Igniting Dreams and Creating Futures: Celebrating the Impact of the Social Equity Program

Odyek Haron dropped out of school at age 16 because his parents could not afford his school fees. In Uganda, where Odyek lives, an estimated 4.3 million young people, 41% of youth ages 18–29, are classified as NEET—not in education, employment, or vocational training. Seeking work to support himself and his family, Odyek began to learn brickmaking from a friend, a relationship that led him to an entrepreneurship bootcamp from the JA Africa and the Z Zurich Foundation (ZZF).

The bootcamp was part of the JA-ZZF Social Equity Program (SEP), an initiative that seeks to reverse the NEET phenomenon by teaching young Africans skills to achieve financial independence and equal economic participation. In its pilot year, SEP served more than 10,000 beneficiaries in Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, and South Africa, delivering seminars and workshops both in person and through JA Africa’s Digital Entrepreneurship Education Program (JA DEEP).

Through SEP, Odyek and his teammates formed a company called Bed Mot. The bootcamps challenged participants to come up with solutions to the biggest problems in their communities, and Odyek and his team members turned their focus to plastic waste and litter. They wondered whether there was a way to turn plastic waste into something useful. When Odyek took his knowledge of brickmaking and proposed making plastic interlocking bricks, they had a brilliant idea. Then, by collecting and melting down plastic waste and pouring it into molds, Bed Mot started creating bricks for construction and landscaping.

Innovation and creativity abound in Africa, but young people aren’t always sure how to turn ideas into reality. “Many young Africans are entrepreneurial by nature,” said JA Africa CEO Simi Nwogugu, “but may be limited in their ability to develop solutions to the challenges around them and capture value from those solutions.” Thanks to the JA-ZZF partnership, launched in 2022, young Africans have more opportunities to gain and build the critical social skills and confidence necessary to validate their ideas and communicate them to a global audience. Learn more about this partnership.

“It’s all about igniting dreams and creating futures,” said JA Worldwide COO Caroline Jenner. “It’s not just all the individual participants who benefit from the SEP. Social entrepreneurship is really about building thriving communities and solving the big problems that affect all of us.”

In its pilot year, the JA-ZZF partnership facilitated 94 SEP bootcamps in Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, and South Africa that resulted in 494 social equity projects. Participants formed teams, identified the biggest challenges in their communities, and came up with solutions. In addition to entrepreneurship and financial skill building, participants gained knowledge in project management and team management. They also strengthened individual resilience. According to one of the participants, Team Red Heart from Côte d’Ivoire, “We were taught how to be leaders, how to be managers, how to be innovative, and not to stop because you’ve hit a wall.”

SEP equips young people with the tools they need to be positive change agents not only in their communities but also in their countries. “We have learned to work as a team. We have learned how to overcome challenges,” said South Africa team Transcendence.

SEP bootcamps culminated in the first-annual AfrInnovate Youth Challenge (AYC) in January. Teams competed at local and national levels, and one winning team from each country went on to the AYC finals on January 18. Bed Mot represented Uganda, and ultimately won the entire competition, earning US$5,000 to support the growth of their business. Read more about the inaugural AYC.

In 2024, SEP will expand to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burkina Faso, Togo, and Tanzania, aiming to serve 27,600 beneficiaries across the four new countries. Gregory Renand, Head of the Z Zurich Foundation, said, “Engaging with these amazing young talents, trained and empowered by committed and passionate volunteers and facilitators, has been nothing short of awe-inspiring for me. We are now thrilled to scale this program further by supporting JA Africa to operate in more countries in the region for many years to come.”

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