Run the country ‘like a girl’: with aim of helping teenage girls to see themselves as future leaders and to grow the skills necessary to become a diplomat or to work in global affairs, a whole lineage of EU4Youth Alumni initiatives has emerged and grown in Ukraine over the years.
Despite the overwhelming challenges caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Girls Leadership Academy project, initiated by Liliia Antoniuk during the first EU4Youth Alumni cycle in 2020 has flourished.
In parallel, Lilia teamed up with fellow EU4Youth Alumni Yuliia Vaida and Anna Savelieva, and initiated a sister project – the Girls Diplomatic Academy. The project offers girls aged 17-21, who are not pursuing diplomacy academically, the opportunity to enhance their understanding of global affairs and international relations.
In its method, both initiatives rely on a similar approach, though the beneficiaries of the Girls Leadership Academy are younger: from 14 to 16 years old. Over a period of five months, the girls attend 10 online lectures delivered by professionals from various fields, exploring topics such as law, business, politics, and civic activism. Amongst others, prominent lecturers included Mariia Mezentseva, Member of the Parliament of Ukraine, and Iryna Tytarchuk, Executive Director of Ukrainian Centre for the Promotion of Investments and Trade.
The other lectures cover such topics as emotional intelligence, project management skills, gender equality, responsible leadership, etc. Before each lecture, the participants are given creative tasks to complete as a team, enhancing their learning experience and enabling them to apply their newfound knowledge. These tasks may involve conducting surveys on women’s rights and gender equality in Ukraine, or developing project ideas for implementation in their local communities.
Given that most of the communication among the participants occurs online, they are encouraged to join a common Telegram chat. This chat serves as a platform for project-related communication, and facilitates the development of interpersonal connections among the girls. It has become a tradition for them to share five things they are grateful for each week, fostering a sense of community and inspiration.
To further motivate the participants, the project offers opportunities for them to showcase their creativity and talents. They are involved in designing certificates for the project’s graduates, managing the official Instagram page, and creating an authentic sticker pack that reflects their experiences in the project.
The Girls Leadership Academy is marking its third year, with a different team of EU4Youth Alumni now working next to Liliia: Nataliia Balitska and Daryna Lynnyk. The trio is proud that their initiative was recognised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine, which is supporting this edition.
The objective is to engage girls from small settlements, towns, and villages, with priority given to those who have limited experience in non-formal education and travelling. Girls are required to apply in pairs, which fosters an environment of teamwork and collaboration.
“The project has gathered a very cool, creative, and goal-oriented community,” says Tetiana Pohrebniak, who took part in the Girls Leadership Academy 3.0. “At each meeting, there were speakers who did not just talk theory, but shared their own experience and practical exercises. I liked being a part of this community, developing together and doing creative tasks.”
Some of the participants got to meet up in person for an intensive two-day study visit and a graduation ceremony, which took place in Kyiv in June 2023. To be eligible for participation in this part of the programme, the girls must have attended most of the online meetings, submitted creative tasks successfully, and engaged in extra-curricular activities. The latter could involve forming internal clubs based on shared interests or participating in other relevant events, projects, and programmes. The selection process was organised through a badge system, based on participation, completion of creative tasks, and involvement in extra-curricular activities.
The ‘Women’s League’ NGO in Ukraine, which is also run by Liliia, supports the implementation of three project ideas developed by the participants during their involvement in the Girls Leadership Academy. The projects were selected by a jury after a public presentation of the creative task results, and were assigned mentors, who are also graduates of previous Girls Leadership Academy projects.
This third edition received overwhelming interest, with over 270 teams (550 girls) having applied to participate. Teams from all 24 oblasts of Ukraine have shown interest, with most of the applications coming from Kyiv oblast. A total of 21 teams of two each successfully graduated from the project.
Liliia explains: “Back in 2020, we did not create a project. We created an instrument that provides teenage girls with the opportunity to change their lives, make a difference, and become more confident about themselves.”
Applications for the next edition of the Girls Leadership Academy and the Girls Diplomatic Academy are expected to open in December 2023. More information about the projects is available on its official website and Instagram account.
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