solutions to address waste disposal; and Colorful Girls, who conduct on-ground efforts to create a safer world for all girls.
Each campaign was carried out over four weeks by the youth groups themselves, with support from the partners; Bridge, Doh Eain, Girl Determined, and World Learning Myanmar.

 Photo: supplied.
Photo: Supplied.

For its “now What You Breathe”campaign, Air Quality Yangon launched a two-part education campaign to provide science-backed information on the causes of air pollution and empower the public to act with the help of Dr Air Bear. They created Dr Air Bear, a giant white bear that represents the human lung. The first part of the campaign, Dr Air Bear traveled around the city gathering dust that slowly turned him darker to show a visual representation that the air we breathe in Yangon is dirty. The Air Quality Yangon team accompanied the bear as they traveled around the city sharing information to the general public about the man-made causes of air pollutions and its negative effects on health and environment. Dr Air Bear drew people in while the team enthusiastically shared their knowledge to the public who were mostly unaware of this issue. The second part of the campaign focused on encouraging people to change their pollution-causing behaviors, especially by using public transportation or walking instead of driving. An online pledge to use more public transportation was also launched garnering over 1,000 pledges promising to make significant changes
Additionally, the group sought to make up for the lack of public air quality statistics by setting up their own air quality monitoring stations around the city and making data available on their website. Following the Dr Air Bear campaign, the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology began sharing daily Air Quality Index data. “Many people are very knowledgeable and active about the environment,” AQY member Thin Thinzar Soe said. “But when it comes to air pollution, they may not have discussed the topic before due to a lack of information. The idea of this movement is to give people the information and data they need to understand the issue and how bad it has become, so hopefully we can motivate them to take action about it.”
Young City Shapers, a group by NGO Doh Eain, brought together 500 local residents with YCDC officials to transform a trash-filled alley into a cooperative public space with outdoor furniture hand-made from recycled materials. It set up meetings and activities, created a youth committee dedicated to maintaining the public space, and gave a speech at the screening day on the importance of reducing waste as a community. Additionally, YCS’s #plastictimeoff hashtag on social media involved around 100 participants including activists and celebrities to advance the idea of cutting daily plastic use and showing the potential for a zero-waste lifestyle.
Zwe Ye Yint from Young City Shaperssaid “Disposable plastic is everywhere around us, sallowing up the Earth as a result of how we use it in our daily lives. Even a small step like the choice to avoid plastic once a day can make a difference and begin a cycle of change that supports a return to a healthier lifestyle.
Over the course of January 2020, a group of SHIFTers from the NGO Girl Determined tackled the problem of harassment with an empowering song titled “Colorful Strength,” written in collaboration
with local artist Youn Ni Ko, based on input from members about their experiences which was gathered from the 3-day workshop. They have released the song online and performed it for the first time in front of an audience over 600 people from Mandalay villages. The activity gained involvement from numerous celebrities, as well as interviews on radio stations and broadcast media.
“Our hope with Colorful Strength is to start a conversation about a common yet damaging behavior that affects most girls at some time in their lives. As an organization, we want to invite everyone to join our constant effort to create a safer world for all girls,” said Nan Thazin Min, co-founder of Girl Determined.
SHIFT’s plans for 2020 involve seeking out more passionate youth groups and build campaigns around them this year. Any youth who is interested to be a participant next year can follow SHIFT page for more upcoming information.

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