Why do stories from our region often go unreported?
Maybe it’s because countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have had a legacy of equality, job security and functioning safety nets. Maybe people perceive it as largely developed with no major crises.
Contrary to popular opinion, life is not a bed of roses in Eurasia. In the 1990s, many countries here experienced difficult transitions but a large number scored major victories against poverty, disease and unemployment.
Today, their legacy is fraying at the edges. While extreme poverty has largely been eradicated, the countries in the Western Balkans, South Caucasus and Central Asia continue to face challenges. UNDP’s new calculations tell us that the number of people living above US$10/day shrank by six million people between 2013 and 2015 alone.
Youth unemployment in the Western Balkans is at 50 percent. Ours is the only region where HIV infections are not declining. Breakaway regions and contested borders challenge development progress. And inequalities are increasing even in the richest oil economies.
All that isn’t to say it’s all doom and gloom here, either. In our work, we come across many women and men who are working hard to make sure their communities don’t fall through the cracks. Societies that are embracing change or fighting back.
Our teams witness so many stories of societies and people with resolve.
Amid the desertification surrounding the Aral Sea, they met a farmer whose special saxaul trees are protecting his home from shifting sands.
They met the mother of a gay man who started a support group for mothers in Ukraine who are coming to terms with the struggles of their children and fighting for their inclusion in society.
In the breakaway region of Transnistria, they spoke with doctors who are tending to suffering patients, introducing new health approaches in areas that never received that level of care.
When we hear “Eurasia”, this is what we see. People who refuse to let adversity decide their fate. That’s why we created Voyages — a bi-monthly online journal that gives these off-the-radar communities a spotlight.
We want to show that though diverse in nature, these countries share similar struggles, growing pains and a sense of resolve.
Normally, we communicate around issues like governance, employment, climate change and gender equality. But in each issue of Voyages, we’ll be taking a step back to look at issues as they are felt in every day life.
When we think about borders, for example, we usually think the physical ones between countries or states. But borders are also boundaries that keep us in our “place” and prevent us from fulfilling our destinies. They can be metaphorical lines we must cross to keep from being excluded by society.
Take our first issue: Shifting Landscapes. The world around us is constantly changing. Physical landscapes are affected by climate change. Sometimes the earth literally shifts beneath us. But landscapes are more than just physical. Technology is transforming the workplace and society. New movements call people to action. People are on the move, and cities have to constantly reinvent themselves.
We take a look at stories of people moving with the times — women judges in Uzbekistan, sustainable restaurants in Albania, a rabbi in Belarus who is helping revive the local economy, winemakers in Georgia.
Every two months, we’ll be exploring a different issue with unique stories. And showing how no one development goal — better jobs, stronger justice, cleaner water — is the magic answer. That, in these stories, progress comes when all sides fall into place.
Yes, UNDP works to help eradicate poverty in all its forms, accelerate the transition to stronger economies, and make sure the most vulnerable and excluded are not left behind. But we also recognize that telling new stories can help amplify unheard voices and engage new audiences.
Development is a voyage. Meet the inspiring people along the way who are bearing witness to change. Read the first issue of Voyages now.