As a young lawyer living in Ukraine, Yurii Romashko didn’t think much of a trip to get a routine medical checkup in the small town of Poltava. However, once he got there, he realized that patients were asked to pay bribes for what should have been free health care services.
“As a lawyer, I understood what I needed to do to protect myself. But looking around the busy hospital, I saw a lot of people who didn’t understand what was happening and what they could do about it,” Yurii says today. “I wanted to help them—that was the idea that started me on the path to where I am now.”
Yurii, 28, is the co-founder and executive director of the Institute of Analysis and Advocacy (IAA), an NGO that works to improve civil society that was created after that day in the hospital and the ensuing anti-corruption campaign he spearheaded. Ranked one of the top think tanks in Central and Eastern Europe, the group uses digital tools to advocate for transparency and empower citizens by providing access to information—from statistics on government spending to the latest COVID developments—on digital platforms.
For this work, Yurii has been named one of the newest members of Generation17, a partnership between Samsung and the United Nations Development Program highlighting young leaders worldwide who are helping to achieve the 17 Global Goals.
Samsung Mobile Press recently asked Yurii about his advice for young leaders, his goals for the future and how new technology is empowering the next generation.
How did you turn an issue you were passionate about into an effective NGO?
Before my experience in the hospital, I had been working mostly in corporate law, doing everything from helping NGOs get set up to helping companies understand how to legally hire international employees. Now I saw how I could really change how we do things in Ukraine and beyond by starting a local anti-corruption campaign and then moving on to larger issues. My co-founder and I, step by step, started working across the country, and now we are operating in countries across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We have a team of 20 people that includes analysts, lawyers, experts in procurement or public finances or healthcare and so on.
What does mobile technology enable that wasn’t possible before?
It has allowed us to put information into people’s pockets that would have been unimaginable previously. Recently, with Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, IAA created a smartphone app for Poltava, where I live. We like to think of it as “a city on your smartphone.” You can use it for everything from submitting a question to a government official, getting updates on school closures or trash pickup, or finding out how much a medication should cost at the pharmacy.
Also, mobile technology is vital because people everywhere can use it to create networks like never before: networks of changemakers, leaders, local people with a common cause. It helps them to act globally and engage with a broader community from a completely different part of the world. And during the pandemic, technology, and particularly apps, have allowed for more affordable communications.
What are some of your goals for the future?
As far as short-term goals, we’d like to help government agencies use digital solutions and tools to be transparent and accountable. We want to help governments address the real problems of citizens, by showing the big picture of what people are worried about and creating systemic solutions that can solve societal problems once and for all. We’re excited to scale our app to show citizens that government is not something distant and removed—it is accountable to them.
Our long-term global mission is to help create an ecosystem in which an accountable government creates responsible policies oriented to the needs of citizens.
What are some challenges you’re conscious of as you look to the future?
When people talk about how technology is going to change the world, we should also make sure that technology doesn’t have more influence than the people it should serve. When we develop new technologies, we should think about strategies, principles, and long-term goals and make sure these ideas are core to what we create. Technology is important, but it is not more important than the people who use it.
What’s your advice for young people who want to help achieve the Global Goals but don’t know where to begin?
First, young leaders should focus on a singular problem they’re trying to solve rather than going in five or 10 different directions – that’s unrealistic. For example, I didn’t start off trying to solve corruption issues across an entire nation—I wanted to help the people trying to get medical care in Poltava. So the first step was our town, and then it was all over the country. Then we created a network of organizations that can create their own monitoring campaigns in their own cities using our methodology.
And use technology to understand what can be digitalized, which, in my opinion, is everything – it’s just a matter of time and resources. Once you have digitized resources, use technology to create solutions that can be scaled and think beyond the borders of your own country. Digital statistics and analytics are nearly, if not entirely, free to share widely. It allows leaders to pool information across borders and disciplines to collaborate and gain new insights. Without technology, we might have been able to help a few people, but with it, we can help thousands.