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Karen Moore November 19 2015

Youth reflect on Learning, Earning and Saving

Swisscontact Uganda U-LEARN youth from Wakiso district, near Kampala performing a skit. In it, participants from early cohorts encourage their friends and neighbours to ‘cross the river’, using the stepping stones of life skills, entrepreneurship skills, learning a trade, and learning to save.

Learn, Earn and Save is a MasterCard Foundation Youth Livelihoods initiative comprised of three projects across three countries: CAP Youth Empowerment Institute’s work in Kenya; Fundaçion Paraguaya’s ‘Learning by Doing, Earning and Saving’ in Tanzania; and Swisscontact’s U-LEARN work in the Great Lakes region of Tanzania and Uganda.

Projects in this initiative provide young people with technical and life skills (learn), access to jobs and opportunities to start small businesses (earn) and access to financial education and savings groups (save) – with strong and sustainable effects on their livelihoods.

Recently, during the final Learn, Earn and Save annual workshop in Entebbe Uganda, we learned more about each other’s programs, and shared and discussed findings and lessons from the University of Minnesota’s analysis of their annual data collection. We critically reflected on what the findings mean for program implementation and sustainability, with a particular focus on the impact of the programs on youth livelihoods.

This year, as part of The MasterCard Foundation’s commitment to putting youth at the centre of all our programming and elevating their voices in a meaningful way, our partners facilitated youth participation in the event. We benefitted enormously from the enthusiastic participation of twelve young women and men, former and current participants representing CAP Youth Empowerment Institute, Fundaçion Paraguaya and Swisscontact programs. They took time out of their very busy and complex lives – as electricians, farmers, carpenters, music promotions staff, masons, tailors and secondary school students running small businesses on the side – traveling from different parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – to join us in Entebbe.

The program started with insightful presentations from the panel of youth about the opportunities and challenges they come across  during their journeys to employment  We heard about the value of life skills from confident youth with exceptionally strong communication skills. We learned about the value of learning and practicing a trade, and of being introduced to multiple ways to save. And we heard from several participants how pleased they are to be able to train and mentor other youth.A young men calls himself a ‘head teacher’, as he has trained a number of youth who have passed on that training to others. One young woman told us that every time she advises or mentors a colleague, it is proof of just how much she has changed.

But youth also continue to face obstacles. While they are proud to be able to support their families, they face challenges balancing family demands with the needs of their small businesses and their own educational goals. Then there are the challenges in the labour market and local economy. We were told about high taxes and high interest rates on loans, lack of access to more profitable markets, exploitative bosses, and sexual harassment by customers. We discussed how the Learn, Earn and Save initiative can further build their skills and resilience to confront these challenges.

In addition to our core youth participants, a group of around 20 youth wrote and performed two songs and an excellent skit, developed to demonstrate their journey through the Swisscontact Uganda U-LEARN program: from despairing, to energetic, skillful and ready to make contributions to their families and countries.

One young woman explained her participation in U-LEARN this way:  the entry-level technical and life skills training that U-LEARN facilitates is like the ‘first fire’ under a cooking pot. The meal will never be completely ready without additional heat, cooking and flavouring, but the ‘first fire’ is necessary to get the process started. Youth recognize that project support is just the first step on their livelihoods journey – but many of them now have the knowledge, skills, self-confidence, passion and networks to take the next steps themselves.  As a young man representing Fundaçion Paraguaya told us “If you think small, you’ll get small – if you think big, you’ll get big.”

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