Democracy that Delivers #399: FEDN Small Grants – Democracy, A Digital Story for Young Generations

Tamari Dzotsenidze |

Episode Description

Between July 2024 to January 2024, CIPE supported a new project, “Democracy: A Digital Story for Young Generations” through the Kurdistan Economic Development Organization (KEDO). As part of the Free Enterprise and Democracy Network (FEDN) Small Grants initiative, they created a new website to educate youth on the importance of democratic values and institutions.

In the second episode of the FEDN small grants series, join Program Officer Tamari Dzotsenidze in a conversation with FEDN Member and General Director of KEDO Hussam Barzinji and Public Relations Officer Mustafa AbdulKareem on extending beyond the digital realm and finding hope under difficult circumstances.

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Tamari Dzotsenidze (00:01):

Welcome to this week’s episode of Democracy that Delivers and our miniseries on this year’s Free Enterprise and Democracy Network small grants program where we’ll be speaking with grantees engaging locally to promote the principles of free enterprise and democracy. I’m Tamari Dzotsenidze, program officer with CIPE’s Policy and Program Learning Unit and the coordinator of the Free Enterprise and Democracy Network known as FEDN here at CIPE.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (00:27):

FEDN was established by CIPE in 2012 to bring private sector voices into global discourse on democracy and provides a mechanism for private sector leaders and advocates of economic freedom across the world to exchange ideas and make the case for democracy and markets. The small grants program launched last year in an effort to promote understanding of how democracy and market economies enable a better way of life.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (00:52):

Today we’ll have the pleasure of speaking with FEDN member Hussam Barzinj and Mustafa AbdulKareem from the Kurdistan Economic Development Organization. For the last six months, they have been implementing the project, Democracy, A Digital Story for Young Generations, creating the website to tell the story of democracy to young generations, emphasizing the importance of democratic principles, values, and institutions in promoting freedom, opportunity and prosperity. The website aims to educate and engage young people in the democratic process and inspire them to participate in shaping their society’s future. Welcome both. We are excited to have you here today.

Mustafa AbdulKareem (01:32):

Thank you. Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Hussam Barzinji (01:35):

Thank You. Thank you.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (01:37):

Can you start off by providing us an overview of, The Democracy, a Digital Story for Young Generations project and its objectives?

Mustafa AbdulKareem (01:45):

So the project is basically, we can say is simply, we try to create a platform. It’s a website we created for the youth to know more about the principle of democracy, to know the basics of what is a democratic system and to empower their voice so they can engage with each other and to democratic discussion. They can talk and discuss democratic values and also engage with each other and through the knowledge they get with their community.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (02:23):

Why did you think it was important to focus on youth?

Mustafa AbdulKareem (02:26):

It is very important to focus on the youth because the youth are the leaders of the future. We can say like per se, the leaders of tomorrow. Besides, we realized that they are underrepresented in the political system here, especially for youth and women. We can see the way they are… They have less opportunities to participate with political choices. They are not represented properly and the amount that we hope it’ll be.

Hussam Barzinji (02:59):

This project was very important for us because we’re continuing our project. The democracy here in the region only democracy for election, no democracy for system. System of democracy is very weak. Why are we focusing on the youth? Because the new generation is leading the democracy or system or government in the future. And also we focusing on women. Why? Because women, they have good impact on the children through education and also they have impact on the youth and also on the men, also on women. Both four groups, they can communicate with them very easily, not like men. Men for children, not easy to talk with them. Men are far away from children every day, from house, from home.

Hussam Barzinji (04:16):

And also youth, both girls and boys, they listening to the women easily. That’s why we focused on youth and women. And we starting with this overview with ideas that the democracies and human rights is very important for our region because we have wide corruption and the rule of law is very weak. And also the government is far away from the people. We can say that two worlds, world for government, world for the people, for citizen. Then we cannot see react between two worlds. That’s democracy is important for this situation, and I let Mustafa for continuing.

Mustafa AbdulKareem (05:50):

Also, especially in the leading roles in the government or on the political side of things, when we say, we see that the youth, especially the womens are very few who are taking actual leading roles or who are decision makers. That comes especially for womens, you can literally count them. That’s how few they are for taking leading or leading positions in the government.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (06:17):

So when you went about to implement this project, how did you go about targeting women and youth specifically? Were there any strategies that you used to make sure that you were reaching them?

Mustafa AbdulKareem (06:32):

Well now knowing that, the other thing is, it’s like that’s the reason that we choose to digitalize this whole process because nowadays, youth are mostly on the internet. They are surfing on the websites, they are looking for new information, new things. So we figured out, that’s the best way to approach them. And we noticed through our researches that most of the youth are using here in our region, they are mostly using Facebook. And Facebook, the bigger percentage of it is mostly men. But on Instagram we found that the bigger percentage is as womens.

Mustafa AbdulKareem (07:15):

So we try to go through promoting what we’re doing on social medias, taking the advantage that the digitalization is giving us. And also when we talked with activists, we have a few meetings with them. There are a bunch of young girls who are very active, and how to say, in the democratic sense, in the democratic theme, where they are promoting freedom and freedom of speech. And so when we engaged them, they were giving us more ideas and more options, which is book clubs, which was what we created also. We created a book club inside of our organization. And then through that, through this book club we try to engage with other book clubs that established in the cities as well.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (08:14):

Can you tell me a little bit more about these book clubs, what you were discussing about, why you felt the impact was?

Mustafa AbdulKareem (08:21):

With those book clubs, we were mainly trying to promote, our objective was as taking a book that speaks about democratics or speaking about leaderships, whether it’s local books or international books. And our objective mainly is that we teach the value through the discussions and we’re promoting the discussion, democratic discussions in an unhealthy environment where they can speak up freely and express themselves.

Mustafa AbdulKareem (09:02):

And we found it was really good because the participant numbers keep growing. We get invitation from other book clubs to go to do the same thing, which is an open democratic discussions about the book and their clubs. Once we got invited to another community, which is another book club, is hosted by JWL and one of churches. We also went to another book club which was hosted inside the university, and there was a lot of the youth from the university itself they were attending and they were really interested in those books and those topics.

Mustafa AbdulKareem (09:48):

Which here also was for us, if I may add, it was also a lesson learned because through, we did not expect this level of engagement from the youth, especially the womens, with all what’s going on with the political side, like all the conflicts, all the things. And we know with all the conflicts here in this region, people are losing faith in democracy.

Mustafa AbdulKareem (10:18):

So it was really surprising that this amount of youth are really interested in the subject and they want to participate and they want to share their opinion and they want to engage in conversations, especially like we did through the workshops. And a lot of the members of the government and high level political personalities were showing up also in our workshop. So we gave them a chance to actually talk to the decision makers, to discuss the decision makers. It’s like opening a channel between the youth and the government as well.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (10:54):

Right. When you started this project, you mentioned you met with the governor of Sulaymaniyah Province and members of the provincial council. Can you share a bit about how those conversations went?

Hussam Barzinji (11:05):

We contacted with the governor and also the Sulaymaniyah Provincial. And we invited the governor and the provincial members to our activities in [inaudible 00:11:24] workshop, or on fighting corruption, combating corruption workshop and democracy education. They participated and we saw also that they encouraged the youth for community engaging and also for more contribution. We saw that’s very helpful for us, that governor and the head of the provincial council encouraging and the youth. And when we ask them for participation in our activities, they accepted and they participated in the… We prepared some honoring paper for the youth, for entrepreneurial youth and they participated in this activity.

Hussam Barzinji (12:45):

And we continuing our good relation with the governor, with the provincial council and other members. And now we have signed the memorandum of understanding with the Sulaymaniyah universities, and they asked us for signing the memorandum of understanding. And also we wait meeting with the ministry of the high study, they supervising all the universities in the region. And we saw that’s good opportunity for us for attending the universities, for seminars, for mutual workshops, mutual meetings. And now we continue it, and also before three days, we both participated in the mutual activities in the University of Sulaymaniyah. It’s very, very big university and it’s belong to the government.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (14:15):


Hussam Barzinji (14:16):

Thank you.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (14:18):

Can you explain a little bit about what the MOU was and what prompted you to work on that? The memorandum of understanding?

Hussam Barzinji (14:27):

Yeah, about memorandum of understanding. We signed on some points. First one, that we try to, mutual activities. We participate in their activities and also they participating in our activities. That’s first one. Second, we try to conduct trainings, seminars, workshops inside the university because we have a network of sustainable development, sustainable development goals. And we work to raise awareness of people in the community and in the university about the 17 goals of the sustainable SDGs. And that’s 0.2, 0.3, how we look together for resources for fundraising for our activities.

Hussam Barzinji (15:57):

Also, and the important point, that our government, we try to through advocacy campaign for government undertake 17 goals of the SDGs. Nine years past, our government is promising also only. And we and University of Sulay, we try to, with the Ministry of Planning, to starting work on the 17 goals. Those four points are very important for both sides where we and our network and Sulay University.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (16:48):

We often work on projects engaging local government. It seems like this was a very positive experience for you and your team. Do you have any lessons learned that could be applicable to others taking on similar projects or working in other regions?

Hussam Barzinji (17:04):

Listen, learn. That we understood or we learned that our situation is not normal. We have the officials, they haven’t get salaries for three months, for four months. And we have demonstration in the street, the teachers asking for the salaries. And also we have problem with Baghdad between Erbil and Baghdad, our region with the federal government in the Baghdad. And we have shortage in the budget and we have weak transparency on the budget. We don’t know what’s the expenditure, what’s the income of government.

Hussam Barzinji (18:09):

And before one year we asked the parliament, “Do you know what’s the income and expenditure of the government?” They said, “We don’t know anything,” but in this situation we worked. We worked with youth, with the university, with the governor in Sulay and also with the provincial council. And we saw that you can work in the bad circumstance and you can achieve goals, achieve objectives, and you can have the success stories.

Mustafa AbdulKareem (18:59):

If I may add to that, sorry, another point is, also we learned that, yes, it’s a political conflict and all that, but still there are some people in the government they are willing to cooperate, they are willing to help. And they are willing to encourage and support the youth, which was amazing also to find out.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (19:24):

Great, thank you. Yeah, as I said, it sounds like it was a really positive experience. But I wanted to touch on something that you said about having success stories even in a difficult time. I know in some of the reporting, you mentioned some notable individuals, some of the youth that you worked with who inspired you to push this project further. Can you share a little bit about what it was like working with them, any success stories you might have from this project?

Hussam Barzinji (19:54):

One of the success stories we saw, that one of the leaders of the youth in the book club suggested to starting with one new book, for reading book and discussing about the book. And after that, she managed the course, managed the session, and the participants asked a question, she answered. And we surprised, that first time we saw the young people, girl, she’s studying master, and she answered about the questions without our help. She managed the course very successfully. It was success story, first success story. And after that, at last, they are now asking for more training about leadership, about democracy. And also that’s we see this positive aspect and also positive point. And we see their leadership rule in managing the club and managing the plan.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (21:31):

So can you share a little bit about your plans for a leadership program tailored to the needs that youth have expressed?

Hussam Barzinji (21:39):

Yeah. Well now we planning for organize the workshop for them for leadership and democracy. And also we try for expand the book club for more members. And also, that’s 0.2. 0.3 point we looking for resources, for new funding, for continuing, for sustaining our activities with youth, with a book club. And we try to promote their potential and how they contribute to the community engaging and how promote their activities for more discussion, more conversation, and also reading more books. Books about democracy, about freedom, about equality, about peace, we encourage them.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (23:01):

Absolutely. I wanted to touch on what you just said about sustainability and looking for more funding. As we have these small grants, there’s a smaller budget, it’s a narrower scope with the six-month project. So how did you think about sustainability when you were thinking about this project and what is important for others to keep in mind as they embark on projects of their own?

Hussam Barzinji (23:22):

First, depending on our small resources, we can see very little resources we have. And also the youth, they are working very, very active and they’re committing to our plan and the book club. And us, we looking for new resource, FEDN, CIPE or other maybe other resources, also from private sector. Now we have a big project with the private sector. They are supporting us. The name of projects is, food bank. We collecting the remaining food from restaurants and we distribute food for the poor people, poor families.

Mustafa AbdulKareem (24:41):

And sorry, also, if I may add to that. It’s also one of the things like the youth themselves that we were educating, we were going to the book clubs, democratic values, freedom of speech, they love the project so much that they want to continue on it, they want to work on it continuously. And this is for us, it was just, we are so thankful for FEDN because it give us a push to give this pilot, to give birth to this program. This for us is considered pilot for a much, much bigger dream and much, much bigger objectives. And we are so thankful also for the youth, that they are taking the leading part. And whether it’s in the book clubs or in the groups, to keeping the project moving forward. So it’s not only us, who are working as a volunteer now, but also the groups, that the members of the groups are also working with us as volunteers because they truly love it.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (25:43):

That’s great. That’s so inspiring to hear.

Hussam Barzinji (25:45):

Tamari, in addition to the Mustafa’s speech, that your project was very important opportunity for us because we introduced to the large number of the youth and also we create the book club and the website. And now we have social media. We’re using the WhatsApp, Viber and also other kind of social media techniques. And the youth are very active in the social media and they exchanging their idea and also their views.

Mustafa AbdulKareem (26:39):

With all that you said, we are right now, we started recording. Today is the first session of the book club. We start to record and we’re going to open a YouTube channel for it. So we can also have more discussions in the comment like positive, constructive discussions about democracy and freedom, and we engage more with the local communities.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (27:05):

One final question. Are there any lessons learned from your projects or key takeaways that other practitioners can learn from as they work to implement similar projects?

Hussam Barzinji (27:17):


Mustafa AbdulKareem (27:19):

Ah, yes. No matter the key takeaways, I’m going to pick them as quick as possible because of the limited time. It’s one, don’t give up on the youth. There’s always a spark inside of them. There is always fire inside of them. They’re looking for positive change. They’re looking to do positive things to their communities. So despite whatever circumstances that your country or whatever country is going through, be sure and positive that there are those kind of people and they’re always all the time.

Mustafa AbdulKareem (27:53):

Second, yes, the things might seem very bad on the surface, on the political side, but once you get to know them, there are people who are truly dedicated themselves to work hard to improve the things. Though they are, sometimes they are very limited, but still the supports that you get from them, the channels that they create for you for communications, it’s very important. So whoever goes into a similar project, I ask them to consider those two points.

Tamari Dzotsenidze (28:28):

Your funded small grants project, it’s really inspiring to see how you were embraced by the local government and the youth and really the amount of work that you were able to do by creating in-person events, the website, the book clubs, social media, all just in six months. So thank you so much. For our listeners, you can learn more about the Free Enterprise and Democracy Network by going to our website at or on X, formerly known as Twitter, @FEDNglobal. Thank you.

Published Date: May 02, 2024