Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

After the 'migration crisis': focus on the EU-funded Youth Empowerment Project

12 May 2020
Winners of the pitch competition at the World Export Development Forum 2019.
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International Trade Centre (ITC)/Flickr. Creative Commons (by)

How does the EU-funded Emergency Trust Fund for Africa support young people to find jobs or start their own businesses?

I am part of the team at the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) in The Gambia. Overall, YEP is working on improving employability and self-employment opportunities for youth through entrepreneurship and skills development; increasing employment opportunities along selected value chains and promoting the concept “Tekki Fii – Make it here”: Make it in The Gambia.

Regarding entrepreneurship, we’re supporting quite a wide range of enterprises: agro-processing, retail, tourism, creative industries, information and communications technology. We’re also trying to support young people to develop marketable skills. At the end of the day, trainees will have to either decide whether to join the labour market as employees or start their own business.

In terms of supporting young entrepreneurs who are new to running their own business, one approach is to use the Empretec model. Empretec is the capacity-building programme of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) that supports the inclusive growth of micro, small and medium sized enterprises. Participants attend workshops to develop basic business skills such as book-keeping. The experience is also intended to motivate young entrepreneurs and build self-confidence.

Alongside skills training, the YEP offers material help to Gambian businesses. The Access to Finance initiative works with businesses at all stages. Our mini-grant scheme, implemented by The National Association of Cooperative Credit Unions of The Gambia (NACCUG), has so far supported more than 250 start-ups with the equivalent of $1,000 in seed money each. Support is not provided as cash, but in the form of materials and equipment. We also offer technical guidance and support, and we monitor these new businesses so that we can intervene if there are any problems. One sector that has particularly benefitted is poultry farming. We have 45 or 50 entrepreneurs involved in poultry farming, and most of them doing well.

I can give you the example of one recipient of funding, also called Baboucarr. He started off as a migrant on the ‘backway’, the overland route to the coast. He had a traumatic journey that lasted over two years, and at one point he was held hostage in Libya until his family sold their property to pay his ransom. On return to The Gambia, he set up a small poultry business with just 85 chicks. He successfully applied for a mini-grant through the YEP and submitted invoices for 300 chickens, feeding equipment and chicken feed amounting to about $850. The NACCUG, partnering with ITC, bought the goods and supplied them to Baboucarr. His business now has nine employees and made $1,300 in profit in its first year.

As well as the mini-grant scheme, there is a mini-loan scheme implemented by the Social Development Fund (SDF). This is aimed at growing existing businesses. Collateral requirements are less stringent than the private sector and interest rates are about half those charged by the banks. Loans need to be paid back within a year.

A third finance mechanism is called the Gambian Angels Investment Network (GAIN). This is aimed at established businesses too large to receive mini-grants or mini-loans. The idea is to connect these businesses with so-called ‘angels’, who are wealthy Gambian investors looking for high-potential businesses in which to invest. The initiative was set up by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in partnership with the African Business Angel Network and the Gambian Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA). GAIN follows in the footsteps of similar initiatives in Mali, Benin and Senegal. Its initial target is to bring together between ten and fifteen local and diaspora-based investors to fund between eight and twelve early and growth-stage start-ups. GAIN has received support from the YEP, but will eventually become self-sustaining.

What is the profile of the YEP’s intended beneficiaries?

Only a few of the technical training programmes require degree-level education. Many of the young entrepreneurs don’t have basic education, and some don’t speak or write English. So, most of our training programmes are delivered in local languages or in basic English. Also, we aim to support businesses throughout the country rather than just in the coastal areas. There is huge potential in the rural areas.

In terms of education, there is a complimentary project, the Tekki-Fii or ‘Make it in The Gambia’ project. Like the YEP, this is funded by the EU Trust Fund. Between them the projects will receive about €13 million between 2019 and February 2021. The project is aimed at those aged between 15-35 and not in employment, education, or skills training. It especially targets returning migrants and those thinking of migrating. It wants to change the perception of young people from seeing their future abroad to seeing their future in The Gambia.

Importantly, following assessment, the training can lead to a Gambia Skills Qualification Framework certificate accredited by the National Accreditation and Quality Assurance Authority. Tekki Fii also actively tries to link training with getting a job. ‘Enter the Labour Market’ workshops are held alongside skills training to improve communication and interpersonal skills. The idea of the certificates and ELM workshops is to motivate the trainees to find a job or become self-employed. The target is for 1,200 trainees to complete the ELM workshops by the end of the Tekki-Fii project in 2021. It is funded by the European Union Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) and implemented by the ITC, German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), Instituto Marquês de Valle Flôr (IMVF) and the Belgian Development Agency, Enabel. The project builds on existing EU-funded initiatives such as the YEP and the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration.

The main reason returnees give for migrating is the search for better opportunities abroad. So, the YEP is looking to unleash the potential of youth without them leaving the country through risky routes. Give them a real alternative to the risky overland and oversea journey. Migration is by choice, and we cannot stop people from migrating. But we have an obligation to make sure that, before they migrate, young people are aware of the opportunities at home. Whether they explore these opportunities is up to them. But, from what I have seen through the YEP’s advocacy work, young people have changed their perception towards risky migration and are, instead, trying out opportunities here.

This series has been financially supported by Humanity United.

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