Riga’s Youth Centre KAŅIERIS is a non-formal learning and inclusive collaboration space for young people and their organisations to gain knowledge and skills, as well as to develop mutual cooperation. The main goal of the centre is to provide support to non-governmental youth organisations in their work of non-formal education and capacity building. Its main functions include the provision of space and resources, opportunities to improve knowledge on different topics related to youth work, promotion of mutual cooperation among various youth NGOs, and identification of the most pressing needs and relevant current topics of the field.
The creation of KAŅIERIS is an amazing example of a local youth initiative. When local youth NGOs needed a modern resource and experience centre both for their capacity building and development of participation skills, the Central Baltic Sea region INTERREG project “Youth Space” brought along the right occasion. With the participation of the Tallinn Youth Centre, the Stockholm School of Arts, and the Youth Division of the Education, Culture and Sports Department of Riga City Council, the new home dedicated to the development of Riga’s youth NGOs finally was opened on 20 May 2011. Since 2013, KAŅIERIS is financed by the City Council in full capacity. Until the first Covid-19 lockdowns in April 2020, KAŅIERIS has hosted 2865 events.
Everything in KAŅIERIS was and still is done together with the representatives of local youth organisations and the youngsters themselves, starting from the idea of the centre until the everyday life of the centre. This has given a strong sense of ownership to local youth. They were in charge of planning the various rooms and spaces in the centre, as well as the functions and content it would accommodate. All of their ideas, wishes and needs were taken into consideration. KAŅIERIS is a result of a very special and grandiose collaboration that involved more than 50 youngsters from various youth organisations and local craftsmen. They all acquired new skills during that time, including cooperation and creativity.
The stages of ideas coming real
The physical space of KAŅIERIS goes hand in hand with its mission: its four main rooms are dedicated to specific stage of an idea becoming something real. The central element of the Meeting Room is the round table that symbolises equality, inclusion and cooperation. This is the room designed for the ideas to be born and brainstormed upon, and the first thoughts of future projects come to life here. Equality among the City Council, youth organisations and youngsters is the main theme in this room and elsewhere in KAŅIERIS. Just like in other spaces of the centre, everything in this room is made and decorated by youngsters themselves, including the table, chairs and walls, as a part of the original project.
The Smart Space is where ideas bind together with knowledge and skills. There is a small library in this room, which covers literature and informative materials on subjects like non-formal education, history, youth initiative projects, equality, inclusion, and it is free of charge for everyone. This room is used mainly for training, seminars, small conferences, and workshops.
When the idea is clear and knowledge is absorbed, every youth organisation has access to the third room, the Youth Office, a co-working space. It is equipped with multiple computers, varied office equipment and office supplies. This is the space where ideas become reality and the execution of projects takes on speed. Every youngster and youth organisation is able to use all of the resources found in this room, make their own little workspace and work on everyday tasks. Finally comes the Cosy Space: a room for reflection, feed-backs, and review of the work that has been done. This room is famous for its soft and cosy bean-bags, board games, music and TV. Its chill atmosphere is enjoyed by not only those who have successfully finished their projects or wish to organise a game night, but also by different theatre enthusiasts or someone who prefers a little less formal meeting.
Free resources and capacity building
Throughout KAŅIERIS there is a free Wi-Fi available. Also, worth mentioning that the youth centre is located near the Daugava river, therefore it is possible to organise the activities outdoors. Along with actual, physical space, KAŅIERIS also offers resources for organising activities both inside and outdoors: video projectors and iPads for presentations, flipcharts and whiteboards for workshops, portable speakers, green screen and spotlights, video cameras, outdoor equipment (tents, sleeping bags, etc.), bean-bags, dishes and more. Needless to say, it is all free of charge, which gives youngsters unlimited opportunities to organise their activities. Around 4000 youngsters and more than 30 of the most active youth organisations take advantage of the free space and resources every year.
One of the most important tasks of KAŅIERIS’ is to provide knowledge and capacity building for those involved in the youth work. A great part of it is accomplished by learning about the actual needs of local youth NGOs, listening to their suggestions and summarising all the gathered information. Events like seminars, discussions, meetings and training courses are organised by KAŅIERIS every year in order to educate and share knowledge with youth workers from all around Riga (and occasionally other parts of Latvia), including those who work at children and youth centres, youth initiative centres or leisure centres. It does not only help to raise the level of professionalism in the field, but is also a great and effective way of networking. Topics include non-formal education, the use of social media, financial management of an NGO, cross-sectoral cooperation and many more. Every event is supported by a field professional. The KAŅIERIS team is ready to consult youngsters and organisations on practical and strategic matters at any time, and is also working on raising its own level of knowledge by attending seminars, training sessions for youth workers, exchanging knowledge and more.
Self-building and the Participation Award
One of the achievements that KAŅIERIS is the most proud of is the annual open house event “Build Yourself,” which brings together the most active youth NGOs and youngsters from different schools in Riga. This event is an amazing opportunity for youngsters to learn more about the everyday work of youth NGOs, the possibilities they offer, as well as to meet like-minded people and get inspired to make their own ideas come true. It is a very compact and effective exchange of information and a great way to help everyone in search of their own one and only youth organisation.
The annual tradition of the Youth Participation Award is another way KAŅIERIS is promoting and encouraging civic participation. It is one the most inspiring moments of the whole year and an integral part of the youth centre. The award jury consists of representatives from the previous year’s winner NGOs, the City Council and KAŅIERIS.
Three awards and three acknowledgements are presented during the ceremony to the last year’s most active, courageous, and simply the best youth NGOs in Riga. Better Life Award, Incubator of Leaders and Rising Star – these are only a few of the nominations. The award has a very special value: it is a confirmation of quality, which then improves the perception of the winning organisations in the eyes of youngsters’ parents, as well as facilitates cooperation with schools and other NGOs.
Every autumn, KAŅIERIS acts as a key partner in the municipality-financed Capacity building grant competition. Those youth NGO projects that have successfully been approved for the second round, are presented by their applicants in a cosy, yet extremely important event at KAŅIERIS. It is the final step to receive the municipality’s financial support for youth NGO capacity building projects. During the presentations the jury asks additional questions about each project and presents an opportunity for the applicants to clarify the idea and realisation of the activities. The work starts even earlier than that: in order to prepare for the presentations, every NGO can rely on consultation and attend training on how to write the project application, how to present it, how to execute it and how to submit all necessary reports.
It is safe to say that everything that KAŅIERIS does is dedicated to the support of youngsters and youth non-governmental organisations, because they are the driving force of the youth centre. Every decision is based on their needs and challenges. KAŅIERIS is an inclusive and benevolent environment, open for cooperation. It is a place where youngsters and youth NGOs can grow, become stronger and more professional. The advocacy of non-formal education and youth non-governmental organisations will always be the main mission of KAŅIERIS, together with the encouragement of active civic participation among youngsters.
This article appears in the book The Power of Civic Ecosystems: How community spaces and their networks make our cities more cooperative, fair and resilient.