Lessons Learned for Effective Youth-Led Programming
How Ugandan and Kenyan Youth Are Driving Their Own Success
Through the Young Women Transform Prize, USAID and its private sector partners, Standard Chartered Bank and Volvo, support youth in developing countries to develop their own solutions to advance the economic empowerment of young women in their communities.
The Kibera Community Empowerment Organization (KCEO) and Safeplan Uganda (Safeplan) are two recipients of the 2018 Young Women Transform Prize.
SafePlan Uganda is a thriving female, youth-led nonprofit organization teaching technical skills, as well as other life skills, to primarily young women in rural Uganda. The Kibera Community Empowerment Organization (KCEO) is also managed by female youth and serves women with disabilities. A small team funded by USAID visited these organizations to learn more about their work. It was clear that the organizations’ successes are driven by the young participants themselves who are instrumental in the program design, development, and execution. While some youth report struggling in leadership roles due to a perceived lack of experience, SafePlan Uganda and KCEO are showing that programs led by youth are successful not in spite of their leadership, but because of it. Both organizations use Positive Youth Development (PYD) in their work with youth. PYD is an age- and developmentally-appropriate, prosocial approach to youth development. A PYD approach promotes building assets of young people and communities and strengthens protective factors to achieve greater resilience and both short- and long-term desired youth outcomes.
In a setting where career and life choices may seem limited, Safeplan gives Ugandan youth the ability to gain skills in a variety of areas that contribute to overall well-being. While training young women as beekeepers is a flagship initiative, Safeplan also offers training in carpentry, tailoring, personal finance, marketing, communications, and other areas. This holistic approach to skills development helps women gain income and attain some level of independence within their communities. As part of a podcast that documented the learning trip, Heather Risley, the Knowledge Management and Learning Advisor in USAID’s Office of Education, remarked that “there's real value in offering choice to youth…[it] is a real strength of the program.” Safeplan Uganda gives youth beneficiaries voice and agency in program design. Annet Birungi, the Director of Safeplan, pointed out that by engaging young women and men in program design, the sense of ownership creates a feeling of belonging. The youth decide on the program design, which activities to participate in (such as carpentry or beekeeping), and what products they produce.
AT KCEO, young mothers with disabilities living in a large urban slum in Nairobi, Kenya have the opportunity to present their business ideas, and if selected, obtain capacity building support and financial capital to develop their businesses. Rhoda Ayieko, one of the co-founders, explains that decisions on how the programs are run are made through a “bottom up” approach that includes feedback and insight from the beneficiaries of the program. While decisions are more time-consuming with this method, allowing beneficiaries to work with the organization’s board to guide key decisions about training activities is key. “Without our beneficiaries, there is nothing for us to do” Rhoda shared.
Hear more from Rhoda on the Young Women Transform podcastListen Now
While the goal of Safeplan Uganda is for participants to develop technical and soft skills that will serve them for a lifetime, Safeplan staff noted that “quick wins” are also important to keep youth engaged in their activities. For example, the carpentry students develop products that only take a few weeks to make, bring to market, and sell. Risley explains that this is part of Safeplan’s approach to “keep youth engaged by giving them quick wins that put a little bit of money in their pocket… and getting them excited and wanting to continue. If you can show youth the payoff more quickly through the activities that you design, it seems like they're more likely to stick with the program, be more engaged, see that the programming is worth it to them.”
When Rose, a Program Manager with KCEO, joined the organization, she did not know how to use a computer mouse. Joshua, a co-founder and mentor at KCEO, provided one-on-one digital literacy training, and within six months, Rose gained the skills to be a trainer in the digital literacy program herself. Now, Rose is a leader and has deepened her ability to work with the disabled population to pass on these skills. Her rapid success gave her confidence and encouraged her to stay with the organization long-term, which has created ripple effects for participants in the program.
Peer-to-Peer Learning and Mentorship
Mentorship is a key component of positive youth development and sustaining engagement throughout the program. Safeplan’s youth beneficiaries influence program design and also recruit their peers to participate and work alongside them. Two Safeplan participants, Simon and Peter, work together in the program. Simon is a Senior Youth Ambassador for Safeplan and a dropout-turned-carpenter who can relate to other youth who may be experiencing adversity or looking for a way to earn income. After learning about Safeplan’s beekeeping project, he “started to see hope” and is now a community advocate. He eventually sought out Peter, and using the expertise he had gained, he mentored and helped train Peter. Together, they have been able to earn income as beekeepers and have big plans for the future working together. Lindsey Woolf, manager of the Young Women Transform Prize through YouthPower, explains that peer-to-peer learning “provides an empowering experience whereby they can not only improve their incomes, but also strengthens their relationships and become leaders within their communities.”
In addition to the practical value of peer-to-peer learning, mentorship is a tool in youth-led programs that inspires youth to share their personal stories, experiences, and creates a sense of community and friendship (which is integral to the program’s continued success). Safeplan Director Birungi admitted that sometimes the youth may not feel comfortable opening up to her, but when they talk to fellow youth participants they “see the light,” their self-esteem is improved, and they believe that they too can do well.
At KCEO, Rhoda said that her circle of friends, who she refers to as a “network of young changemakers,” inspires her to strive for more. She learns from these friends, leans on them when she faces challenges, and has frequent conversations with them about how to create impact.
Youth-led workforce programs work best when youth are truly at the forefront. It better ensures youth receive what they really need and provides positive role models in the community for productive pathways that might not have been visible before. By providing choice in programming, setting up short-term wins, and supporting youth through mentorship, Safeplan Uganda and KCEO provide strong examples for how to manage youth-led programs.