Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

An Ideathon Inspires Youth Civic Engagement in Panama

In 2016, the International Republican Institute launched its first-ever “Ideathon,” a program dedicated to empowering Panamanian youth to identify and address problems in their communities. Four years later, participant Radamés Martinez reflects on his experience with the Ideathon, and how it gave him a platform to be the change his community—and the country—needed. With programs like the Ideathon, young people are engaging in their country’s development and overcoming challenges that would otherwise contribute to social instability. By increasing youth engagement with local government, IRI is helping to create environments that support the success of young people and produce Panama’s next generation of democratic leaders. 

In 2016, I was a teenager not unlike others in Panama: somewhat distracted and a huge music fan. I spent my days at a friend’s house—borrowing his guitar and teaching myself to play. Yet that same year, my life changed when a fellow musician invited me to participate in an IRI pilot Ideathon initiative, which brought together young people from across Panama to develop ideas on improving citizen security in their communities. Though it kept me away from the guitar for a few days, the Ideathon re-directed my life and filled it with purpose.

Radames Martinez, Music Student and IRI Local Program Assistant in Panama, performs at the Hard Rock Café. Music has been a source of inspiration, community engagement and personal growth throughout his experience with IRI.

Together, my teammates and I developed a project called Pocket Parks that reclaimed neglected public spaces in Santa Ana and transformed them into stimulating and safe environments for young people. At-risk Panamanian youth often face problems such as underemployment, difficult family relationships and gang recruitment with little support. By creating opportunities for young people to reclaim their communities, Pocket Parks gave youth an outlet and a space to overcome these challenges.

After this experience, I committed myself to serving my community in whatever capacity possible. Fortunately, I only had to wait a year for IRI’s next Ideathon, which gave me another opportunity to address my community’s needs. To kick off the second Ideathon, IRI provided trainings in project management and leadership skills that equipped me with the necessary tools to compete for seed funding and implement community projects.  

Using the training we received, my group developed a project to decrease school dropout rates by providing workshops on music, self-awareness and leadership. This project was particularly special to me as it allowed me to combine my two greatest passions—music and community development. By training young people in music and leadership, I hoped to inspire them to overcome the security problems youth face by providing them with alternative skills that set them up for success. With more youth empowered with these skills, our project aimed to decrease the number of at-risk youth and contribute to a safer and more inclusive Panamanian society.

After lots of hard work, my team’s project, “Pocket Parks,” won the Ideathon competition and received seed funding to implement it.


During the implementation of our project, I quickly realized that my desire to help others had been only further strengthened and I wanted to do more. I wanted to continue improving the lives of people not only in my neighborhood, but throughout the country.

I was later selected for a four-month internship with IRI and offered a job in 2019. As a part-time Local Administrator, I work on projects that empower youth with leadership skills so they can apply lessons learned in their own community advocacy projects and projects that build the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to increase oversight of government processes and improve their ability to advocate for citizen needs. This lets me use what I learned about leadership and project management in the Ideathon to inspire other youth and important CSOs that do great work in their community.

I believe that at-risk youth have the potential to improve their lives through culture and art, and by connecting with other youth. Like me, young people around the world are eager to lead social innovation projects, take on citizen security issues and build strong, stable democracies.  It fills me with hope that through my work with IRI, I can help a younger generation build a better and more democratic future.

The IRI-Panama DC and field teams and I. Their support for my position as an IRI Program Assistant has helped my personal and professional growth immensely.