The long road to prosperity in Kosovo*
17 Feb 2016 by Andrew Russell
The recent news out of Kosovo has been bleak.
The tensions between the ruling coalition and opposition is growing, while public protests against recent agreements with Serbia and Montenegro have turned violent.
But let’s take a step back and look at the other side of the story.
In 1999, following a decade of conflict in the Western Balkans, peace returned to Kosovo. Between 2000 and 2010, Kosovo’s economy grew faster than the European average. The international community has contributed enormously to the reestablishment of security, rehabilitation of infrastructure, and the creation and strengthening of public institutions. And our Kosovan partners have invested significant resources in reducing poverty, creating jobs, and improving welfare.
While the U.N. has been present in Kosovo for more than two decades, UNDP began its work in August of 1999. This year we will celebrate our 17th anniversary. Initially, as UNDP, we focused on emergency reconstruction and rehabilitation: building houses, schools and health centres, and restoring electricity to communities. Thousands of weapons were destroyed. We kick-started the establishment of a wide range of public institutions, created over 10,000 jobs, and helped Kosovo to take its initial steps towards achieving environmental sustainability.
I myself arrived in Kosovo in 2013. Every day since, I have been inspired by its youthful spirit and potential. I soon came to realize that if Kosovo doesn’t empower and mentor its young women and men, it could fall prey to a dangerous mix of unemployment, growing frustration, and increasing extremism. Many of the achievements since 1999 could literally be thrown out of the window as a result.
And indeed, so many young people I’ve met are out of school and out of work. Too many of them, even while engaged in some kind of learning, are unable to describe what their future looks like. Close to 70 percent of Kosovans are under the age of 35, but relatively few know what it’s like to have a job. Only 40 percent of working age men and 13 percent of working age women are employed. A majority of them have made it clear in UNDP’s flagship public opinion survey that they think Kosovo is moving in the wrong direction, both politically or economically.
In 2015, building on over a decade of experience in employment generation, we helped to create 1,000 new jobs. And in doing so, we sharpened our focus on women, youth, and minorities.
But the recent events in Pristina are an indication that we still have quite a long way to go. We are trying to better understand what it will take to integrate many more young people into the economy and to encourage new generations of entrepreneurs. For women, this also means enhancing access to credit, addressing cultural barriers to property ownership, and eliminating violence in and outside of the household.
In the meantime, I stay focused on the more positive future represented by strong, fearless women like Blerta Thaçi and Zana Idrizi, the co-founders of Girls Coding Kosova, two young women exuding boundless optimism and energy, breaking down gender barriers in a field dominated by men, fighting corruption, and enhancing their own skills and employability.
They are for me a reminder of Kosovo’s immense potential. I know that, if we nurture the talent and energy of emerging leaders like them, Kosovo will become a place where their dreams of a better future—and those of thousands of other Kosovans—can indeed come true.
 References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).
Blog post Europe & the CIS Kosovo* Goal 16 Peace, justice and strong institutions Governance and peacebuilding Human rights Peacebuilding Security Infrastructures for peace Goal 10 Reduced inequalities Goal 11 Sustainable cities and communities Sustainable development Communities and local development Jobs and livelihoods Poverty reduction and inequality Goal 8 Decent work and economic growth