From skills development to economic empowerment: lessons from Uganda

Empowering youth through skills development, entrepreneurship support, and access to finance.

Man watering plants

Uganda is home to the world’s youngest population, with over 78% of its citizens under the age of 30.

However, despite the country’s youthful demographic, young people in economically stagnant rural areas face limited employment and entrepreneurial opportunities with low remuneration and low-quality jobs. This leaves semiskilled and unskilled youth vulnerable to poverty, drug abuse, gambling, and other vices. The influx of refugees and asylum seekers from neighbouring countries has further exacerbated the situation in the West Nile sub-region.

To address this issue, SNV, World Vision, ZOA and RICE-West Nile have partnered in 2020 to change this narrative through the Security, Protection and Economic Empowerment (SUPREME) project. Funded by the European Union and in partnership with the public and private sector, the four year project aims to increase access to decent employment and economic opportunities for refugees and host communities in the four districts of Moyo, Obongi, Terego, and Madi Okollo in the West Nile sub-region. It directly benefits 25,000 members of refugee and host communities and indirectly benefits 112,500 individual household members.

Addressing youth unemployment

The SUPREME project has four thematic areas: Sustainable and Inclusive Markets, Social and Financial Inclusion, Sustainable Agriculture and Decent Youth Employment – a component led by SNV. The approach to addressing youth unemployment includes skills development, job matching via internships, technical skills development, access to finance, mentoring, coaching and leadership development. The project has a target of 50% of young women and men entering into dignified and decent employment, and it is currently on track, with 37% of youth already entering into employment opportunities.

SNV applies a market systems development approach to connect trained youth market opportunities. This enables young agri-preneurs to identify support structures, role models and enhance their technical and leadership skills.

A young man working on a carpentry machine

Adibaku now earns income as a carpenter after graduating from SNV's SUPREME youth skills programme following a training at Moyo Polytechnic.

A man sands a wooden chair

Ochan Ali also works as a carpenter in the Moyo district after graduating from the SNV SUPREME youth skills programme following a training.

One participant noted that the project’s internships, technical skills training, mentoring and coaching have had phenomenal multiplier effects leading to increased employment opportunities and new skills. ‘I had nothing to do before joining the SUPREME project. After joining the technical skills training in construction, I feel economically empowered. I am able to train others because one cannot work alone. I invite them to join me so they can also learn the skills from me and from other seasoned constructors,’ says ­Christopher Ayikobua, a 20-year-old builder in Terego.

Social and financial inclusion: supporting entrepreneurial participation

The SUPREME project incorporates a Private Sector Inclusive Business (IB) co-investment and Market Facilitation approach, under which agricultural and non-agricultural value chains are supported through co-investment financing and business development services in areas that ensure youth employment and entrepreneurial participation.

The project has supported 30 private sector businesses, 83 agro-input dealers, and 600 Savings and Development Cluster farmer groups in sunflower, soybean, and sesame value chains so far. This approach has led to increased on-farm and off-farm opportunities for young people with the message spreading across communities. ‘When the farmers practice on the demonstration farms and they see that it works, it is easy for them to show others how it works and the message spreads throughout the community and district and everyone starts using the new farming skills and techniques’, says a participant from the Omia Agribusiness development group.

A group photo of graduates

Graduates of the SNV SUPREME youth skills programme and trainers from the technical institutes pose for a group photo during the graduation ceremony held in June 2022 in Moyo District.

a graduate receives a certificate in a ceremony

A graduate receives a certificate from SNV Uganda and the Directorate of Industrial Training representatives during the graduation ceremony

Adaptive management approaches have also been implemented by the SUPREME project to deepen its reach at community level. Due to the impact of Covid-19, the project in 2022 innovatively applied a tailored community-based training approach to reach, increase and retain participation of young women and young mothers. The project is optimising on existing infrastructure and offering trainings at community level, as well as creating a supportive environment for women and mothers, including training on safeguarding and representation of women welfare champions at every training centre.

The SUPREME project in Uganda has made significant strides towards addressing youth unemployment and promoting economic opportunities in Uganda's West Nile sub-region. It has shown that bringing together NGOs, government agencies, private sector players, and communities is key to tackling issues of poverty and unemployment, especially in areas affected by displacement. With continued support and investment, the SUPREME project has the potential to transform the lives of even more young people in Uganda and beyond.