In this time of global pandemic, one thing that spreads as fast as the virus is fake news. And an essential vaccine to combat them? A well-researched information from credible and accurate sources.

As the world struggles with unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, youth demonstrate their ongoing leadership in their communities and nations. Young people are among the most impacted by the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic according to a recent UN strategy to tackle COVID-19. However, youth are also among the most involved in global responses; they are not only on the front lines as health workers, but they also advance health and safety through their positions as scholars, campaigners, innovators, and communicators.

Recently, SDSN Youth was included in the official UN Taskforce on COVID-19 response, with an institutional mandate to create solutions that respond to the current pandemic. UN SDSN Youth is the global youth division of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a non-governmental organization designed to inspire and engage young people to be part of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals movement.

UN SDSN Youth – Philippines is among the biggest youth non-government organizations (NGOs) in the country, with a network of 150 member youth organizations and 200,000 individuals in the country. Established in 2015, and institutionally autonomous through local resource mobilization and fundraising efforts, the organization has significantly impacted more than 17,000 youth leaders across the Philippines, through capacity building sessions, youth summits and project support.

Some their past projects include: the National Family Planning Conference, the only government-recognized youth-led conference on family planning, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through the Forum on Family Planning and Development; and, #GOALS: A Camp for Sustainable Development, a youth-development camp aimed at introducing the SDGs, funded by the European Union and Cooperacion EspaƱola. The Philippine team was recently appointed to spearhead the regional projects for Asia for SDSN Youth’s COVID-19 efforts.

Consolidation and organization of data has always been one of the key issues in producing efficient and accurate reports during a public health crisis. In the Philippines, details on current case status, standard procedures, research work, among others, all come from an enormous variety of sources, contributing to possible contradictory data. Furthermore, the information found in these sources is often presented in ways which are difficult to comprehend for the general public. The problem therefore lies not in the lack of high-quality information, but rather in its accessibility to the lay person, as well as the disaggregation and lack of refinement of that information. Compelling exposure to potential sources of misinformation, coupled with the inaccessible presentation of data on more reputable sources, further perpetuates the spread of inaccurate updates and “fake news,” resulting in misinformation leading to increased public panic and a lack of awareness.

On 25 April 2020, UN SDSN Youth – Philippines launched the Interactive Philippine Dashboard a one-stop shop for all relevant information on the COVID-19. This dashboard serves as a direct avenue for young Filipino to learn about COVID-19 on a unified platform, that further provides accurate information and interesting and well-presented data. The platform is maintained and developed by a team of volunteers and knowledge and IT experts headed by SDSN Youth’s Leadership Council Member, Julio Macrohon who is an IT professor in Mapua University. The information included on the platform was organized in compliance with detailed research, fact-checking and the COVID-19 response guidelines of the official UN Task Force.

SDSN Youth has ensured that all information presented in the dashboard is visually appealing and easily digestible for young people, including graphs and charts, short articles, and multimedia materials such as videos and graphics. The program enlists the help of over forty (40) youth volunteers to gather data (data gatherers), fact-check and process the data before posting (data churners), create the materials (data presenters), and use social media for stronger promotion and engagement. The organization has also developed a multi-level quality control program in which the collected data will be reviewed by the groups of volunteers and the Operations Department at various levels to ensure that any incorrect or biased information is evaluated before it is published on the website.

SDSN Youth seeks to expand and improve its platform through partnerships which would bring additional mobilization of resources and technical support. The organization has partnered with tech giant IBM, for the use of an artificial intelligence chat bot and data analytics tool to enhance its user interactive experience to be used for social media and the website – a tool which has been deployed for COVID-19 information-related initiatives around the world. IBM will also assist with technical support, website maintenance, security and data privacy efforts, among others. Philippine educational media powerhouse, Knowledge Channel Foundation, has partnered for online marketing activities and resource-sharing of youth-oriented academic materials related to COVID-19. SDSN Youth joined forces with governance NGO, Bantay Bayan, for accurate reporting on local and national government responses to COVID.

With this platform, UN SDSN Youth – Philippines aims to create a youth-led global model on COVID-19 for knowledge management and sharing of information. The aim of this project is that it would not only inspire the public to know more about COVID-19, but will also motivate them to take meaningful steps to curb the spread of this disease as well.

Even in this unprecedented time of necessary social distancing, young people are finding ways to address the challenge with enthusiasm, empathy, and creativity. Whether it’s leveraging new ways to learn and stay busy, contributing ideas for helping their communities, or sharing stories to bolster our spirits and encourage connectedness, young people are-as they so often do-stepping up to lead the way forward.

(Written by: Tricia Marie Ayala) The author is currently the Program Officer, Volunteerism for Development Communication and Advocacy Program, Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency.

(Visit PNVSCA website (www.pnvsca.gov.ph) and PNVSCA Facebook (facebook.com/PNVSCA) for other stories and information on volunteering in response to COVID-19).