Can YouthBank help tackle youth unemployment in Mozambique?

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest youth population in the world and, unlike other parts of the developing world, these figures are only set to increase. This demographic bulge has also resulted in high levels of youth unemployment across the continent – the data puts it at over 20 per cent – which has been fuelled by poor education and not enough jobs. In Mozambique, according to one NGO working on youth unemployment, there is an estimated 22 million people of working age but there are only half a million formal sector jobs.

Mozambique’s economy has grown at an impressive pace over the last twenty years (with one of the highest rates of GDP growth in the world, in fact), as it has transitioned from a post-conflict / humanitarian situation to a more developmental phase. However, this economic growth has yet to trickle down to the majority of the population and Mozambique continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world: UNDP’s 2014 Human Development Index ranks it at 178 out of 187 countries (below both Afghanistan and Haiti).  

Over the last two years, the MICAIA Foundation, based in Chimoio, Mozambique, has been working on adapting and implementing an ambitious programme aimed at increasing economic development opportunities for young people. The GFCF spoke to MICAIA’s Director, Milagre Nuvunga, about YouthBank Chimoio.


GFCF: Tell us about your YouthBank programme and what you are trying to achieve through it in Chimoio.

This project takes the YouthBank methodology – first developed in Northern Ireland – and adapts it to Mozambique. In various countries of the world YouthBank organizations have succeeded in mobilizing young people from different backgrounds and forging collaboration and joint action, usually involving local grantmaking.  

YouthBank Chimoio (YBC) is the first attempt to launch a youth-led grantmaking programme in Mozambique. Led by young people, for young people, YouthBank will provide small grants to stimulate social and economic entrepreneurship and local resource mobilization (volunteering and financial) that can serve as the basis for establishing a form of community foundation in the longer term. The project aims to enable more than 2500 young men and women to plot their own paths out of poverty, and through the project we want to establish a model that in principle can be widely replicated in Mozambique.

Milagre (Left) and YBC participants

GFCF: How did you go about introducing the programme and what were some of the challenges you faced?

Although we had conducted a survey that confirmed the need for flexible funding to enable young people to start exploring different avenues for self-employment, as well as social and environmental activism, we were struck by how shy the young people within the target group were.

However, 2013 and 2014 were election years. Given the political instability and related armed violence that characterized this period, young people in Chimoio were not willing to come forward because they feared that the programme might just be a way to trick them, so that the government could enlist them on the spot to the national army. Their low capacity to develop eligible projects, as well as the fact that the few grant programmes they knew of already always seemed to give the money to people “with connections”, were additional challenges. As for MICAIA, we needed to get not only approval but the full support of the Municipality. The months of campaigning in both years made it almost impossible for MICAIA to meet with relevant government officers or secure the relevant authorizations for project activities.


GFCF: How did you overcome these problems? In particular, how did you go about finding potential grantees, given that this kind of grassroots grantmaking was so unfamiliar?

We had to be proactive, using both direct and indirect approaches. Working directly with local leaders, we met and talked to young people in different neighbourhoods, explaining what YBC was, how it worked, how they could benefit from it, making ourselves available to respond to questions and allay any fears. We also met with several NGOs, the relevant sectoral government directorates (youth and sports; and women and social security) and the Rotary Club, to see if they could facilitate access to young men and women within their networks.

Forming the YBC Committee (that reviews and awards the grants) was another challenge. The committee was made up of 20 young people who responded to a call for volunteers. It was a mixed group, with varying degrees of capacity and willingness to participate as volunteers (in fact, it became clear that some had joined in the hope of working as staff members of the YBC project). This sometimes made it quite hard to really engage them in our ongoing efforts to engage other youth in the neighbourhoods.


GFCF: How did you overcome the challenge of getting people to apply to what was an unusual type of grantmaking programme in Chimoio?

The development of the grants was an intensive affair, with some young people spending many days at MICAIA offices, some even using our facilities to write their grants so they could have our staff at hand whenever explanations were required on specific questions in the grant form. Some of these groups identified older individuals in their neighbourhoods or churches that could work as trainers or mentors and MICAIA worked with them as well so they understood the responsibilities and limits of their role in the context of YBC, where young people had to be responsible for grant management and project implementation.

After the first eight grants were awarded (with projects ranging from buying chickens, beef, goats, vegetables from big producers and selling them in town; urban agriculture; mobile catering; ICT/internet café; garbage disposal and decorating; as well as a campaign for the rights of the girl child) some level of confidence seemed to have been restored. In particular, many of the barriers young people had faced getting particular documents (such as declarations of residence) from their local leaders disappeared. In fact, in a number of cases local leaders encouraged others to come forward and helped with their application processes, for example, by identifying land on which they could develop their business (from agricultural projects to building sites for the construction of small shops, etc.). MICAIA negotiated simplified mechanisms for the registration of the different youth groups and their businesses with the notary and identified a Bank that was ready to help these groups to open bank accounts. The Committee was also encouraged by this change and about 14 of them became very engaged, working hand in hand with the staff.

The decision to work with young male and female prisoners to help them learn a trade and build a level of self-esteem, thus reducing the likelihood of them returning to prison, brought some more complications. We spent many days discussing with staff and committee members as to how we could do this, who would be the grantee, who would facilitate these actions. We found organizations with what seems like the right profile to handle this responsibility.


GFCF: So you have completed the first part of the grantmaking process. What next?

The grantmaking process has, and continues to be, quite a “journey of discovery.” But the biggest challenge still lies ahead – turning this pilot grant fund into a permanent facility for young people in Chimoio.

Consultations with government representatives, civil society and members of the private sector began just before the first grants were awarded, but a more concerted effort was done when Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director, visited us and spent four days meeting a number of decision-makers, including some young people. These meetings were aimed at getting an understanding of peoples’ and institutions’ views about such a fund, as well as their willingness to have one created in Chimoio and actively participate in its establishment. Jenny shared a number of examples of similar funds in different parts of the world and this facilitated discussions on how such a fund could be created in Chimoio, where the fund should be held, how it could be managed, etc. These were important initial discussions as they provided these key people and institutions with a general understanding that will be critical for the work ahead. The willingness of the Directorate of Youth and Sports to have the idea presented in one of the Provincial Government’s working sessions could facilitate the engagement of other potential supporters that could help turn this idea into reality.

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