The Western Balkans Science Engagement Programme (SEP) aims to contribute to resilience of states, communities and citizens across the Western Balkans to the COVID-19 pandemic and its adverse impacts, by using and promoting science and scientific evidence. The programme thematic focus is around COVID-19 pandemic and its adverse impacts, and it crosscuts different sectors and themes, such as environment, health, education, gender, etc.

The programme will build capacities of female and male early career researchers to effectively communicate science to the public and engage with public policy. This will be achieved through two separate online training programmes, and in total, up to 50 female and male early career researchers will be trained in each of the Western Balkans countries.

The programme will bring together women from academia and create a network that will serve as a source of support, information, inspiration and joint action in the pandemic and post-pandemic period. The platform will be run through a series of online talks and webinars with the aim to discuss challenges women in science and research have faced during the pandemic, asses possible negative impacts of the pandemic on gender equality, and debate gender-sensitive responses to COVID-19.

The programme will mobilize and inspire female and male undergraduate and postgraduate students to apply their knowledge and scientific evidence to real world problems. This will be done though the COVID-19 Resilience Challenge for Students – a completion that will provide them with an opportunity to design evidence-informed policy solutions to COVID-19 challenges, further develop their critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills, and with access to online training opportunities in the UK.

Further, the programme will bring youth voices to the forefront of action and policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, by undertaking the Youth-led COVID-19 Resilience Survey. This will be done using the “citizen science” approach, with the full and active involvement of youth in early stages of the research process, from questionnaire design, validating survey results, and presenting survey findings. The survey will represent strong evidence for youth activists to use when advocating to policymakers, NGOs leaders, and donors to put their concerns and needs, particularly of young females, in the centre of COVID-19 recovery efforts across the WB.

And lastly, the programme will aim to raise awareness among policymakers, donors, NGOs' of the importance of science and scientific evidence in their decision-making.