Photo: Ideas en acción para UPSHIFT. Credit: Pexels

Junior Achievement is the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and preparing young people for success and the future of work. The organization has been creating experiential, hands-on programs about entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy for more than 100 years.

Building on and in collaboration with UNICEF's Upshift program, Junior Achievement has developed Ideas in Action for Upshift, one of its skills development projects in Italy targeting migrant and refugee youth as well as socially marginalized Italians. The intention is to facilitate a better understanding of today’s work culture and the skills necessary to navigate an environment where professional development depends on a set of key skills.

Teamwork, initiative, and critical thinking are essential skills for young people to break into the business world.

When its Italian headquarters contacted Opinno to organize a 108-hour course in the region of Sicily in 2019, we knew that we had one of those special projects in front of us that is hard not to get personally involved in.

“We are convinced that education is what can truly empower young people for their future,” says Silvia Amato, director of education, communication and cultural transformation at Opinno Italia. “Thanks to Upshift, we can make students aware of their skills and help them build the right approach to the world of work from an early age.”

The aim is to develop these young people's skills, especially in the context of high school dropout rates, in order for them to be included in the socio-economic fabric, facilitating their transition from school to the world of work.

The second edition in 2020 was held in Catania and Rome. The course consisted of 12 meetings – initially face-to-face – which, due to the pandemic, were adapted to a remote classroom format. The students were grouped into 11 teams to design a business plan using project management and business development tools. At the end of the project, each team defended their project presentation. 

“At Opinno we designed and taught the classes, and we had to redesign everything in response to COVID-19 so that it could work in a digital format. We also accompanied the groups during the initial phase, helping them to define their business model and supporting them in the preparation of their Final Pitch,” says Rosa Occhipinti, responsible for the program at Opinno and teaching the course.

The 2021 edition, which is currently underway, extends to the regions of Sicily, Lazio and Lombardy with the active presence of 15 teams in Milan, Rome, Nettuno, Pomezia and Palermo. In the first phase, lasting between 20 and 30 hours, 150 foreign and Italian minors will follow a specific educational course about entrepreneurship. In the second phase, the Unicef Upshift course will last 12 weeks and will conclude with a selection of the 75 most talented students. At the end of the programs, the final presentations of the projects or products and services created during the initial phase will take place. 

“For young people to access the labor market, it is essential to convey the right financial culture. Understanding that training is the best investment for their future and learning to value one’s own qualities and interests are two key issues,” says Miriam Testa, CEO of Junior Achievement Italy. “With this project we have been able to provide innovative content that engages students in an effective way. Boys and girls living dynamic situations and becoming aware of their abilities to face their professional and personal future.”

Finally, the words of Anna Riatti, UNICEF's National Coordinator, leave no doubt about the spirit of the program: “Upshift is UNICEF's flagship initiative that combines some of the most effective approaches to youth and adolescent development, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Through this program we empower these young people at risk of social exclusion and poverty to face their transition as adults and unleash their full potential. By promoting dialogue in a multicultural environment, we are also building the foundation for more inclusive communities.”

At Opinno, as an innovation consultant convinced that education is the key to the future, we could not ask for more.