$100K for 100 Romani Champions in Serbia

By Margareta Matache and Arlan Fuller

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August 11, 2015. Harvard FXB has been selected as one of 100 organizations that will receive grants of $100,000 each through the Cummings Foundation’s “$100K for 100” program. Our plan is to work with 100 Romani adolescents from four university centers in Serbia to (1) identify the drivers of their success in education and (2) strengthen their leadership skills.

The Romani Champions project, chosen from more than 350 applications, continues an earlier cooperation between the Cummings Foundation, Harvard FXB, and the CIP-Center for Interactive Pedagogy, involving work with Romani youth in Serbia.

“The Foundation is incredibly grateful to organizations like FXB Center that are working diligently for the benefit of marginalized communities,” said Joel Swets, Cummings Foundation’s executive director. And indeed, from 2012 to 2014, with support from the Cummings Foundation, Harvard FXB,  the CIP Center-Center for Interactive Pedagogy, and Save the Children Serbia implemented Reclaiming Adolescence, a project centered on Roma youth in Belgrade.

The first of its kind for Roma adolescents in Europe, Reclaiming Adolescence used a bottom-up participatory methodology to invite young people and their communities to amplify their voices by proposing and leading research, formulating policy recommendations, and implementing grassroots activities that tackled stigma and discrimination against Roma children and youth.

The project provided further evidence showing participatory research to be an effective means to empower Roma adolescents to become valuable actors for social and political change. In the words of one adolescent study participant, “[a]t first it was to gain work experience, but later I realized that it wasn’t about me. I wanted to change something, to help others.”

The Reclaiming Adolescence project was just a first step toward our greater aim of providing further support to Roma civil society organizations, young people, and local leaders to claim their place in research, policy formulation, and policy monitoring. Building off of the community strengths and needs recognized in that project, Romani Champions is adding a different approach. While maintaining the participatory element, Romani Champions also seeks to partially shift the focus from obstacles to investigate success and resilience factors as well. Harvard FXB will identify Romani “champions,” adolescents who, despite familial, ethnic, and socioeconomic marginalization, are pursuing tertiary education.

Overall, 10 percent of Roma youth in Serbia enroll in secondary education, whereas the national average is 84 percent. Moreover, less than one percent of Romani adolescents attend university. Thus, we believe it is relevant to identify the triggers that have enabled those very few “champions” to succeed, despite parents’ limited education, discrimination, and insignificant social mobility.

This unique research lens will generate important new insights for the educational advancement of Romani youth by identifying those practices and factors that have already proved successful. We will probe the impact of factors known from other Harvard FXB studies, such as parental mentorship, individual, “grit,” and institutional support.

The Harvard FXB research team consists of Professor Jacqueline Bhabha, director of research, Dr. Margareta Matache, instructor and former Roma rights advocate, and Arlan Fuller, the center’s executive director. Our long-standing partner, the Center for Interactive Pedagogy, will ensure the implementation of the project inside Serbia.
About CIP-Center for Interactive Pedagogy
CIP Center was established in 1998 to fulfill its goals in the field of education. From the very beginning CIP Center has been contributing to social and educational inclusion of Roma and other vulnerable groups in Serbia, by conducting qualitative researches, participating in the design of inclusive educational policies, developing programs targeting Roma children and their families and raising the capacities of pedagogical assistants, health mediators, teachers, health professionals and CSO activists through design and implementation of various training programs, projects, etc.

About Cummings Foundation
Woburn-based Cummings Foundation, Inc. was established in 1986 by Joyce and Bill Cummings of Winchester. With assets exceeding $1 billion, it is one of the largest foundations in New England. The Foundation directly operates its own charitable subsidiaries, including two New Horizons retirement communities in Marlborough and Woburn. Its largest single commitment to date was $50 million to Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Additional information is available at www.CummingsFoundation.org.