National Youth Empowerment Programme to Reduce Unemployment
December 28, 2022
By Nontobeko Mlangeni - Head of Solutions and Mapping
On her virtual Mission to the country in March 2021, the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa Director noted that Eswatini is a small country with just about 1.1 million people. However, she also observed that the country remains with a high poverty rate of 58% in 2017. This means that approximately 638,000 people live behind the international poverty line. Given the small population of the country and the resources at its disposal, she said it is possible to take these people out of poverty. Ms Eziakonwa said other countries with more significant numbers of poor people had done it.
According to the Integrated Labour Force Survey of 2021, the Eswatini unemployment rate stands at 33.3%. In the meantime, over 70% of the population is below the age of 35, with 37.4% being between 15 and 34 years old (Eswatini Census: 2017). The 2021 Labour Force Survey states that 59.1% of youth aged between 20 and 24 are unemployed.
Ideally, a young population should present an opportunity for Eswatini to a growing market for manufactured goods and a large tax base due to a bigger workforce, for example. However, failure to do so has dire consequences, as recently observed during the unprecedented civil unrest of June 2021, where the youth participated in a violent protest where shops were looted and burnt, resulting in the death of over 40 young people.
Inspired by the words of our Regional Director, UNDP took up the challenge. What if there was a way we could cut unemployment by half by 2030? What if we brought together the great minds within the government, the private sector and civil society to design a programme that reduced youth unemployment and contributed to poverty reduction? How have other countries managed to cut youth unemployment and improve opportunities for the youth systematically?
This was not a challenge UNDP Eswatini could address on its own, nor could we do it through just one department within UNDP Eswatini. Therefore, we engaged all UNDP departments in co-designing a youth empowerment programme. Furthermore, we researched how other countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Togo and Benin significantly reduced youth unemployment.
We went beyond our capabilities as UNDP Eswatini and brought together different government departments, the private sector, tertiary institutions, and civil society organisations. Through the UNDP Eswatini Accelerator Lab's methods of collecting intelligence by engaging those directly affected by the problem, we consulted different stakeholders to find solutions. This gave the design process perspective based on insights from those affected by how this programme could be better designed. We also learnt how other programmes targeting the youth have either succeeded or failed. From the youth's perspective, we learnt how UNDP's goal of supporting the country to reduce unemployment could be achieved by designing a programme fitting the context of young graduates and unskilled young people. We also listened to the private sector leaders, who gave their insights on how this programme could be successful through their support of hosting young graduates and providing resources.
Tapping into UNDP global network, we also learnt from Ghana, for instance, that their National Service Scheme ensures that all graduates go through an internship programme and institutions eventually absorb some. As a result, the country has, over the years, reduced its youth unemployment rate to 9,59%. We also learnt how the Ethiopian National Volunteer Community Service Programme reduced unemployment to 5.72%.
Based on learnings from these countries, we brought in all this collective intelligence to design a comprehensive Eswatini Youth Empowerment Programme (EYEP) with five tracks.
Track 1: A Graduate Placement and Mentorship Programme;
Track 2: An Artisanal Skills Training and Mentorship Programme;
Track 3: A Leadership & Sustainable Energy Academy;
Track 4: A Tech-Hub
Track 5: An Entrepreneurship Development Programme
On average, the country produces about 4,000 graduates annually between the local universities, training and vocational institutions, and most of these are not absorbed into gainful employment. Additionally, while almost all children enroll in Grade I, the primary school completion rate in Eswatini is only 60% (UNICEF, 2018). Therefore, EYEP aims to reduce youth unemployment by 50% by 2030 by strategically placing young talented graduates in private or public institutions, including NGOs, on a 6-12-month internship programme.
EYEP also targets the empowerment of non-graduates with intermediate artisanal skills as a self-help mechanism that may create jobs, leading to sustained peace in Eswatini. While the programme is still in its infancy, we hope to bring together all our strengths as UNDP to facilitate inclusive economic growth, ensure good governance, and promote environmental sustainability and innovation in a package that systematically reduces unemployment. Working with our partners, especially the private sector, we should be able to overcome this challenge.
EYEP incorporates the UN principles of leaving no one by ensuring that the programme is gender inclusive and considers the needs of Persons with Disabilities, People Living With HIV/AIDS and those from poor households.