The joint ILO and UNICEF program will impart life skills and improve employability of youth recovering from the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. In Nakivale refugee settlement in south-west Uganda, the air of excitement among local youth blew like a fresh breeze. After two long and difficult years of COVID-19, they were attending the launch of “UPSHIFT”, a social innovation and entrepreneurship program of the ILO and UNICEF being implemented by local partner “Unleashed”.
Since 2014, UPSHIFT has benefited more than 2.2 million adolescents and young people across 42 countries. The program combines workshops, mentorship and a seed-funding model to equip adolescents and youth with the skills and resources to identify problems in their communities and opportunities to build solutions addressing them. The human-centered design of this innovative program imbues it with high adaptability. For Uganda, UPSHIFT is supplemented with the ILO Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) packages offering young people a chance to turn their innovative solutions into businesses.
To grace the launch occasion on 3 February 2022, Ms Liesje Schreinemacher, the newly appointed Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Government of Netherlands, had traveled all the way to Nakivale refugee settlement in Isingiro district. She spent time closely interacting with the young attendees and learned more about their ideas and aspirations. “Meaningful participation of youth is one of the priorities for the Netherlands development cooperation. It is important that the skills of young people meet the demands of the labor market. The UPSHIFT program is an important contribution to this, not only skilling, but also empowering young people to thrive in their communities,” said the Minister
The Refugee Desk in Uganda’s Prime Minister’s Office had identified 15,000 out-of-school adolescents and youth in Nakivale before the COVID-19 pandemic. “During the pandemic the number has further increased. There could not have been a more apt time to launch UPSHIFT in Nakivale to support the youth and adolescents aged between 15 to 24 years of age,” said Ms Poly Abbe, an official with the Refugee Desk. The life skills aspect of the program is led by UNICEF, which focuses on development of problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, social innovation and leadership skills. Anchored in experiential learning and social entrepreneurship, the ILO leads the employability development outcomes for participants. Mr Stephen Opio, ILO Chief Technical Advisor, PROSPECTS-Uganda, explained: “The UPSHIFT social innovation program complemented by the ILO’s entrepreneurship training packages will fill the gap in the current system by offering alternative learning and skilling pathways. For the most vulnerable adolescents and youth on the move, such flexible options are crucial to improve their employability.”
The ILO has introduced entrepreneurship training packages, including Generate Your Business Idea (GYB), Start Your Business (SYB), Improve Your Business (IYB) and Expand Your Business (EYB). These aim to create jobs by enabling potential and existing small entrepreneurs to start viable businesses, increase profitability of their existing enterprises and improve the working conditions of their employees in a way that enhances productivity. At the end of first four-day UPSHIFT bootcamp, young participants were already demonstrating application of these freshly learned skills. “Who wants to play? Who wants to learn while having fun?” Dorcus Mukeba, a young Congolese refugee called out for participants as she displayed a newly developed card game “Her Pride”, informing people about menstrual hygiene and education.
The interactive game brought the Minister and other members of her delegation to their feet, encouraging them to answer questions about menstruation, distinguishing facts from myths. Expressing appreciation, UNICEF Representative, Dr Munir Safieldin, said: “The UPSHIFT initiative is a valuable product of a unique partnership between UNICEF and the ILO. It is helping youth in under-served societies to develop entrepreneurial solutions for the social and market problems of their communities.”
Implementation of UPSHIFT is made possible through the PROSPECTS Partnership supported by the Kingdom of Netherlands. This global partnership aims to improve the access of host communities and forcibly displaced people to education, social protection and decent work.In Nakivale, with support from the local partner Unleashed, the partnership aims to build alternative skills pathways for the most marginalized adolescents and youth, particularly girls, within the education system and beyond. One of the participants, Blanchard Sibanza expressed appreciation for the UPSHIFT initiative, saying: “The training is participatory and introspective in nature. It is helpful for us to reinstate trust in our own abilities. We are learning to work towards our goals individually as well as in groups. We will encourage more youth to participate in the UPSHIFT program in future.” Nakivale is just a beginning. This transformative power of UPSHIFT will be scaled up in 15 districts of Uganda, with the aim of reaching thousands of marginalized adolescents and youth.
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