Youth Motivated Innovations

Karamoja is a remote agro-pastoralist sub-region in north-eastern Uganda comprised of seven districts and a population of around 1 million. It is one of the poorest areas of Uganda, consistently performing among the worst in standard development indicators. 65.8% of Karamojong live below the international poverty line compared to the national average of 35.5% and half of the population is food insecure and 12% severely food insecure. 

Karamoja has emerged from conflict and a prolonged forced disarmament process. For now, the peace holds. But alongside the threat of a return to armed conflict driven by limited economic opportunities, the effects of climate change have been particularly acutely felt in the last 2-3 years, in an area already prone to drought. Low levels of literacy, lack of relevant skills, and a limited private sector investment in the sub-region has led to minimal economic opportunities for young people, resulting in high levels of unemployment.

Caption: Our programme officer and a local government official in Lokorete Village, in Moroto district during the manyatta identification exercise.

Despite considerable development efforts and financial aid injected into Karamoja over several decades, major indicators have not shifted far in the sub-region and a dependency on food distribution remains. 

Restless Development has a clear model for youth-led change and recent success to demonstrate to partners in Karamoja and to the broader development community. Over the upcoming period, we want to build on our success with further experimentation and innovation, alongside a clear plan to share our approach with others working in Karamoja. We have listened to the youth and other relevant stakeholders and have come up with a number of initiatives and approaches that we strongly believe will allow us to support the young people to take a leadership role in bringing transformative change to this sub-region.

Youth Motivated Innovations for Karamoja 

Securing a livelihood continues to be the main priority of the young Karamojong and although nomadic pastoralism remains the dominant livelihood activity in the region, communities have already embraced alternative ways of earning a living.Caption: community consultation in August 2016 to understand the needs and interests of the Karamojong youth. 

We engaged with young people, other NGOs, local government officials, private sector representatives and religious and cultural leaders to identify the best way to support youth to take a leadership role in bringing transformative change to Karamoja. After an analysis of all the information collected, we decided to pilot a series of approaches and initiatives to meet the needs of the Karamojong youth taking into account domestic market opportunities, growth possibilities, cultural, geographical and social conditions specific to this sub-region. 

How does it work?

The program began in July 2017 and has 4 main objectives: young people to drive the economy and creating employment opportunities; young people to transform the negative image of Karamoja; young people to support their communities to preserve their cultural heritage; and young people to support their communities to take ownership for their own development. In line with these 4 objectives, we have selected the following initiatives:

Cultural Tourism: Using a a culture-positive approach and recognising the need to transform the negative image of Karamoja, we are supporting young people to create their own employment by initiating activities in the emerging industry of community-based cultural tourism. The Karamojong are recognised for their traditional and beautiful music, dance, poetry and art; all of which will be a prominent feature of the tourism offer. Leveraging culture as a source of livelihood will ease the antagonism between culture and development and encourage young people to respect, preserve, and embrace their traditions whilst enhancing their opportunities in life. Restless Development and partners in the tourism industry are supporting 80 young people to identify and develop their own community based tourism “product”.

Youth motivated transitions into employment: Vocational training has become an extension of the formal education system, and it is overly academic in nature meaning young people graduate without the skills they need to engage in fulfilling a productive livelihood. So we are proposing a new type of training scheme which is youth-led, motivation-based, informal and genuinely practical. It blends traditional apprenticeships and vocational training into a flexible kind of skills-building  and uses the idea of the positive role model to support young people realise their potential. We are currently working with the first cohort of 14 young people who have already demonstrated motivation to pursue a particular trade by proactively seeking to gain experience in it. We have linked these motivated young people to other young people who are already skilled and experts in a particular field. The skilled youth act as peer mentors and host a training placement at their workplace. Theoretical knowledge is intertwined with practical training on the job to enable the trainees gain deeper experience and be better prepared to join the workforce. Restless Development has identified the motivated youth and the skilled peer mentors and has paired them based on their trades of interest. 

Caption: One of the carpentry and joinery mentees varnishing a stool he made during his apprenticeship in Camp Swahili Juu parish, in Moroto municipality.

Manyatta based interventions: The manyatta is the Karamojong equivalent to a village. It can range from 2 to 30 households and represents a closely knit social network which guarantees the commitment, security and harmony of its members. We have selected the manyatta as the unit to work on a number of initiatives to leverage its cohesion and ensure sustainability. The initiatives we are working on are: functional adult literacy (basic writing and reading); savings and loans associations; smart climate agricultural practices; and the preservation of the cultural heritage by documenting traditional stories.  We have selected 5 manyattas from different backgrounds (3 peri-urban and 2 rural) and sizes (an average of 30 members per manyatta). We have also identified and trained the 10 young people who will be working with the members of the manyattas to implement these initiatives. 


Our achievements so far on this pilot can be summarised as:

Cultural tourism: 4 youth groups of 20 members each have been identified to be trained in different aspects of cultural tourism - product development, tour guiding, tourism related services. We have engaged with one of the most prominent tourism sector actors in Karamoja to deliver the training and work with the youth groups on transforming the negative perceptions of Karamoja by capturing stories which would then be shared with others across social media. We have conducted a needs assessment to determine the specific skills each group requires to succeed on their enterprises. 

Caption: Karatunga staff conducting an assessment in Rupa parish on skills and capacity of the youth groups in developing and marketing tourism products

Youth motivated transitions into employment: 14 young people have commenced their 4-month apprenticeship placement in hairdressing, metal welding, carpentry, motor bike repairing, and radio and mobile phone repairing. So far, they haven’t missed a day at their workplace and they have shared with our teams how this initiative is providing them with the real practical skills they’ll need in the future.

Caption: One of the hairdressing and salon mentees learning how to plait

Phone and radio mentees have learnt to repair the phone speaker and charging system as well as replace screens. Carpentry mentees are building and selling simple tables which is allowing them to make a small income. The hairdressing mentees can now make simple hair styling. Our motorbike mentees are learning to fix tyres and how to work on the engine of the motorbikes. In welding and metal fabrication, the mentees can now weld simple metallic doors and frames.

Manyatta based interventions: Our peer educators have been training the young members of the manyattas in functional adult literacy. They can now read numbers and vowels in their local language. Three of the manyattas have started their saving groups and some individual members are borrowing money at an interest to develop their own business. All peer educators have been trained in smart agricultural practices and a demo kitchen garden has been built in one of the manyattas. 

Caption: A demo kitchen garden built by peer educators and manyatta members in Erealokol manyatta in Komaret parish, Nadunget sub-county in Moroto district. 


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