Positive Youth Development Creates Solutions for Young Women
Engaging youth in their development journey is critical to ensuring they have the education and skills they need to reach their full potential. On International Youth Day, USAID, Feed the Future, and AWE celebrate the young people who are taking the lead in empowering their communities and supporting their peers on the path to a better life. Their leadership is a testament to the power of positive youth development—USAID’s approach that views young people as “precious assets to be nurtured and developed rather than as problems to be solved.” Positive youth development approaches support healthy, engaged, and productive youth who feel confident as full participants in their societies.
Empowering Young Women in Agriculture
In its policy paper titled Pursuing Women’s Economic Empowerment, the IMF reports that “women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality in addition to other positive development outcomes.” The economic empowerment of young women has strong potential to multiply the community-wide effects of positive youth development. Annette, a 27-year-old woman from the rural community of Nyantonzi in Uganda, is one example of a young woman who is beginning to see the benefits of positive youth development.
“There [are] a lot of challenges I am facing being a woman in Nyantonzi. I work very hard and my husband leaves … and I am the one left to work in the fields, cook, clean, and sustain the family.”
Lately, things have begun to change for Annette and her community, thanks to support from a local USAID grantee, Safeplan Uganda. Safeplan offers a training series as part of the Budongo Women Bee Enterprises (BUWOBE) activity in Nyantonzi. Sessions include a mix of topics, from agricultural and business education to training on skills young women in the community identified.
Annette explained, “BUWOBE has helped teach me how to handle my business, taught me new work skills, and how to manage my children and send them to school.”
With these skills, she is raising bees to harvest honey, which sells well in the local market. Beekeeping is an eco-friendly business and beehives are a lucrative venture, in part because they do not require a lot of time or effort after the initial setup. Importantly, Annette does not need to own or rent a lot of land, because her bees forage and pollinate on their own in the forest.
Safeplan Uganda has expanded the BUWOBE activity as the result of a grant from USAID and its private-sector partners through the Young Women Transform Prize. The prize, managed by YouthPower Learning, is supporting youth in Uganda and other low- and middle-income countries to create their own solutions for young women’s economic empowerment in their communities.
Lessons and Tools for Meaningful Youth Engagement
Safeplan Uganda’s approach to increasing women’s employment is truly youth-led and has generated a lot of lessons learned.
Cultural context is critical. The leaders of Safeplan Uganda live in the community and are intimately familiar with its challenges. In many ways, this level of cultural context has been central to the organization’s ability to adapt and change their programming to the needs of the people they serve. For example, the training offered through BUWOBE was directly informed by the women who started attending the first sessions, which focused on the basics of beekeeping. It became clear that these women were also looking for support in having more control over their assets through saving groups, and advocating for themselves using communications and leadership coaching. These are now regular offerings of the program.
The approach is holistic and cross-sectoral. Beekeeping was determined to be an environmentally sustainable activity that could generate a product—honey—which met local market demand. It was also less labor-intensive than other income-generating activities women like Annette might do in her village. In addition, when young women attend the training courses, they have to bring their young children because there is no childcare. Recognizing this reality, Safeplan began offering sessions on sexual reproductive health and nutrition. Finally, knowing that women like Annette have substantially less power than their husbands, the program is taking small measures to help them gain more self-esteem and advocate for themselves.
Community engagement ensures accountability. Safeplan Uganda has worked hard to cultivate relationships with important members in the community. Church leaders donated the church where training sessions are conducted. A district official is a vocal champion of the Safeplan’s work in the community, which has increased youth’s participation. Local youth champions, especially young males, have become women’s allies in their advancement and partners in improving their own communities.
Challenges for expanding. Safeplan’s BUWOBE activity reaches a relatively small population, which contributes to its ability to be responsive and agile in its approach. Other activities that aim to serve more beneficiaries might struggle to maintain the holistic and adaptive approach. Because Safeplan has started small, adapted its model, and developed deep roots in the community, it has had time to build a strong foundation for sustainable growth.
To dig deeper into these lessons learned and others, USAID has released videos, photos, and even a podcast based on two Young Women Transform Prize grantees.