Sierra Leone: Empowering youth to build lasting peace


Jeneba Fofanah, 23, is one of over 438 Sierra Leonean youth who received training on the job thanks to a UNDP supported internship programme for graduates. (UNDP Sierra Leone)

Only five percent of Jeneba Fofanah's classmates at the Geology Department of Freetown University, in Sierra Leone, found a job in their area of expertise.

Unlike the two million youths who are currently unemployed, Jeneba, aged 23, became a geologist as soon as she graduated from that course.  "I’m very grateful that my dream came true and I can sustain myself,” she says.

Sierra Leone has a youth unemployment rate of 60 percent, one of the highest in West Africa. A decade after the end of a devastating civil war, this tiny West African nation is now facing an uphill battle to boost the economy and create opportunities for large numbers of young people. The country’s leaders know that failing to do so could have hugely destabilizing consequences.

Jeneba spent the first four months of her career at London Mining as an intern, as part of a UNDP-supported youth employment programme. She has stayed on and is now a full-time employee of the UK-based company, which produces iron ore for the global steel market and has an ambitious sustainability agenda.

Since 2012, the UNDP  scheme with a yearly budget of $150.000 has created work experience and provided a minimum living stipend to young graduates, bridging the gap between the demand for skilled labor in the private sector and the lack of existing opportunities for youth. By the same token, it has been promoting stability and social cohesion across the country.

The programme is competitive and highly in demand. “We received over 1,300 applications for the 2013 programme alone“, says UNDP Youth Programme Analyst Sara Benavent. „The Programme is very popular with young graduates as well as hiring institutions since applicants are thoroughly screened and go through a short training before they start the internship.“

The initiative is also providing an opportunity for private sector organizations to make a difference in Sierra Leone.

"We want to follow the highest corporate standards in our engagement, provide youth with invaluable skills and contribute to progress in this country", explains Rosh Bardien, the 39-year old Head of Human Resources at London Mining, which gave 67 young graduates an internship opportunity over the past two years.

Expecting a total of 500 interns in 2014, UNDP is planning to further increase the scope of successful programme over the coming years with the help of partners in government and private sector, in order to reach as many young people in Sierra Leone like Jeneba as possible. "Thanks to the internship programme, I have a job and a regular income now," Jeneba, who is currently helping to train new interns at London Mining, says grateful. "Now I can focus on becoming Chief Geologist one day and giving back to my community as much as I can."