As the World Economic Forum continues this week, the leaders gathered in Davos have focused their conversations on the rising threat of unemployment and how to create livelihood opportunities, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The situation is especially precarious for young people. The World Bank’s 2013 World Development Report on Jobs estimates that some 620 million young people, the majority of them women, are neither employed nor looking for work. Within this context, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and its partners are working harder than ever to help young women and men develop the skills they need to get a job. We’d like to share an example of how this is working in Uganda through an IYF program called YouthMap and the story of one local business partner, the Development Finance Company of Uganda Bank Limited (DFCU).  

YouthMap is a four-year partnership between IYF and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The program aims to help youth in Sub-Saharan Africa improve their employment prospects. In Uganda, the initiative’s internship program has enjoyed significant success thanks to the support of USAID implementing partners, government ministries, and more than 30 companies, including DFCU. This local bank not only offered jobs to the five interns it took on, but also provided critical youth-friendly services and support. DFCU is also an active member of the program’s Advisory Board.

For the bank, hiring skilled new employees is critical to its success. In Uganda, the demand for banking services has increased rapidly. The number of individuals using banks has doubled between 2005 and 2010, as did the number of commercial bank branches per person. For their business to grow, DFCU needs a competent and motivated workforce, and YouthMap interns are satisfying these demands. According to DFCU’s Head of Consumer Banking, Mr. William Sekabembe, the training program gave its interns an edge. “In terms of soft skills, it was easy to get [them] aligned—these guys were far, far ahead,” he said when comparing the bank’s YouthMap interns to other job-seekers. “When they are then placed at a new branch,” he added, “they have higher quality, and they know the business model better.” This month DFCU is taking on eight more interns from YouthMap Uganda’s second cohort.

DFCU has proven its dedication to expanding opportunities for youth by offering multiple financial services to help them save their money, access loans, and start their own businesses. For example, YouthMap interns participated in a savings and investment club facilitated by DFCU and YouthMap. Members can borrow at a low rate, but for now their focus is on saving and earning interest. This youth-led club is governed by a constitution and meets monthly to discuss the way forward and to follow up on defaulters. DFCU, for its part, certifies the club; offers members a loan facility; and, to promote ongoing learning and positive financial management, is providing clinics and financial literacy forums. 

DFCU and YouthMap’s other host institutions view Uganda’s youthful population—the largest percentage under 30 anywhere in the world—as a positive opportunity for growth, not only for their organizations, but the country’s economy. Like other young people who have honed their skills through IYF training programs, YouthMap interns who have become employees of the bank are ideally placed to help other youth who have secured jobs or started businesses to save their earnings and access financing. The training, mentorship, and access make financial independence a real possibility for these youth. But it is their ideas, skills, and ingenuity that will allow them to capitalize on that opportunity.