February 27, 2020 – There are plenty of younger activists fighting for positive change in Croatia. Meet Kaja Pavlinic, whose main target is corruption.
Sadly, we are witnesses of everyday corruption in our lovely Croatia. Maybe we aren’t even aware of where this disease spreads its roots. Politics, absolutely. Health care, check. Schools, unfortunately. And what are we doing when it comes to this? We all know about it, but we have to admit ourselves that we aren’t doing anything specific. But that isn’t the case with Kaja Pavlinić. She is a student of Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing (University of Zagreb), European Youth Ambassador, manager of successful projects, climate change awareness-raiser, Vice President of the Youth Council of Varaždin and of course, she works as a student.
If that blows you away, get prepared for more.
Kaja started her journey when she enrolled in IBDP (The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme) in high school. As she says, this program helped her in a way that she could focus on many things outside the school, especially volunteering, because Kaja had 6-7 courses she chose herself. Additionally, as the IBDP is a program in English, it helped her with getting more confident about the language. A big plus were her professors who encouraged students to get involved in projects, not only in Croatia but on an international level as well. Then Kaja found out about a scholarship from the American embassy (Benjamin Franklin), which was available to only two students in that time of Croatia. After a few selection rounds, Kaja became one of them. She left for Indiana to Purdue University and spent some quality time there learning about active citizenship, fostering youth participation, debating, as well as the education and political systems in Europe and the USA.
At this precise moment, a willingness to change Croatia was born. In the year 2016, she started an anti-corruption project called Integritas. Kaja held a lot of presentations in schools, raising awareness about academic honesty. Surprisingly, the reactions from students and teachers were pleasant. Students understood how bad it is to cheat, not only because it’s unfair, but also because they are aware of how useless that is for later in life. Through many campaigns, she was eager to know how much academic dishonesty was represented, why students cheat on exams, and why that is even rooted in our mindset. “I was never a snitch. Instead, I’m trying to get people to accept that cheating is not even an option.”
The problem lies in the whole education system, mostly in high schools. You have to have the highest grades because you have to enroll in college. And when you have seven lectures each day for which you have to be ready, it is hard to stay in an academic honesty zone. The same things happen when kids enroll in college that is an unfulfilled wish for their parents. “Of course, it isn’t always the students’ fault. Many professors could do better, and so do the whole education system. I think that professors should encourage students to develop internal qualities while leaving out irrelevant information.”
As time went by, Kaja strived for more. From the Integritas initiative, a big project was born. This February, she represented a project called Youth Voice for Integrity. This project gathered 17 young people wanting to know more about corruption, how to recognize it, and how to repress it. Their task was to design their ideas and strategies, which may be one day implemented. During four days of the project, young people were able to listen to Dražen Hoffman (GONG), Marko Matijević (Srednja.hr), Nina Begičević Ređep (a dean of FOI). Evaluators of the whole project were satisfied, and so was Kaja. “I think that all of the knowledge I gathered through the years somehow culminated in this project.”
Apart from the anti-corruption element, Kaja has various other interests. Her energy startup Tinja has been named the best Croatian energy startup in energy: it is a platform that promotes renewable energy sources and connects those who offer solar panel installation services to those who need them. For this, she won the Best Idea Award at the 2016 Open Data Youth Academy in Pula, presented Tinja at the 2016 Open Government Partnership Summit in Paris, and won the title at the 2017 Startup Europe Awards Croatia in Rijeka.
Kaja was also invited as a representative of Croatia at a Helsinki Climate conference. As Finland was chairing the European Council, it was the main goal to speak about climate change. Many experts gathered for the conference, as well as many young people. Everyone got a chance to speak about this topic and give their opinion. But, Croatia did fail one more time: Kaja had to prepare a presentation about priorities and had had a meeting with the Finnish Minister for the Environment. One would think that the Croatian ministry would help young representatives of their country and give her input on how things should get done. But, nothing from them.
One thing that surprised Kaja at the conference was that there were 15-year-old children who have been fighting against climate changes for a couple of years! Indeed, where were we in those years of our lives?
Kaja is also a president of Forum za održivi razvoj Zeleni prozor (Sustainable Development Forum Green Window). She is a member for three years now, and this story started when Kaja first got involved in European Green Activist Training (EGAT). This training gathers young people who are willing to know more about sustainable development, institutions of the EU, environment, etc. Through national training and travel to Brussels, they are learning about the various bodies of the EU and their function because Green European Foundation funds the whole project.
Kaja was honest about what she thinks about corruption: “It is my biggest frustration. When someone is corrupt, he steals the chance for someone else who is maybe more than brilliant. This whole thing is very backward for society, and if we continue to do this, we can only dream about becoming like other states which we admire so much.”
Everyone with a busy life says that organization is the key. But Kaja points out that it is normal to be lazy sometimes, it is okay if you want to watch Netflix or just lay down in your bed and do nothing. She found her outlet in finding a balance between private life and work. Her time with family and close friends is the most precious thing for her. “Of course, I love to do projects or improve them, but you need to set a limit to yourself. You can’t give yourself to other people or projects. You have to make time for yourself. Everyone puts much pressure on youth these days. We have to be successful, we have to be recognized, we have to… No! We don’t have to do everything. It is okay to fail, it is okay to take a pause. I feel like society doesn’t talk about it, but it definitely should. If the pressure becomes impossible to handle, we won’t get much from our life.”
Croatia has a great example of a young lady who continues to show how we should all act. Just imagine if more people start doing only 20% of the whole anti-corruption story. Now, will it stay on imagination, or is it finally time for Croatians to wake up?