This spring Western Balkans Fund (WBF) supported our quest to empower the youth in bioinformatics. We started the “Bioinforming the youth” initiative, co-funded by the European Union and the WBF. This initiative emerged as an innovative way to promote bioinformatics through involving civil society and grassroots organizations. We aimed to start a collaboration to advance education, culture, and sustainable development, with a particular focus on bioinformatics promotion and free-of-charge training opportunities for young students. Our project witnessed the organization of two informative training schools and an engaging online bioinformatics hackathon.
The Western Balkans Fund’s Vision
In collaboration with the Western Balkans Fund, our non-profit organization based in Herceg Novi, Montenegro, set out on a mission to nurture and empower the youth in bioinformatics. The Regional Grant Scheme aims to open doors for civil society organizations to participate in regional coordination projects that address cross-cutting issues, including education, sustainability, and culture. This setting allowed us to coordinate a consortium consisting of EduSmart (Serbia), The Higher Education Technical School of Professional Studies in Novi Sad (Serbia) and Mother Teresa University in Skopje (North Macedonia).
Training schools: a gateway to introducing bioinformatics
In Novi Sad and Skopje, we organized two successful training schools, introducing 25 and 13 talented undergraduates to the world of bioinformatics, respectively. Through hands-on workshops and expert guidance, students explored fundamental topics like Python programming, sequence analysis, omics, and structural bioinformatics.
Diversity and inclusivity were at the core of our approach. By providing free training, lunch, computer access and participation opportunities, we ensured that students facing financial constraints had equal access to this enriching experience.
Our project’s highlight was the biohackathon, an online platform that brought together aspiring bioinformaticians from the Western Balkans. Focused on harnessing the potential of machine learning (ML) models to predict plant resistance genes, this hackathon showcased the practical applications of bioinformatics.
The participation of students from the training schools exemplified the spirit of regional cooperation and knowledge exchange. Collaborating in cross-cultural teams, participants leveraged their newfound knowledge and skills to tackle bioinformatics challenges together.
Strengthening cooperation and envisioning the future
By uniting young talents from various Balkan countries, our initiatives nurtured personal connections and promoted interaction that transcended geographical barriers. Our open-source approach ensures that other organizations and institutions can replicate our training school model and curriculum, further enhancing bioinformatics and science education across the region.
We take pride in knowing that our project is part of a broader endeavor supported by the European Union and the Western Balkans Fund. The vision to increase the overall budget and the number of supported projects in the future reaffirms EU commitment to shaping a brighter tomorrow for the region and we are excited to apply for novel funding opportunities.
The Western Balkans Fund’s collaborative spirit and visionary grant scheme have paved the way for empowering youth in bioinformatics. Our project, “Bioinforming the youth,” prized the potential of young minds, fostering cross-border partnerships and fueling innovation in bioinformatics. As we journey towards a future of regional cooperation and sustainable development, we invite everyone interested in taking part in this transformative movement. We will continue to empower the youth and ignite the flames of progress in bioinformatics across the Western Balkans and beyond.