This is the first in a series of profiles on organizations that involve youth in democracy and human rights advocacy. These profiles are intended to be a resource for youth looking to get involved in advocacy, and for groups looking to take inspiration from other groups doing similar work.
What is EDYN?
Founded in December 2018 as a joint effort between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), EDYN brings together 230 youth leaders (aged 18-32) from 23 countries across Eastern Europe and Transcaucasia to promote a culture of democracy and collaboration in their home countries and the region at large.
Why does EDYN exist?
- To counter external threats to democracy (e.g. authoritarian influence) and internal threats (e.g. political polarization)
- To create a generation of leaders who share relationship and a commitment to the fundamental values of democracy
- To change the culture of democratic institutions in countries with authoritarian histories by focusing on individuals
How does EDYN work?
- Country-chapter model: each country is run by a local chapter with homegrown leadership while still being part of the entire regional network
- Tiered membership structure:
- Leadership Council and President: perform executive functions related to coordination, communication, membership development, etc.
- Country Ambassadors: oversee country-chapter and organize events and members
- General members: participate in EDYN events and training; have the opportunity to implement their own projects funded by EDYN
What does EDYN do?
- Within country-chapters: chapter sets strategic plan for impact within the country and members collaborate on activities to achieve that impact
- With the broader region: annual members conferences
- Skills training: conferences that bring experts from the region and the U.S. to conduct workshops on practical training (e.g. campaigning 101)
- Resourcing: small-grants mechanism allows members to propose projects involving at least 2 country-chapters (e.g. Georgia and Albania chapters organized a joint youth debate training); EDYN also subsidizes all involvement in its programs
What challenges has EDYN faced?
- Connecting during the pandemic: not being able to meet face-to-face has made building trust between individuals difficult, especially with the wide-ranging political/ideological backgrounds of members
- Domestic instability: some members have had to flee their countries for fear of persecution while others have been jailed for political reasons
- Skepticism from party leadership: EDYN members from political party youth wings need to operate within the rules of their parties, which can often prove difficult when parties use polarization and demonizing opponents as political tactics, while EDYN emphasizes collaboration and constructive disagreement
How has EDYN succeeded?
- Raising up young leaders: EDYN Moldova member Victor Spinu was elected to parliament in July 2021
- Bridging political divisions: EDYN member Dinara Habibullaieva, head of Petro Poroshenko’s youth wing, worked together with EDYN members from the opposition party to organize food drives during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Engaging civic society: EDYN Moldova members Natalia Slepuhin and Cristina Voroneanu created a civic education quiz that both teaches and tests quiz takers on government issues; around 10,000 people took the quiz
What best practices can other groups take from EDYN’s model?
- Tiered membership system allows members to be directly involved with programming while also motivating members to take on leadership roles
- Country-chapter model helps build a sense of community on two levels:
- A smaller, tight-knit community on the country level
- A larger, more diverse community on the regional level
(For smaller organizations, consider small groups/teams within the larger organization)
- A good balance between bottom-up and top-down development maximizes impact
- Bottom-up: small-grants mechanism gives youth the flexibility and impetus to realize their creative ideas; allowing youth to make their own decisions is key to sustained engagement
- Top-down: skills training gives members the opportunity to learn from experts so that members can best utilize the other resources EDYN provides
How can I get involved?
Samuel Johannes, Program Officer for Transatlantic Strategy at the International Republican Institute, also contributed to this report.