Young, African, Employed – How A Ugandan Startup Aims to Mobilize the Continent’s Youth
Editor’s note: This post is part of NextBillion’s series, “Startup Showcase” — one of several topic areas we’ve covered through special series this year. Click here for more details on our 2018 series.
The Ugandan population is growing, and more than 78 percent of its citizens are young people below the age of 30. These young people have limited access to practical business opportunities, affordable training and a platform where they can share and get support for the challenges they face in generating a livelihood. The unemployment rate among Uganda’s youth was estimated at over 18 percent in 2015, with nearly 70 percent of employed young people working in vulnerable situations like self-employment, unpaid family work and jobs without a written contract.
Our programs also seek to dispel the negative stereotypes of young people by giving them a platform to express themselves and discuss the issues affecting their day-to-day lives – especially depression. Hire the Youth was founded by young people, and is developed and managed by young people, because its foundation is built on inspiring the youth to be independent and happy, and to flourish and work out who they are, irrespective of their background.
Our Mission – And How We Sustain It
Our work aims to ensure that every young person can access accurate information to support them in making crucial decisions regarding their lives, skills and development, and to help them have a chance at free and fair employment and education.
To achieve these goals, Hire the Youth focuses on nourishing the ecosystem for youth participation and representation. But in pursuing this mission, we’ve had to answer a tough question: How can you change the world and also make money? I asked myself this question for months before starting Hire the Youth, but thanks to research and support from family, I discovered a solution.
At Hire the Youth, we get support for our work through different sources, which include grants and donations from international and local bodies, and payment for mass media campaigns we conduct in collaboration with different partners, to help their programs reach young audiences. We started off as a nonprofit, but we have implemented a for-profit business model that involves charging government entities for the services we provide for free to program participants. Through our community-oriented projects and collaboration with the public sector, we are able to sustain and expand our work.
Our Challenges and How We Overcome Them
We are currently in our pilot stage, and we have undergone a number of challenges spanning from lack of capital and poor planning, to under-budgeting and limited research about certain areas. These issues are interrelated: For instance, we underestimated the budget and number of focus groups required for our projects, which limited the number of services we could provide. And due to this under-budgeting, we haven’t been able to afford to send people to some regions to carry out research to better understand the communities we’re aiming to serve.
Initially, we started Hire the Youth using private equity from board members – and this was enough to kick-start the basics, like designing the online platform, registering the business with the government, and renting office space. But as we began to depend more on grant money from donors, we started having different problems. For instance, due to shifting expectations from different donors who expected their funded programs to start on conflicting dates, we began to have trouble maintaining the timeline we’d established for the activities and campaigns we were planning. This led to the cancellation of some activities, and delays in funding, as donor requirements became a hardship. Moreover, some potential donors required grant recipients to have existed for over four years in order to qualify for funding. This was a major hardship for a one year-old initiative in its pilot stage. And if that wasn’t enough, employees started to pull out.
With all of this happening concurrently, we went back to the drawing board and reshuffled our timeline to fit our available income, put a few projects on hold and focused on one donor at a time to suit our resources. Eventually we achieved stability, and we now have more funding and partnerships in the pipeline.
Currently, Hire the Youth’s online portal is attracting significant traffic, with young people from all over the continent interacting and participating in shared opportunities. We get a lot of positive testimonials from successful candidates, satisfied users and youth who have benefited from our support. Beyond that, the number of partnership and invitation requests we’ve received from international and local bodies has drastically increased over time.
Hire the Youth is expanding coverage, and is set to establish offices in more African countries starting with East Africa, then continuing to the South and West African regions. These locations will help us better understand the different regions, and how the young people there can be helped through education and employment according to the conditions and resources available. To keep this effort moving forward, we’re planning a continent-wide conference on how government bodies can better provide more practical employment and education options for young people, which is nearing implementation.
We’re also boosting our focus on an important, under-recognized issue related to unemployment: The insecurity of a precarious livelihood can take an emotional toll, which is why it has become increasingly important to understand depression – what it is, who it affects and where you can find help. That’s why we started our Uplift Peer project – to give youth an understanding of what depression is, while teaching them ways they can be supportive of others in their lives who are suffering from it.
We are also planning on holding regular campaigns in rural and urban areas to boost youth employment, empowerment and entrepreneurship in more districts in the country. We believe that this work, combined with our ongoing expansion efforts, can make a major difference to young people in Uganda and across the continent.
Image courtesy of Arne Hoel / World Bank.