Atlas Corps celebrates its 15th anniversary! It is time to celebrate the achievements of our amazing network of over 1,100 leaders from 110 countries and share stories on the global impact of our Alumni, Fellows, and Scholars.
Join us as we speak with Atlas Corps Scholar Maria (Cohort 4, Russia) from our special cohort of the Atlas Corps: Russian & American Women’s Virtual Leadership Initiative. Maria is the Programme Associate at the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE), where she promotes youth autonomy in Eastern Europe and Central Asia through health education and awareness projects and creating digital safe spaces.
Thank you, Maria, for your inspiring work towards empowering the youth and creating a safe space for them to take control of their health. We wish you the best in your current work and can’t wait to see what more you have in store for the future!
Name: Maria Medvedchikova
Home Country: Russia
Current Organization: UNESCO IITE, Unit of ICT in Health Education
Role at current organization: Programme Associate
Social Issues that you have worked with: Good health and well-being, Quality education, and Gender equality
Tell us about projects you have worked on?
I have over three years of experience in coordinating health education and awareness projects on HIV, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and stigma prevention in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA). As the Programme Associate at the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education, I am currently focusing on integrating persuasive health communication into social media and gaming formats. Since 2018, my team has also been involved in project planning, addressing implementation challenges, carrying out research activities, and developing health education advocacy strategies.
In 2020, I launched a neuronet-powered chatbot, an innovative product for the Russian speaking web space, that provides expert consultations on physiology and psychology of puberty, sexual and reproductive health and safer behaviours for young people. The chatbot has reached about 450k messages since its launch, which shows a stable growth in the number of provided consultations.
I hope to use this as a model product for other EECA countries, while also collaborating with local partners and creating versions for the local languages in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. I chose this as my leadership project for the Virtual Leadership Institute and by the end of the program the Kazakhstan chatbot was ready to go. It was officially launched in early December 2021, and involved over 100 young people as volunteers and has since then provided over 25k consultations in both Kazakh and Russian languages. The Kyrgyzstan version is scheduled for release in early February 2022.
Why is it important for you to work with promoting youth health literacy?
I put my efforts towards educational projects that promote health literacy, youth empowerment, and countering gender-based violence because I believe that these projects will contribute to peace and development on a fundamental level. When young people are able to take care of their physical and mental health, build respectful relationships, and evaluate risks, they become more responsible in their current and future choices, which then can reduce hate and violence while also promoting tolerance and critical thinking. Therefore, the introduction of these comprehensive education projects on sexuality can positively influence other development processes and help create the right environment for more peaceful and constructive behaviours.
How has Atlas Corps contributed to your professional and personal accomplishments?
Given that I was leading two international and highly diverse teams during the Atlas Corps Virtual Leadership Institute, this program was both timely and extremely helpful in navigating me through the various aspects of teamwork. The exercises taught me to slow down and reflect on my strengths and weaknesses as both a professional and a person. These reflections were effectively converted into tangible results, such as increased productivity and confidence. I am also immensely grateful for the networking opportunities and the coaching. Those feelings of community and support were very important to me because it allowed me to gain valuable and professional insights and also avoid burnout during challenging moments. Since this program, my world has widened and I am now a more resourceful, motivated, and resilient person.
What is your favorite Atlas Corps memory?
One of my favorite parts of this program was our coaching calls. It was great to learn more about each other and our projects along the way. Even though some of us had to get up at 6 to 7 a.m., we did our best to support each other. When we discussed the perks and challenges of our projects, it felt very honest and real because we managed to always stay positive and finish our conversations on a high note.
What advice do you have for applicants and current Scholars?
Be proactive! Get to know as many people as possible by having conversations and adding each other on Linkedin. The lectures and exercises are great and useful but the real treasure of the program are the people!
What message would you like to send to individuals who support Atlas Corps?
I would like to thank everybody contributing to the work of Atlas Corps. You create empowering, yet accessible opportunities for talented and motivated people all over the world.
Enhance your skills, knowledge, and network! Apply to the Atlas Corps Russian & American Virtual Leadership Initiative. We are seeking emerging leaders from Russia and the United States (ages 40 or younger) for our virtual professional development programs in 2022. The priority deadline is February 15 to be considered for opportunities in 2022. Visit russia.atlascorps.org.
Photos from Maria’s personal archive