Digital solutions to accelerate societal change

May 26, 2021

The Ukrainian participant in Generation17, an international initiative for young changemakers, talks about his experience of developing digital tools for the benefit of his fellow citizens

Photo credit: Ivan Pidhainyi / UNDP Ukraine

Meet Yurii Romashko, 28, lawyer, the CEO of the Institute of Analysis & Advocacy think tank based in Poltava and covering Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Yurii's main passion is analysing data and creating digital solutions on its basis. The Institute of Analysis & Advocacy (IAA), which Yurii heads, has been ranked among the top-100 think tanks in Central and Eastern Europe for three years in a row. The IAA team conducts research into public finances, the health sector, public procurement and other areas.

Evolution: From civil society organization to think-tank

Yurii says the story of the IAA, founded in 2013, began with an advocacy initiative in Poltava hospitals. Arriving for a routine medical check-up, he learned that before receiving medical care or giving samples one had to make a contribution to the charity fund at the hospital.

“However, as it turned out, I was not paying the hospital – there was no reporting system,” he says. “As a lawyer by education, I clearly understood that something was wrong here. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.”

He started looking into the issue. “We did countrywide research, and analysed how this 'corruption' scheme worked. Together with journalists, we tried to work out the amount of money that the hospital could actually been getting, but did not get.” Thanks to an effective advocacy campaign, civic activists managed to smash the corrupt informal payments scheme in Poltava’s hospitals, and the Ministry of Health issued an order outlining reporting standards in this area.

This story was a starting point for Yurii and his team’s interest in data analysis and digital solutions, and the institute began to position itself as a think tank that helps governments make more effective decisions, particularly in policy development and implementation.

"Moreover, we don’t just put our recommendations on the table, but also advocate for them directly,” Yurii says. “As we kept working on this, we realized that digital tools work the best. They ensure high transparency for the simple reason that automated processes cannot be easily manipulated. That's why we gradually refocused our activities on digitalization.”

Digital solutions and regional partnerships

Among the digital initiatives developed by the IAA are the implementation of the Prozorro procurement system at its pilot project stage in Poltava Oblast; the development, together with the All-Ukrainian Network “100 % Life” and TI Ukraine, of a price module for Dozorro to compare medical procurement costs; and the development of the service, where one can check the availability of medical items purchased with budget funds – from drugs to facemasks. The team is now working on a project in a new area related to road haulage and minimizing corruption risks through digitalization.

“We also created an e-Poltava solution for Poltava city, based on the smart city concept, and we plan to scale it up,” Yurii adds. The solution includes a mobile application for city residents and tourists, e-offices for utilities, and a system management portal administered by specialists from the Poltava City Council's Response Department.

Among the team’s achievements is also the establishment of the Budget Advocacy School – a platform for strengthening institutional capacity in analytics and advocacy for organizations working in budget advocacy.

When the pandemic hit, Yurii's team created a public dashboard for monitoring changes in retail prices for goods of high social value and those with anti-epidemic purposes for the pandemic period, to enable online information submission and data consolidation. The team also started monitoring data related to international aid as well as loans allocated to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“This issue has long been relevant, since emergency assistance from the countries comes quickly, and the accountability of this process is not always ensured for all the parties involved,” says Yurii. “So we’re trying to analyse the situation.”

The IAA team also cooperates with Central Asian countries, with whom they are developing some digital solutions related to public health reform and budget systems analysis.

“Our organization has been taking an active part in implementing the transition of Ukraine’s public health system from donor funding, provided by the Global Fund, to public funding,” notes Yurii. “Our role was to provide legal, analytical support, consultations and other support in this process. This experience has proved to be useful for other countries where the situation is almost identical, such as Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and other.”

A new benchmark together with Generation17

In 2021, Yurii was selected as one of the four participants from different countries in the Generation17 programme. This year they are young leaders from Brazil, Korea, Lebanon and, of course, Ukraine.

“What is Generation17? It is a global partnership programme between Samsung Global and the United Nations Development Programme that enables young leaders around the world working on the Sustainable Development Goals to reach a global audience, interact with other teams from different countries, and accelerate cooperation and action through their own stories," Yurii says.

To strengthen the creative potential of young people, the programme will support young leaders who are already working on solutions to social challenges in their countries, helping them strengthen and scale up their activities – in particular by providing technical tools and mentoring support to develop the skills they need.

Exchange with young leaders within Generation17

One of the important goals of the Generation17 programme is to create opportunities for close communication, networking, and experience exchange between the participants from different countries.

During their first online meeting, at which each of the young leaders presented their activities, Yurii became interested in the idea of ​​the representative from Korea to develop a mobile application for children with disabilities.

“They’ve developed a complex software solution and architecture, filling it with social content,” Yurii says. “I hope that we’ll be able to learn more about this digital solution and think how it can be adapted for Ukraine.”

The Generation17 initiative is directly related to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and Yurii's team has chosen three priority Goals into which to channel their changemaking efforts:

“To be specific, this is Goal 3, Good Health and Well-being. Actually, the story how our organization started its activities fits perfectly with this goal! Then there is Goal 9, which is related to infrastructure development and innovation – we’re now involved in a major road haulage project with the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Ministry of Finance that is supported by UNDP, among others. Finally, there’s the broader Goal 16, Peace and Justice, which encompasses lots of components.”

Motivation and youth leadership

Yurii says that he is mainly motivated by two things – change, and the people who drive change. “It really motivates and inspires me when I see that our work has brought some practical benefits – when you can see a concrete result for the authorities, citizens or business.”

Among the essential leadership qualities for young people is sociability, Yurii says. “Communication skills and cooperation are extremely important. You have to take responsibility for what you say or do. That’s a pretty fundamental thing that you need to learn right away, and always keep in mind. Also, don’t let challenges and the fear of change dent your confidence. We all live in the digital age, when the whole world is turning into a digital lab where we can all do something, test hypotheses, and leave our mark. If you fail, don’t give up, but try again. Feel the joy of the thinking process! After all, you’ll come across something new you didn’t know before. Now go and learn! It’s indeed a valuable experience!"

Next steps

Generation17 participants can look forward to a lot of networking and communication, as well as participation in international events. The first of these took place on April 6 within the ECOSOC Youth Forum, which was focused on changemaking and innovations to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

During the year, the Ukrainian team will receive technical support from Samsung Global, mentorship from UNDP, and will have the opportunity to promote the Institute of Analysis & Advocacy with the support of the Edelman communications agency.

“Why is it cool? Among other things, it’s a great opportunity to tell people more about Ukraine and our experience in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals – to scale up our digital solutions and adapt the solutions of foreign colleagues that may be relevant in Ukraine,” Yurii says.

Text: Tetyana Kononenko. Editing: Euan Macdonald, UNDP Ukraine