Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Creating opportunity for youths in Sierra Leone's slums

A new program in Sierra Leone is creating opportunity for youths who live in slums.

YES or Youth Employment Secretariat has been formed by the countries government with support from the United Nations. The program develops jobs and businesses for the youth who live in the slums of Freetown.

The jobs range from tie-dying to soap-making. The youths can then spin off from the program to create their own money making businesses or non-profits.

The story from IRIN, gives us a clean water non-profit as an example.

Home to 13,000 people, Kroo bay slum in central Freetown had just two running water taps before Sidiki Mansark formed the “West Sie Boys” youth cooperative and set up public showers for slum residents.

“We saw the people lacking, and we decided to do something about it,” Mansark told IRIN. “Now everyone comes to us when they want a shower. We are not rich yet, but water is life and we want to bring it to the people.”

Youth unemployment programmes must move beyond post-conflict skills-training, such as tie-dying, tailoring and soap-making, to identify market opportunities in emerging industries in order to lower the 1.2 million-strong youth unemployment statistics, say youth employment experts in Sierra Leone.

“We need electricians, mobile phone repairers, air conditioning cleaners -- and this requires us to research emerging markets, to attract private sector investment and get more support for apprenticeship schemes,” said Helga Gibbons, International Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor at the government’s newly formed Youth Employment Secretariat (YES).

With 60 percent of the country’s youth population unemployed and many fearful that unemployment compounded by chronic poverty could derail fragile stability, donors and partners are looking for new solutions.

Shifting mentalities

Set up in 2008, YES, supported by the UN Development Programme, has established a fund of US$700,000 to distribute grants and micro-finance loans to youth groups that present viable applications for business start-ups, public works projects or agricultural initiatives.

Hundreds of youth groups who have applied for funding are awaiting approval, among them the Water Sie Boys who requested US$9,000 to open a new community shower.

Gibbons said youths need better business-management training to use this money profitably. “Many youth groups still see themselves as non-profits rather than money-making enterprises…this mentality has to shift,” she told IRIN. Ultimately all business plans will be dependent both on their own merits and on the vagaries of the wider economy, she said.

YES’s partner, the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC), is trying to match urban youths with existing businesses, such as pharmacies, and asking them to open a new branch. Youth development coordinator Annalisa Busati told IRIN that this way, “they [youths] get the backing of the firm’s name, branding and supply chain, and they can avoid common business start-up mistakes.”

No comments: