Lessons from Kenya and Uganda: How Youth-Led Organizations Can Leverage Partnerships to Improve Self-Reliance
SafePlan Uganda and Kibera Community Empowerment Organisation (KCEO) have adopted many promising approaches as youth-led organizations that focus on robust relationship building with partners, youth networks, and involving influential community leaders. SafePlan Uganda and KCEO show that sustainable self-reliance is possible when communities work together. In fact, in episode two of the YWTP podcast series, Rhoda Ayieko from KCEO explained that partnerships are a key aspect of promoting local ownership and local buy-in.
Partnerships With Other Organizations
One way these organizations capitalize on relationship-building is through partnerships with other like-minded organizations. Elizabeth Mang’eni, cofounder of the You4She Initiative, teamed up with KCEO to empower women with disabilities. In the following video, Mang’eni, a woman with disabilities herself, advocates for this marginalized population through the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives in Kenya.
KCEO has also worked with partners through the USAID-supported Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) to provide mothers with disabilities with business mentors. Rhoda and Joshwa Tambo, co-founders of KCEO, are both associated with YALI. Joshwa has played an important role in mentoring program participants as they grow their businesses. A young woman named Christine has a cereal business, and she worked with Joshwa to learn the steps required to scale her business, from registering it at the federal level to diversifying her product inventory.
When speaking with staff from both KCEO and Safeplan Uganda, they most often cite a need for mentors and other young entrepreneurs. As a result, USAID is investing in building or expanding existing youth networks where peer-to-peer support can facilitate the development of youth leaders who are critical to their countries’ development. One example is the USAID-funded YouthPower program. Annet, CEO of Safeplan Uganda, attends YouthPower discussions and says “there’s a lot of sharing, there’s a lot of learning” referring to the webinars, programming, and other resources that this network provides. YouthLead.org is another online network designed by USAID to encourage youth peer-to-peer exchange more directly. More locally, Annet is also part of the Masindi Skills Platform Network made up of stakeholders who are promoting skills in young people. Safeplan Uganda is a part of that network’s steering committee, and Annet has been able to learn how to improve program design, how to be more creative, and how to develop activities that are specifically meant for youth.
Annet emphatically states in episode eight, “I believe in networking because you cannot walk alone. You cannot say that ‘now the network I have is enough.’ You need to [always be] expanding.”
Finding Influential Community Leaders
Often, leaders in a community are not just people with formal titles and qualifications. They are the people in the community who have a natural ability to influence those around them. While developing KShoes, a social enterprise that sells handmade shoes in bright colors made from 65% leftover waste and recycled material, Joshwa identified local women with leadership skills and gave them access to KCEO to show them that they can influence others' attitudes about women with disabilities. They saw the signs of their initial influence and began to “preach the gospel of inclusion and equality.” KCEO talks directly with people in the community and the media about the challenges that people with disabilities face. Beyond just providing community services, KCEO is committed to changing community attitudes toward people with disabilities and galvanizing support from local community leaders for long-term change.
SafePlan Uganda is also supported by both informal and governmental leaders. In episode eight, Sandy, a county official in Nyantonzi spoke with USAID about the issues specific to young women in the community. Sandy shared that the local county government has enacted laws that support and enforce girls’ education and young women developing businesses. These laws and policies face some challenges in being enforced, but it is programs like Safeplan Uganda that provide the infrastructure to support the goal of employment and education for Ugandan women.
Tapping into the General Community
The community approach is similar at Safeplan Uganda. Annet said that the organization was created for the community by the community with people who come together from different fields. She went on to say that the community helps the organization mobilize and spread awareness about their work. The community provides venues for training, and they provide resources like drinking water or food. Most importantly, “They help design our programs because, for them, they know what is suitable for them.”
KShoes is another good example. Joshwa said that Kibera, where KCEO is based, is full of local artistic talent. They have been able to harness that talent into making unique footwear, the profits of which make up an investment fund that disperses startup capital for new entrepreneurs.
Whether it is through mentorship between an experienced businessperson and a new entrepreneur, capitalizing on a community’s resources, or developing formal partnerships that are designed to meet mutual goals, building strong, local relationships at all different levels is key to the innovative, sustainable business model that both KCEO and Safeplan Uganda have developed.