AGFUND INTERNATIONAL PRIZE FOR PIONEERING HUMAN DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
For projects by NGOs.
|Prize Subject:||NGOs-led efforts to empowering youth through entrepreneurships and job opportunities.|
|Prize Amount:||US$ 150,000|
|The Winning Project:||Integrated Youth Employment Creation (IYEC)
(Selected winner from 46 projects).
|Implemented By:||Hands Empowering the Less Privileged in Sierra Leone (HELP-SL).
|Nominated By:||Sierra Leone.|
|Beneficiary Country:||UNDP Sierra Leone|
Hands Empowering the Less Privileged in Sierra Leone (HELP-SL) is an incorporated social enterprise founded in 1996, and is now one of the leading NGOs in Sierra Leone. Through enterprise approaches to poverty reduction, HELP-SL is working to address the social and economic issues of the disadvantaged in Sierra Leone. By drawing on creative and innovative entrepreneurial and market-based approaches, HELP-SL delivers services in the areas of Human Security, Women’s Empowerment & Advancement, and Food Security & Youth Development. As a complement to their social services, HELP-SL also features a Micro Credit Institution, providing small, low-interest loans to service users who have benefitted from HELP-SLs livelihood and life skills training.
The Integrated Youth Employment Creation (IYEC) Project was designed using the bottom-top approach to actively engage rural youths. The process involved facilitating discussions about needs, opportunities and rights-oriented principles, such as inclusion, participation, representation, accountability, transparency and justice, and then asking community youths to design how they would ‘practice’ those principles to increase food production and general livelihood. Informal discussions and observations in these communities ensured social cohesion and ownership of project design to help better tackle development needs.
Youth unemployment and underemployment in Sierra Leone remains high at 70 per cent. Growth in agricultural production is constrained by lack of inputs, technical knowhow and access to markets, poor national infrastructure and the small size of the private sector. Coordination among youth-serving organizations, micro-finance institutions (MFIs), and other stakeholders is still in its infant stages in Sierra Leone. Access to credit for marginalized young women and men is virtually non-existent, and there is a great need to network MFIs, financial service providers and other stakeholders to develop youth-friendly financial services. Given this situation in Sierra Leone the project aimed to resolve the following issues:
- Marginalization of youth
- Youth unemployment
- Unskilled and low level of managerial skills/ entrepreneurship skills
- Youth access to finance
HELP-SL has pioneered an innovative approach to enterprise development through the integration of micro-lending into their business training. Furthermore HELP-SL’s engagement of youth in agriculture is not only building incomes but also addresses one of the country’s other major challenges, food security.
A major constraint to youth entrepreneurship in the country is the lack of access to finance, a principle component to this project. HELP-SL’s progressive staged approach, which incorporates two critical phases, establishes good practice and sustainability through its incentive driven and capacity building program. During the first phase beneficiaries are provided with basic business development skills and mentoring followed by a soft loan to establish or expand an enterprise. At the end of the repayment period of 6 months, the credit rating of the beneficiaries is then transferred to the microfinance department of HELP-SL who then re-assesses the business for areas of expansion and consequently provides a second, larger loan. Because of this effective approach to youth enterprise development, UNDP has recommended that HELP-SL’s innovative model be replicated and scaled up within the organization’s current efforts as well as be integrated into the expansion of external projects aimed at facilitating the establishment of new SMEs.
From a macro perspective, the project has significant policy implications for best practice in supported youth enterprise development. After a decade long civil war denied a generation of youth access to education, traditional knowledge and practices and a chance to take part in economic activities, Sierra Leone faces the challenge of reintegrating this substantial portion of the population into a productive society. HELP-SL has creatively and practically demonstrated how to actively engage and mobilize the faction of society that can bring stability and socio-economic growth the country so desperately needs. The project model also ensures the financial reliability of youth, which reduces the financial risk of the donor stakeholders and empowers the target beneficiaries at both an individual and community level.
In terms of direct impact on the target beneficiaries, project numbers report an average income increase of 320%. A strong emphasis on sensitization and education on a number of cross cutting themes (HIV/AIDS, gender issues, disability, drug addiction, child abuse/trafficking, hygiene promotion and environmental impact) also further empowered the communities.
The project featured a strong participatory approach to design and direction. The HELP‐SL project model is considered by UNDP and other development partners as one of the best implementation practices and would be transferrable to other areas in the country and elsewhere. Financial management and resource utilization appear to have been very efficient, resulting in timely implementation. The project has largely fulfilled its objectives in a very effective manner that should ensure sustainability of project activities, benefits and services. There are strong beneficial social and environmental impacts. Overall this project is considered to be outstanding.
The project is comprehensive and addresses a common problem in most African countries, environmental friendly, and gender sensitive and integrated. The model is replicable in all African countries with agricultural potential and food deficiencies, with high rates of youth rural-urban migration, unemployment, particularly states coming out of conflict. It provides a good model for integrating agricultural and institutional activities through Agro –processing (agroprocessing) initiative. The adoption of the project activity “model” approach reduce the elements of risk and encourage non-direct beneficiaries to learn and adopt. It also allow for replication totally or partially in different areas.