A Working Future and a new era of collaboration - Taking cross-sector partnerships beyond philanthropy
Plan International's A Working Future youth economic empowerment programme has proven that partnerships between the development and corporate sectors can successfully address social issues and generate commercial value. This kind of cross-sector collaboration with its potential to effectively address social issues while creating value for both society and business will play a key role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Cross-sector collaboration: linking or sharing of information, resources, activities, and capabilities by organisations in two or more sectors to jointly achieve an outcome that could not be achieved by organisations in one sector separately.
This think piece, written jointly by Accenture Skills to Succeed Academic Research Programme and Plan International Uganda, reports on the success of A Working Future's new approach to partnering. Driven by Plan International for 3.5 years, this programme aimed to provide viable employment to rural and marginalised youth in Uganda, with a unique model for driving change, with funding and technical support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Plan International Sweden, Accenture Sweden and Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP).
With approximately 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world, youth employment and economic empowerment must be at the centre of efforts to generate growth and defeat poverty.
The local outcome of the programme for young people in Uganda has been nothing short of remarkable.
Based on 38 interviews with partners in the A Working Future programme, 3 distinct factors have been identified as contributing to the success of the programme:
- Being able to adapt to the local context
- Leveraging the savings groups platform for outreach and scalability
- Taking private sector partnerships beyond philanthropy to create shared value
The A Working Future youth economic empowerment programme has proven that partnerships between the development sector and corporate sector can successfully address social issues while also generating commercial value. A Working Future is a perfect example of a contextually adapted model for change in a new era of collaboration, for all sectors to be inspired by.
With an increasing youth unemployment rate, particularly in developing countries, it has become increasingly evident that new measures are required to address the lack of opportunity and sustainable income that these youth face. Cross-sector partnerships have a central role to play in meeting this challenge and helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. There is a growing awareness that cross-sector collaboration has the potential of effectively addressing social issues and creating value to satisfy the needs of both society and business.
New contextually adapted models are needed to scale and sustain initiatives to solve social issues. Surprisingly, few skills-building programmes are anchored in the local context, often based on donor strategies over market relevance and rarely incorporating the private sector. Therefore, innovative models for sustainable development are needed, where both strategies and resources are shared across sectors. It is unrealistic to think that the social issue of youth unemployment can be solved without collaborating across sectors. New approaches for partnering are needed that adapt to the local context.
The A Working Future programme was born out of the desire to identify ways to support youth economic empowerment through innovative methods of collaboration with the private sector. The programme targeted a total of 12,000 youth, aged 15-25 years old, in the rural Tororo and Kamuli districts in Eastern Uganda. The A Working Future model had its foundation in savings groups to provide increased access to financial services, and used them as a platform to teach critical skills required for formal jobs and self-employment. The youths were then linked to the private sector though three different employment pathways: job placements, micro-franchises, and producer groups. The private sector was engaged in all stages of the programme. The outcome of the programme has been fantastic.
Based on 38 interviews with partners in the A Working Future programme, three separate success factors have been identified as standing out, which will each be discussed in the following sections.
Key success factor 1
Being able to adapt to the local context
The A Working Future programme started in an inception phase with a feasibility study, which enabled the programme to adapt to the local context and fully understand the needs of the market and beneficiaries. This was critical to ensuring that appropriate employment opportunities were developed, skills provided to the programme participants were appropriate, and the right private sector relationships were established. Adapting the programme to the actual market needs not only increased the rate of employment, but also the income-earning potential of the participants. It has therefore been key in the overall success of the programme, and proven to be a necessary activity for the development of any youth empowerment programme.
Case study: Making agriculture appealing
Ms. Sharifa Nanyonjo, a 26-year-old mother of three, joined the A Working Future programme, and after receiving training she decided to take the producer group employment pathway. However, Ms. Sharifa discovered that her other savings group members were hesitant to participate in farming activities, which they did not believe could be lucrative. Convinced of the potential, she decided to try it out on her own. Ms. Sharifa started producing green chili and hot pepper, which was linked to the supply chains of KK Fresh Produce Exporters Limited, a private sector partner in the programme. Since starting, she has earned 6.9 million UGX ($1,989) and she is now employing fourteen people on her farm. Inspired by her success, twenty other village members have joined her to farm chilies. Being a true entrepreneur, her future plans include building a stored commercial building and opening up the biggest salon in Kamuli worth 5 million UGX ($1,651). The success of Ms. Sharifa demonstrates the earning potential of agriculture in rural Uganda, which is far beyond the expectations of the youth, making agriculture an appealing pathway for them.
Key success factor 2
Leveraging the savings groups platform for outreach and scalability
The savings group model provided the bedrock for youth mobilisation, training, and partnership with private sector actors.
The flexibility in approach which enabled leveraging the existing programme structures of the savings groups for outreach has been key to the success of A Working Future.
The savings groups have proven a formidable platform for facilitating youth economic empowerment in the rural context, and a digital mobile banking component, as well as other potential digital solutions to drive businesses and facilitate private sector linkages, supports scaling.
Given that savings groups are a frequently used form of organising youth in many regions, the A Working Future model holds a great potential for scale and outreach.
Key success factor 3
Taking private sector partnerships beyond philanthropy to create shared value
Collaborating with the private sector was a part of the core objectives of A Working Future from the start. As an organisation that focuses on ending child poverty and helping youth transition into adulthood, there is a direct correlation between the mission of Plan International and a focus on reducing unemployment. However, there are several components that Plan International Uganda would simply not be able to conduct by themselves; they needed the resources and expertise of partnering organisations from all sectors.
An ecosystem was developed where multiple partners supported the outcomes of the programme with their specific expertise and capabilities, engaged in everything from programme design to training the youth, building a strong foundation for providing the youth with the support they needed to achieve economic empowerment. These partnerships were strategic and based on shared value for both society and business. The partners in the A Working Future programme all have a clear business case for participating and will keep working with the youth after the programme end.
Therefore, the impact of the private sector partnerships in A Working Future is continuing to grow, creating more shared value as they mature.