“What is the local issue most important to you?”
“What is the national issue most important to you?”
“What qualities are you looking for in your member of parliament?”
Over the last few months, young Moldovans asked hundreds of residents of the capital, Chisinau, these questions. The responses that citizens gave were collected, summarized and given to candidates for seats in the new single-mandate districts created prior to the February 24 parliamentary elections. Young Moldovans were also engaging in other ways during the election period. One group discussed youth unemployment in Moldova with an advisor to Moldovan President Igor Dodon, and two youth debated authorities on the radio about solutions for providing youth with greater economic opportunity.
What do all these young Moldovans have in common? They are part of NDI’s USAID-funded youth policy analysis and grassroots organizing program called “Challenger.” NDI launched “Challenger” to offer talented and passionate young people a rewarding non-partisan way to serve their country, and in some cases, an alternative to emigration. An estimated one million Moldovans, out of a total population of 3.5 million, have gone abroad seeking not only higher wages -- but also more fulfilling professional opportunities and an escape from “dirty politics” and corruption. “Moldova stands to lose its best and brightest when it most needs them for political and economic renewal at home,” said NDI Moldova Resident Director Andrew Young.
Since 2014, 132 young men and 187 young women, competitively selected from hundreds of applications, have participated in the Challenger program. Challengers learn how to conduct research, develop effective messaging, debate policy, structure arguments, all while meeting and networking with other passionate young Moldovans.
“I learned to develop and defend my strategy against opponents,” said Gabi Baraboi from Balti, a city of 150,000 people in the northern part of Moldova. “Maybe over [the] years we will do it in parliament or in the municipal council.”
In addition to asking residents about their electoral preferences, the participants learned how to organize a get out the vote (GOTV) campaign and analyzed the results of the questionnaires they had collected.
“People were confused and didn't know who to vote for,” said one Challenger. “Our message and the opportunity to analyze the candidates’ profile on a platform seemed to clarify the situation for them.”
NDI developed a web-based platform for the parliamentary elections that displays the main concerns of residents from each constituency, as compiled by Challenger participants and other civic groups. The website also included candidates’ biographies, political affiliations, and electoral platforms.
Graduates of past iterations of the program, who served as mentors for the current participants during the GOTV campaign, have made use of the skills they learned from the program in their communities and jobs. Several graduates even formed their own civil society organizations, called Primaria Mea (My City Hall) and DeFacto. Primaria Mea’s website is a comprehensive platform created by Challenger graduates and used by citizens and civil society organizations for monitoring council sittings, petitioning, and learning about and tracking the activities of local government officials. DeFacto is currently monitoring the President’s campaign promises and those of MPs elected in single-member constituencies on February 24.
While the parliamentary campaign has ended, the Challengers, who are determined to build a brighter future for their country and other youth, are still hard at work affecting change in the country.