Meet a Youth Officer: Željko Zombra Proves That Personal Development and Community Engagement Are Worth It

Youth officers provide crucial support and assistance to youth organizations and young individuals, helping them navigate daily challenges and empowering them to contribute to community development. The Institute for Youth Development KULT is dedicated to enhancing the role and promoting the empowerment of youth officers, so we can work together to improve the social standing of youth and give them more opportunities.

Željko Zombra is a certified youth officer and has been working as an Expert Advisor for Youth Affairs and Sports in the Lukavac City Administration since 2020. He was born in Tuzla, went to primary and secondary school in Lukavac, and got his master’s and doctorate at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sports of the University of Tuzla. In 2018, he earned the academic title of “Doctor of Social Sciences in Physical Education and Sports,” and in 2022, he successfully defended his specialist thesis in nutrition at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies “Zdravko Grebo” at the University of Sarajevo, obtaining the title of “Academic Specialist in Nutrition.”

In 2010, he founded the ORKKA Lukavac Martial Sports Club, where he works as the head coach. He is the former selector of the men’s junior karate national team of Bosnia and Herzegovina and founded the HPD Kinesiology Institute in 2018. He worked as a physical education and sports teacher, professional karate trainer, and fitness trainer.

“Education is something that never ends. As much as it sounds like a platitude, having a degree doesn’t mean you’re knowledgeable, but not having one almost certainly means you’re not. That’s why I take my professional development very seriously, and among other things, I owe it to my parents. I kept working on myself and improving academically, which ultimately resulted in the achievements I mentioned”, states Željko.

Željko believes that the results of your work demonstrate the knowledge behind it: “When the competencies on paper align with those you show in practice, it is excellent proof that you are on the right track. Since your work achievements are generally very measurable, it is best for people to judge based on those results”.

In 2022, Željko completed the youth officer training conducted by the Institute for Youth Development KULT: “The Institute’s youth worker training was such a boost for my professional development. The professionalism and excellence of the KULT team during the training are truly impressive, and I greatly appreciate that. While the training was intensive and demanding, it delivered the knowledge and skills we need in the youth work sector.

Željko applied the knowledge and skills he gained during the training, and as a result, the City of Lukavac is now standing shoulder to shoulder with larger communities that have introduced all the measures prescribed by the FBiH Law on Youth. He says that the process was far from easy.

Željko dedicates his efforts to creating as many opportunities as possible for young people to address challenges hindering their development. When asked about his role as a youth officer in local government, he says: “Being a youth officer is a great honor and pleasure for me on the one hand, but also a great burden on the other. We are witnessing high youth emigration rates in the region, including the city of Lukavac. Young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina face greater challenges in achieving their goals and success compared to those in Western countries. Through my work, I try to make this easier for them, through the institutional support of the City, which means providing opportunities. Institutional support doesn’t mean that someone else can study, train, and work for them – its goal is to create opportunities for young people to develop, to realize their potential, and to strengthen their competencies across different areas”.

In his role as a youth officer, he believes he showed determination by taking on big challenges such as developing the youth strategy, sports strategy, and implementing key regulations in education. He demonstrated that he takes responsibility for his work, noting that those who fear making mistakes may opt to “play it safe” and avoid change.

Upon assuming the role of youth officer, he started the process of meeting the minimum requirements for working with youth, as prescribed by the FBiH Law on Youth. One of these legal obligations includes developing a youth strategy.

“After an analysis, we decided that Lukavac, which was a municipality at the time, should start developing this document. We decided this would be best handled by an internal team comprising our own staff. I was the leader of this team, which included representatives of all components of the institutional framework of the youth sector, including other representatives of the Department for Social Affairs, Youth and Sports, the Commission for Culture, Sports and Youth of the City of Lukavac, representatives of the Lukavac Youth Council and other youth associations entered in the Register of Youth Associations of the City of Lukavac. In addition to our team, the development of the strategy was supported by a significant number of partners, representatives from public institutions in Lukavac, and other distinguished experts from various fields,” says Željko.

The City of Lukavac conducted a survey on the position and needs of young people as one of the prerequisites for developing a data-informed strategy, which is also a requirement stipulated in the FBiH Law on Youth. The survey was conducted in February 2023 and included the following areas: education, employment, entrepreneurship, social care, health care, security, culture, sports, youth activism, information and leisure. While drafting the document, which took almost 3 years, the city already started implementing some of the measures they were planning to include in the strategy. This way, the youth sector did not have to wait for the document to be officially adopted before they get institutional support.

Nowadays, Lukavac offers extensive support for young people. This includes two public calls for project proposals and youth incentives, support for the local youth council, numerous scholarships for students at all levels of education, successful athletes, students with disabilities, students studying for shortage occupations, and awards for top-performing students. The City has also supported doctoral thesis defenses, funded textbooks and school supplies, offered scholarships for Roma students, transportation subsidies for socially disadvantaged students, and interest subsidies for youth housing. As emigration is one of the key issues in this community, Lukavac encourages higher birth rates by offering lump-sum payments for each newborn child and providing support for in vitro fertilization. They also support the work of sports clubs, civil society organizations, youth mobility and the work of IMPAKT – an incubator of business ideas for young people.

In addition to being a great youth worker, he is also an athlete and has achieved some impressive results. He is motivated, he says, by the desire to surpass his own achievements, not anyone else’s.

“I never stopped trying to grow and improve in every way that I could, regardless of the circumstances. Quite simply, I realized that I am addicted to making progress and I have always had this need to be good at what I do. It involves learning, training, improving, and then you eventually become good at it. I continuously strive to improve myself and to become better in everything I do, and I guess I’m driven by intrinsic motivation. I’m just like everyone else, I have potential, some I was born with, some I’ve created myself. I’ve tried to use all of it throughout my life and education, and this is what informs the decisions I make about my life,” says Željko.

Željko believes that important messages should be conveyed through actions and one’s own example rather than words, and he shared his own plans for the future: “When it comes to youth work, it’s all about improving the youth work sector in every way we can.” It is a slow and difficult process, but giving up will definitely not speed it up. I don’t know if I can solve every problem young people are facing, but with all my being and all my capacities, I will always be looking for ways to make progress and improve things.”

At the end of our conversation, Željko offered some advice to young people: “I would tell young people to equip themselves with skills in every possible area, to study, work, train… and to stand up for themselves and take matters into their own hands as soon as possible because the time will soon come when your life is 100% your responsibility.

There’s people like us who will help them turn every ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can’ before it’s too late.”

The Institute for Youth Development KULT designs and delivers youth officer trainings and certified courses for expert youth work associates employed in city, municipal and cantonal administrations. The training program consists of basic and advanced training. The basic training program qualifies participants to fulfill the duties of an expert on youth issues in public administration. Participants are expected to meet the criteria from the Rulebook on training procedures and certification of youth officers of the FBiH Ministry of Culture and Sports. Advanced training is available to individuals who have completed the basic training program and received a certificate. The advanced training builds on their skills and provides further professional development. The basic youth officer training program consists of multiple modules and lasts a total of 120 hours.




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