Resourcing and Financing Youth Economic Empowerment


by Josephine Kaleebi

CEO, Junior Achievement Uganda

There is increasing recognition of the urgent need to turn the tide for investment in youth development and effort, which is long overdue. National and international policies and actions aiming at enhancing youth livelihoods are being created with greater intention, however implementation is largely ineffective owing to inadequate resourcing.

This paper specifically looks at the challenges faced by professional youth work actors in that regard.  Young people’s well being enhances development across multiple sectors and therefore demands increased resourcing through different approaches: empowerment, productivity, nutrition and health, human rights awareness and value, responsible citizenry, and general quality of life advancement. All of these elements benefit personal and national development.

Adequately resourcing this demographic holds significant potential for boosting other components to this challenge. As frontliners in the engagement of youth, direct implementers have learned lessons which can greatly inform effective policy and strategy formulation, offer broad research/study opportunities that may be used to further develop desired outcomes and tap into great expertise and networks of non-state actors that move transformations faster.

The resourcing called for ranges from offering effective implementation supporting structures (such as national policies to reawaken and strengthen the collaboration between key parties in the development of young people (school, parent, society)), enhancing the ability of teachers/schools through continuous professional development and motivating their willing participation; and above all, mobilizing funding for significant and fast impact by professional youth work actors.

Defining the Situation

Youth empowerment is largely a development priority worldwide. It is a process aimed at building sustainable, personal, positive, transformational tendencies. It involves inspiring young people to take charge of their lives, identify their own challenges and devise means to take action counteracting those challenges. Mindset changes towards personal development ambitions and the motivation to take action are key performance indicators here. Creating enabling environments therefore for young people is paramount as we map out resourcing and financing for professional youth work and empowerment.

Africa has the world’s youngest population and that is growing fast. The opportunity for the continent and world can be harnessed into a demographic dividend[1] if guided and skilled appropriately. It is important to address the core pain points in the youth development process.  Key among these are attitudes, awareness and practicality. A significant amount of resources in youth programs are wasted by the incorrect diagnoses of the root challenges. Young people need to understand that they owe themselves and the world their productivity.

There are effective means of delivering this message and applying a ‘glocal’ strategy, that puts the young people at the centre of driving transformation. Youth are able but they need inspiration and guidance.

Main body

Unemployment (and underemployment), low productivity and other psycho/social/economic and employability challenges facing young people today globally exist even in cases where poverty is not a major threat. Empowerment is a lasting fix, offering opportunities to gain the ability to make the right decisions in cross cutting issues and building confidence. At Junior Achievement we call this ‘self-efficacy.’ Lack of confidence to face the world is one of the major hindrances limiting people’s development. Studies about the high youth unemployment and underemployment levels globally cite the lack of soft skills as a significant contributor[2], only exacerbated by lack of and/or poor education, low completion rates, shrinking job markets, among other factors. Personal attitude, creativity, work culture, senior leadership gender inequalities etc. are all subjective qualities that need direct involvement of individuals to address.


Interventions starting at the early stages of life and involving practical exposure to opportunities and how to harness those opportunities are an effective strategy. Challenges in life – at whatever level – need be communicated as hidden opportunities that young people must be encouraged to explore ways of overcoming. Inspiring creativity and confidence building are critical levers of change. Positive thinking and ambition to realize a better situation must be inculcated very early in life along with a strong value system. These efforts must bring together parents/guardians, schools/educators, business community (society), policy makers and other sections responsible for nurturing young people. All these stakeholders ought to work together to complement each other for coherent and effective intervention.


In all this, the young person (student/learner) should be given an opportunity to explore and lead the learning process guided by the relevant arms as facilitators. For example, educators should appreciate that the practical learning that calls for their supervision is not added work for them but a support to realize the much needed learning outcomes[3]. Parents should not expect all the learning to be done at school. Young people should not expect teachers to figure out all that they need to learn and how. The business community (employers) must appreciate the need to strengthen human capital well before recruitment time. Like the old African proverb attests, ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ A need for partnership/collaborations is still valid to create environments where all stakeholders get involved, share and appreciate each other’s desires and work towards complementing relevant and impactful education. Employers have an upper hand in providing jobs for young people, yet studies[4] have shown how millennials’ job satisfaction indicators need to be greatly appreciated and monitored for a stable and productive human resource base.


Practical entrepreneurship and financial education are tools that foster youth empowerment[5] by exposing them to progressive series of activities purposefully designed to help them visualize and work towards a successful adult life. Both possess a high potential to lift young people and encourage them to be self-sufficient – or at least start something, and understand the context before seeking external support. Having an entrepreneurial mindset draws one into innovation and new value creation. The Citi Foundation addresses this through their Pathways to Progress initiative. This is Citi and the Citi Foundation’s response to the persistent issue of youth unemployment globally. Led by the philanthropic efforts of the Citi Foundation, and strengthened by the active involvement of dedicated Citi volunteers, the Pathways to Progress initiative supports programs that help young people, ages 16-24, build an entrepreneurial mindset, acquire leadership, financial and workplace skills, and begin to engage in the formal economy through a first job.

Entrepreneurship can be learnt and entrepreneurial mindsets developed, however not as a science or an art, but rather a practice. Empowerment generally calls for actual involvement or experiencing, therefore so must be the tools that are aimed to drive that empowerment.


Recommendations for resourcing and financing professional youth work

Youth work is broadly defined as “youth engagement approaches that build personal awareness and support the social, political and economic empowerment of young people, delivered through non-formal learning.” This comes in various ways by a multitude of players using various models. These models generally create some measurable impact in empowering young people, and strategies must be formulated to ensure effective resourcing. Key among these are the following:

  1. Citing entrepreneurship as an effective empowering tool, all Commonwealth countries should subscribe to formulation and implementation of National Youth Entrepreneurship Development Strategies/policies. This is important because it will:
  • Ensure each government’s full support to the intervention as a key national priority and a holistic integrated strategy.
  • Create an enabling environment for the development of successful, sustainable youth businesses.
  • Provide a framework for supporting the rationalization and synchronization of existing policies, programs, laws/regulations promoting entrepreneurship to identify gaps therein and address them.
  • Benchmark all relevant stakeholder engagement and clearly identify players in the field.
  • Provide an opportunity to evaluate available models versus required interventions i.e. thinking global and acting local and work out effective plans to resource each as per identified potential and needs.
  • Synergize best practices from countries that already have national strategies on the same (includes Commonwealth countries) including tested guidelines from international development promoters like UNCTAD[6], ILO etc.
  1. Invest in Professional Youth Work identified as effective.
  • A number of impactful models are run by non-state actors e.g. NGOs, that are unfortunately on shoestring budgets limiting the scalability of their models. Evaluating available models can give a clear understanding of what works where and what support is needed to scale them up. Significant investment in some of these models ought to be explored. For instance, practical learning builds the self-efficacy of individuals, an attribute known to encourage positive behavior and peer models among young people. The more impact derived under such practical learning experiences, the cheaper interventions get. More peer models build towards a societal tipping point.[7]

Our experience at Junior Achievement in Uganda has been that it costs USD23 per participant to reach 20,000 students per year to offer a practical entrepreneurship education experience at secondary/vocational school level. By comparison, the cost significantly reduces to USD5 per participant if 100,000 learners are reached. Similarly, it costs USD50 per out of school participant for a minimum of 300 clustered outreaches whereas this cost goes down to USD30 per participant for 1000 participants clustered outreach. Reaching 100,000 students in school is only a drop in the ocean for countries like Uganda with vast population pyramids. Serious support to impact significant numbers for fast and comprehensive impact must be a priority. Case in point: the secondary school level enrollment figures are quoted as 1.3M registered students a year for all the six years of formal secondary schooling (Secondary One to Six)[8]! Young people in primary, vocational, university, ‘second chance schooling’ and out of school all add to the huge demand. Efforts must be made to ensure multiple impactful models are adequately financed to handle various target groups of young people together for a fast and comprehensive intervention. Young people are change agents; their empowerment quickly permeates through their communities hence driving general society impact.

  1. Motivate Partners in the empowerment process. Nurture by-in to the cause for easy involvement and sustainability of the interventions. E.g.
  • Nurture teachers’ technical ability in experiential training as an alternative learning methodology, integrating entrepreneurship in every classroom subject to nurture life skills. Motivate them to upgrade their teaching competences regularly e.g. recognizing professional continuous professional development regularly. Validation and reward systems for teachers and educators must be instituted.
  • Encourage learners’ practical learning uptake e.g. as added value for university enrollment or job selection.
  • Recognize/reward employers offering internships/apprenticeship services to young people e.g. with tax deductible benefits etc.

The Citi Foundation is committed to investing in youth professional work and as such, in February 2017, the Citi Foundation announced it would expand its philanthropic commitment to empowering urban youth with an additional $100 million investment to impact the lives of 500,000 young people in cities around the world by 2020. To support these efforts, Citi is mobilizing 10,000 Citi volunteers to serve as mentors, coaches, and provide professional advice to help young people move towards their career goals.


Young people’s empowerment is a lasting investment with the potential for transforming societies. An empowered young person has higher chances of developing self and others in his company. With 78% of Uganda’s population[9] for instance being under 35 years and 19% of the global youth population (15-24 yrs) in Africa, positive transformation of this resource as human capital is an effective solution for global harmony. There exists a multitude of effective and efficient models with immense expertise and networks that only need adequate resources to scale and grow impact. It is time for development efforts to work with them and further develop existing and new models, whose implementation rhyme with specific environments.


Brief about author



Josephine Kaleebi is the CEO of Junior Achievement Uganda – a network chapter of Junior Achievement Worldwide providing practical education programs for entrepreneurship, skills for employability and financial literacy. JA works with the education and business communities as well as governments to provide young people in and out of school with experiences that build the skills and competences they need to succeed in a global economy. Annually over 10.5M learner experiences are offered by JA to various age groups in over 100 countries. JA programs are widely offered in Africa with 10 out of the 14 JA Africa countries being Commonwealth countries.




[1] AU Roadmap on Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth 2017.

[2] World Economic Forum 2017

[3] Framework for 21st Century Learning Outcomes

[4] Winning over the next generation of Leaders, the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey.

[5] European Commission’s 2015 report “Entrepreneurship Education: A road to success,”

[6] Policy guide on Youth Entrepreneurship _UNCTAD 2015

[7] A way to reduce poverty that’s so simple, it just might work. World Economic Forum Latin America 2017

[8] 2013 Annual School Census Ministry of Education and Sports

[9] Uganda National Population & Housing Census – UBOS 2014

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