Bakit, Paano, at Sana: Safe spaces breed creative freedom

Bettina Mae Calubaquib, Youth Community Engagement Officer of UNDP Philippines, shares her reflections from the Ideation Lab 2023, a five-day engagement with the Bangsamoro youth to capacitate them in developing inclusive and innovative solutions.

September 7, 2023

Bangsamoro youth and organizing team during culmination day


Ideation Lab 2023 was conducted during International Youth Month in Davao City, in the Philippines, from 14-18 August 2023. The five-day engagement aimed to capacitate the Bangsamoro youth to develop inclusive and innovative solutions relevant to the Bangsamoro Action Plan on Youth, Peace and Security, and e-governance. The objective was to engage the Bangsamoro youth from diverse backgrounds and representations, especially those from underrepresented sectors, i.e., women, LGBTQIA+, out-of-school youth, persons with disabilities, those affected by crises, and religious/ethnic minorities. 

The event was held in collaboration with the Localizing e-Governance for Accelerated Provision of Services (LeAPS) and the Peace teams of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Philippines, Youth Co:Lab co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, together with the Bangsamoro Youth Commission (BYC), Ministry of the Interior and Local Government (MILG), Technical Working Group on Youth, Peace, and Security, the UK Government and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. 

Forty-seven young people from Bangsamoro Communities Outside BARMM (BCOBAR), Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao were in attendance. Beginning with consultations for the Bangsamoro Action Plan on Youth, Peace, and Security (BAP-YPS) and the Bangsamoro Youth Volunteer Programme (BYVP), questions on e-governance and digitalization were integrated to frame the week-long activity. Ideation workshops employing a design thinking framework were held on the third and fourth days.


What and who did I encounter?



The journey allowed me to value the gift of being heard. Upon observing the participation of youth changemakers and seeing how their eyes lit up when asked to perform, I realized that creating safe spaces brings out the best in people. Safe spaces breed creative freedom. They are not afraid to be seen for simply who they are. An enabling environment and culture free of judgment gave the youth changemakers a space to express and reinvent themselves fully. They do not desire the grand things— they merely want platforms to mobilize or to take action. A young advocate once said, “Safe spaces are places where I can be comfortable in my own skin, where I won't be attacked for the things I say or do." With most participants coming from the Bangsamoro region, their hopes of being service-driven citizens were manifested in their project outputs. But really, WHY were they enthusiastically vocal? What are the different components of safe space? Or better yet, what makes a space safe?


Leo Cellan, a Bangsamoro youth leader presenting their empathy map



I realized that these young changemakers were able to put their best foot forward because they valued the FEELING of being safe more than the PHYSICAL “space” people usually encounter. Safe public places, such as civic spaces, allow the youth to participate in governance concerns, but the warm and welcoming feeling from peers around them enables them to creatively imagine, communicate with everyone across boundaries, and be effective members of society. 

I learned the ripple effect of volunteerism. One of the participants uttered: “Volunteerism is the principle of donating your time and energy for a greater cause. Volunteers are those people who are helping to change the lives of their community as a social responsibility and not as a financial reward.” Perplexed with life’s complexities, it is humbling to hear this from a fellow youth, giving without counting the cost. All of us are growing, putting in the effort to explore what this world has to offer, delving into the labyrinth of life, and perhaps, feeling bewildered along the way. Yet, this encounter has inspired me to power young people’s potential, and ensure a community is ready to hear them out and embrace what they have to offer.


Bettina sharing her knowledge on project pitching to help youth prepare for their presentations

As one of the event organizers and mentors, there are far more things bigger than myself. I was humbled to see the energy, rigor, and young people’s desire to make a change. 


Having witnessed the potential of these young people, I began to ask myself: What is our level of youth engagement? Are we implementing interventions for the youth, especially in hard-to-reach communities? How can we guarantee youth participation? We may not have a clear answer for now. Conceivably, we can pursue opening more “safe spaces” for the youth in engaging with different stakeholders— from the academe, government, civil society, and private sectors— to collaborate, co-create, and co-implement multiple actionable solutions that answer to these young changemaker’s dreams and aspirations.


Bangsamoro youth collaborating and discussing inputs for empathy map


The team believes that it is essential for young people to develop leadership and innovation skills, as they are critical agents of change. Societies need to invest in opportunities for them if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for everyone, everywhere. The Ideation Lab is a space for youth to learn while collaborating with their respective teams in turning ideas into solutions as they grow as changemakers. 

At the end of it all, when one young individual marvels upon a fascinating journey of witnessing sustainable change, whilst growing with other youth of today— they become a beacon of hope for the future.

If we can save the youth energy from being dissipated by negative and fissiparous tendencies, if we can harness it for the right purposes, if we are honest towards our youth, if we can give them proper orientation, I am sure they would bring about universal harmony and establish global peace.
Joseph Benziger


About UNDP 
UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet.  

About Youth Co:Lab  

Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth, so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation, and entrepreneurship. Find out more at