In fighting youth unemployment, UNDP Somalia takes a cue from Bangladesh
September 7, 2021
In the East African nation of Somalia, youth unemployment is a major problem. According to recent figures, 41% of young people between the ages of 15 and 19 are looking for work. The next age bracket, 20-24, is only slightly better at 35%. What’s more, in Somalia 70% of the population is under the age of 30, meaning that a high portion of the population who are eligible to work are not currently employed – neither do they enjoy the stability, hope, and satisfaction that comes with meaningful employment. A lack of gainful employment can engender frustration and demoralisation, especially in young people, making them more likely to turn to illegal work like smuggling, or militant groups.
Until recently, Mohamed Osman was one of these young people. After his first year at East Africa University in the northeast city of Bosaso, where he was enrolled in a computer science program, he dropped out when the university experience proved too overwhelming. He found odd jobs “doing random things with computers and mobile phones,” he says on a video call from Mogadishu, but nothing that he felt would put him on the path toward the life he wanted. So he renewed his commitment to university with a dual focus: getting his degree, and finding a way to create opportunities for his fellow young Somalis struggling to find meaningful employment.
According to Osman, it’s not a lack of skills that prevents young Somalis from getting jobs. It’s that they don’t know how to find job openings or properly apply for them. “The youth in our community,” he says, “they graduate and that’s it. They think the job will just come to them.”
Today, six years later, Osman is working with UNDP to create a job matching platform and training portal for Somali young people. The platform will comprise a job aggregator and analytics dashboard, as well as a community space to train job seekers, employers, academics, and policy makers. Osman and his colleague Munira Omar were selected to develop the platform together. Nora Harboe is the project manager, and Abdiwahab Ali is their liaison with the UNDP Somalia Country Office. Osman was selected for the project after a successful stint with Future Ready, a previous UNDP Somalia project, in which he trained emerging Somali professionals in computer programming and coding for the development of mobile applications.
The Somalia digital job platform was inspired by a similar UNDP-funded jobs matching platform and training portal in Bangladesh. The NISE2 platform, developed as part of UNDP’s successful A2i initiative in Bangladesh, has already trained more than 32,000 job seekers in skills they need to find meaningful employment in the digital sector.
After becoming aware of the NISE2 platform during an informal ideas exchange session, Ali says, the team realised that a similar matching platform could fill a critical gap in Somalia.
“Assessments after the end of the Future Ready program showed a gap between the number of skilled job seekers and the availability of jobs,” Ali says. Osman continues: “whatever skill [a job seeker] seems to have somehow doesn’t matter because they can’t find a path to the job they’ve trained for.” That’s where the team is hoping a jobs matching platform will come in.
The A2i team in Bangladesh was enthusiastic about working with the Somalia team to replicate the platform. So far, the A2i team has made its source code available, and has provided guidance for implementation throughout the process.
The project has already won fans. In April, the Somalia team was selected from 180 applicants to participate in the Digital X Scale Accelerator, a programme run by the Chief Digital Office and supported by the Government of Japan. Digital X creates the opportunity for successful country-level solutions to exponentially scale in terms of impact and geographic reach. The UNDP Somalia project will receive funding and five months of organisational and technical support.
“One of the initial reasons we launched Digital X is because we wanted to incentivise scaling proven ideas across borders,” says Mike Rios, Digital Innovation and Scaling Specialist at UNDP. “With the Somalia team’s past success in the Future Ready program and A2i’s track record adapting digital solutions in new territories, we thought the two working together would make for a winning combination.”
As part of their involvement with Digital X, the team has had a series of mentorship sessions with Alis Cambol, design lead at the London-based Okra Design. The Digital X support staff have also helped the Somalia team localise the NISE2 platform idea to the local context of Somalia. “Bangladesh has a strong government capacity to host and manage the platform,” says Ali, the UNDP Somalia Team Lead. “Because in Somalia the capacity is lower, we decided not to adopt the NISE2 platform wholesale, but instead start with only two or three specific features.”
Ali and his team are enthusiastic about the support they’ve gotten so far from Digital X, especially when it comes to the process of localisation. “The kind of continuous cross-country learning that has been organised by the Digital X team has been so useful,” he says. “It's not only a matter of providing funding. Countries are really able to learn from each other.”
For Osman, the experience of Digital X has made one thing clear: the obligation he feels to make a positive impact in his community of Somali young people. “Looking at the [Bangladesh] NISE2 project and how it has helped youth unemployment there, I realised that this is a big opportunity for us in our community,” he reflects. “We need to focus on youth unemployment because young people are the future. If they don’t have jobs, they can’t innovate the country.”
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