"My greatest motivation is being able to help others," says Heleni Anastacia Manolas Sanhueza. The 20-year-old hails from Panama and is one of 18 Young Innovator Fellows deployed by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The Young Innovators fellowship gives people aged 18 to 26 from UNFPA programme countries the opportunity to work in the organization's country and regional offices for eight months. Their task? To develop and support innovative projects in UNFPA's mandate areas.
As the UN agency focused on sexual health and reproductive rights, UNFPA's mandate spans many areas – from maternal health to gender-based violence. With the Youth Innovator Fellows on board, the agency has gained a strong group of advocates and implementers.
What does the day-to-day work of a Young Innovator Fellow look like? It turns out the projects are as diverse as the Young Innovators themselves. Yet innovation is the thread that binds.
"True innovation is to generate ideas that positively impact people's lives. It is not just about making money," says Omnia Nasr from Egypt. That, however, is easier said than done.
Innovation is not just about technology, but also about new approaches for changing social norms. I utilize behavioral science to find innovative ways to talk to young people about sexual health, reproductive rights, HIV and gender-based violence – topics that are often still stigmatized. --Symbat Toksombaeva, Young Innovator Fellow with UNFPA in Kyrgyzstan
Whether leading hackathons, launching regional innovation competitions, or using drones for the last mile delivery of medical supplies, the fellows show that there are plenty of opportunities for new approaches.
Attention to gender issues is crucial to drive economic growth, reduce poverty and build better and more equal societies. --Holman Martinez, Young Innovator Fellow with UNFPA in Colombia
"As a young person who happens to be dwelling in one of the countries counted amongst the developing countries, I understand and believe in the importance of UNFPA's mission," says Dame Sakho from Senegal. "Every action can have a huge impact," agrees Abdelrahman Elshaibany from Egypt.
It was not just a passion for UNFPA's mandate that motivated the fellows to join the organization. As İlayda Işık from Türkiye points out, being a Young Innovator Fellow at UNFPA allows her "to be a part of change in the most effective and professional way possible". The fellowship programme includes workshops, expert talks, additional funds for personal and professional development and even a visit to UNFPA’s headquarters in New York.
It is hence no surprise that many fellows extend their involvement with the organization after completing the eight-month curriculum – around 50 per cent of the last cohort continued to work with UNFPA in some capacity. Learn more about UNFPA’s Young Innovator’s Fellowship.