Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. It lies largely within the Caucasus Mountains on a dividing line between Western Asia and Eastern Europe, bordered to the north by Russia and to the south by Turkey, Armena and Azerbaijan. This geographical location has influenced its rich and at times troubled history. Georgia has a population of 4,669,200 (Jan, 2011) with ethnic Georgians making up about 84%. Other ethnic groups include Abkhaziana, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Poles and Russians. The population is fairly evenly divided between urban and rural location with 53.1% living in cities and 46.9% in rural areas. During the winter months those living in more remote mountain regions are largely cut off from the outside world. A poorly developed transportation infrastructure adds to this sense of isolation.
Georgia is a unitary, semi-presidential republic. In its most recent history it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1921 and became the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. It gained independence in 1991, experienced civil unrest throughout the 1990s, and the Rose Revolution in 2003, after which the new government introduced democratic and economic reforms. Relations between Russia and Georgia deteriorated amid regional unrest, and in early August 2008, heightened tensions escalated into armed conflict between Georgia and Russia, and the separatist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Georgia is a traditional and agricultural land, its people exhibit strong community loyalty, with well developed in-group social networks. These networks are rarely formalized or institutionalized which in itself has significant costs to society, the economy and individuals. With independence came a gradual exposure to and adoption of different value systems and the introduction of different cultural and social influences.
A review of youth policy and youth development undertaken by the European Commission and Council of Europe in 2010 reported how the historical lack of youth policy has impeded youth development work in the country. Young people aged between 15 -29 represent 24% of the total population of Georgia. Within this age group 80% are unemployed. Despite the lack of state investment, or interest, in youth and youth organisations, the youth NGO sector is active and working across many different fields including education, human rights, participation, culture and youth policy. At a government level the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs which was set up in July 2010 has been tasked to create, coordinate and develop a youth policy for the country.
It was to this background that YouthBank was introduced to Georgia.
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Red Hot grant-makers launch new YouthBanks in Georgia.
A training team from YouthBank recently returned from Tbilisi, Georgia having set up 6 new YouthBanks.
The group undertook a week long capacity building programme to strengthen their facilitation skills. The programme was packed with lots of practical and interactive exercises that helped participants think about how they would introduce and lead workshops to over 50 new Georgian YouthBank members in how to run a youth-led fund. A training team from YouthBank Ireland will be working in Armenia and Georgia in March 2009 to establish new YouthBanks and to co-work with peer educators from both countries.
The introduction to YouthBank in Georgia kicked off with an opening series of workshops, in October 2007, with 35 young people from Zugdidi, Akhaltsikhe, Marneuli, Batumi and Telavi. Participants returned to their communities and began conducting research and assessments of the interests of young people in their communities. Follow-up work was conducted by The Eurasia Partnership Foundation and additional training in February 2008 looked at further stages of the YouthBank process. The YouthBank committees began making awards in November 2008.
In response to the recent Russia- Georgia conflict an additional five YouthBanks will be established in March 2009 in areas with ethnically diverse populations and internally displaced young people. In October 2008 members of Marneuli YouthBank launched a donation drive at local schools and within days had collected school supplies, warm clothing and hygiene supplies, helping 116 children displaced by the conflict with Russia.
Pictured below is the Georgian YouthBank training programme in Tbilisi, October 2007, led by members of YouthBank training team.