Building Youth Livelihoods and Resilience Amidst Uncertainty in Rural East Africa

TechnoServe and the Mastercard Foundation partnered to help over 68,000 young people acquire the technical and soft skills needed to generate their own opportunities and increase their incomes through the Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise program.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by Mastercard Foundation

I struggled to find work, but after STRYDE I built a tailoring shop and secured a contract to train participants for a small fee of $70 for six months. I was able to expand my business and buy supplies. I was also able to improve the condition of my parents’ house and pay for my siblings’ school fees.”
— Immaculee Ndagijimana, a STRYDE participant in Uganda

Immaculee is just one of the 68,000 young people to receive training through Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise (STRYDE), an eight-year partnership between Mastercard Foundation and TechnoServe targeting the informal sector in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

STRYDE partnered with 122 local organizations–including technical and vocational educational training institutions and prisons–to provide technical and soft skills training to 68,000 young people, enabling them to create and/or secure livelihood opportunities and increase their incomes by an average of 84 percent. Fifty-six percent created business opportunities in agriculture; 29% launched a different kind of microbusiness; and the remaining 15% found more formal employment. The program focused on rural areas, where 70% of Africa’s youth reside (World Bank), and developed a scalable model to address youth unemployment in the informal sector (95% of youth employment in Africa is informal).

At a time when youth around the world are facing uncertain economic prospects, STRYDE has been a pathway for thousands of young people to secure dignified and fulfilling work.

How did STRYDE work?

Launched in 2011, STRYDE worked with youth through two different methods: in the first, local TechnoServe staff trained and supported young people directly; in the second, a partnership model was used where staff trained local institutions on how to integrate the STRYDE curriculum into their own curricula.

Classes included agribusiness, entrepreneurship, and personal finance, but also modules like “personal effectiveness” and gender awareness, aimed at raising the confidence and persistence critical for participants’ business success. Youth also received continuous mentoring, and engaged in follow-up “aftercare” activities.

As a result, STRYDE participants not only improved their incomes by an average of $84, but maintained substantial income gains even two or three years after they graduated the program. The percentage of youth who reported saving money also doubled, compared to before program participation. The most common usage of these savings? Launching yet another income-generating activity.

Immaculee Ndagijimana owns a tailor shop in Rwanda’s Nyanza district.

Four key elements of the STRYDE approach that proved successful

Through a long-term model rooted in scaling up effective training through local institutions, STRYDE provides a blueprint for tackling the urgent problem of creating more youth economic opportunities in low-income countries. Here are four key elements that made the program successful:

  • Promoting the creation of dignified and fulfilling work. Although some youth in the STRYDE program found formal employment, the program’s focus was not on the supply side of the labor market. Instead of training young people specifically for existing jobs, STRYDE enabled youth to build their own livelihoods and even create additional work opportunities. Approximately one in five STRYDE graduates built enterprises that employed other people, creating an average of six additional jobs. Some, like Callixte Kayiranga in Rwanda, have created dozens of new jobs.
  • “Soft skills” training. Many youth in the program had grown up with little income or education, and often saw themselves as passive participants in their own lives. STRYDE’s “personal effectiveness” module–an element not included in most traditional vocational training–helped participants build self-confidence and believe they had the power to change their future.

Ndinagwe Mboya, a participant from Tanzania, noted of the module: “I learned how to believe in myself and my ability to succeed. This made me discover the opportunity I had that I could use to start and grow a business.”

  • Aftercare support, providing long-term, light-touch support that responds to each youth’s needs. STRYDE youth participated in aftercare, a nine-month program where they could build on the gains they achieved through training. Participants chose aftercare activities that best served their interests and ambitions. Youth who participated in aftercare activities reported incomes that were 65 percent higher than non-participants, and there was a clear correlation between income change and the number of aftercare activities youth participated. The business plan competition component of aftercare was especially popular and helped young people apply what they learned to real-world scenarios. The creation of savings groups was also effective for youth looking to access finance and save.
  •  A focus on women’s empowerment. STRYDE recognized that true economic empowerment had to be equitable–and that meant deliberate program design that enabled women’s equal participation. In addition to offering flexible training options and sensitizing community members, the program provided gender norms training for young men and women. They also hold women-only discussions to ensure that all participants felt comfortable sharing their opinions and experiences.

Fifty-two percent of STRYDE participants were women, and despite having to manage unequal household demands and entrenched gender bias, they were able to improve their incomes after STRYDE roughly as much as the male participants.

Building resilience

As a result of COVID-19 pandemic, it has been estimated that the income of informal workers in Africa will drop by 81%. At this time, it is essential to build programs that focus on fostering resilience among youth and training institutions. Here are two learnings from STRYDE focused specifically on resilience that can inform the work of other development partners and policymakers:

  • Diversified income portfolios: By taking a mixed livelihoods approach, youth can earn income by building on their existing activities or expanding into new ones. Financial stability can be achieved by increasing the number of income-earning activities across multiple skills or services, rather than focusing on a single business or activity. In STRYDE, youth who diversified their income streams earned 73 percent more, on average, than their peers who expanded their existing business, who saw a 58 percent income increase. Participants who started a new business while expanding existing ones saw a 138% income increase, on average.
  • Building local institutions’ resilience: STRYDE partnered with local organizations such as vocational schools, community colleges, and prisons, to integrate the STRYDE methodology into their own programs. STRYDE also built resilience through building local capacity to collect, report, and analyze data to drive strategic decisions, as well as how to diversify funding and write proposals. Staff trained master trainers to continue to deliver the program, developed learning sessions between the partners, and shared digital tools on budgeting and marketing.

These local partners have now trained over 20,000 youth on the STRYDE model, and nearly 80 percent say they will continue to offer the curriculum. The curriculum can be offered at a marginal cost of $6 per student–a cost-effective way to support millions of young people like Ndinagwe.

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