An interview with ‘Mister OYE’ - Roy van der Drift
You have been involved with OYE from the beginning, how did it all start?
When Mastercard Foundation called us late 2011 to design what eventually became the “Opportunities for Youth Employment” (OYE) approach, I realised that a training module would not do the job; youth would get their certificate - and that would be it.
Besides, it seemed better to develop a model based on our strength - know how of local markets and expertise in value chains. I thought, ‘If we can make markets work for the poor, we can make them work for youth as well.’
We developed a connection between youth and markets in three stages: push-match-pull. We already used the notion of ‘pull’ in agriculture value chain development, where we did not only work with smallholder farmers on the production side of the chain, but also with agribusiness such as processing companies in the middle’. This allowed us to build commercially viable connections at sector level pulling in farmers from one side and processors from the other.
So, Push-Match-Pull, what does it mean in practice?
I am fascinated by the concept of youth embarking on a journey in life. We push them with skills, not only professional skills but basic life skills as well – things like daring to stand up and say your name loud and clear, or do calculations. Remember, we target rural youth with little formal education.
Then we needed to match this youth with opportunities for employment, just like a recruitment agency. We ventured out towards companies in our network to ask them what they needed, and assured them this rural youth was fit to do the job after the training. In the beginning companies were reluctant, but they knew us - long time- so they were willing to take what they saw as a risk.
After matching, we stayed alongside the youth. Discussing issues that popped up, like coming to work in time - not everyone was used to this timeliness. This way we guided them deep into the job. And in the end companies were surprised how well these young ones they had deemed as ‘good for nothing’ actually performed, now that they had perspective in life.
As you went along with the project, did you encounter surprises?
Yes! How active and inventive the youth we enrolled became. They didn’t just follow the prospects that we laid out before them. They came up with their own ideas as well. We had started with job opportunities from the sectors we have been working in as SNV; agriculture, energy and even some WASH. But they diversified, solar stories became multi-purpose, agriculture yields were invested in professional barber saloons, etcetera. And that is fine, OYE is a stepping stone, not a straightjacket.
Likewise we have to accept that in Africa the majority of jobs is informal. In practice, most of the youth became self-employed. People usually don’t mae business plans and not everybody is an entrepreneur. In practice, they engaged in a broad range of work, varying from informal self-employment and group-based enterprises to formally registered businesses. To get them started it was pivotal to provide access to affordable financial services (such as local government youth loans and soft credit/bank guarantees from blended financial institutions) and encourage saving and lending groups
Have you experienced things that were counter intuitive?
Yes. At first we expected that the youth we enrolled would be enthusiastic to participate in our OYE Facebook and Twitter platforms. Or at least our role models. We thought it would be their platform to communicate. This turned out not to be the case. Their phone penetration was low, and after some initial excitement uploading information on OYEAfrica.org felt more like an obligation to them. When we realised that, we dropped it, they don’t need to act for OYE, OYE acts for them.
What mistakes did you make?
Oh, several mistakes. This was untrodden territory, so we had to learn along the way. We needed to be flexible, instead of sticking to fixed log frames. We evolved our approach along the way in cooperation with Mastercard Foundation, which made us realize the importance of working with a flexible development partner.
In the beginning we underestimated the necessary investments for youth in so called outgrower schemes – where youth start their own enterprise, delivering to a company. These companies were less willing to co-invest than initially anticipated, for example in plastic drinkers and feeders. This posed real barriers for some of them, but we didn’t want to subsidise. Instead we helped them start their own Youth Savings and Lending Groups. These groups of 15-20 people meet weekly, putting together their savings, and mutually deciding on lending, all administered in a transparent manner. I expect these groups to expand beyond the duration of the project.
The other challenge was gender. Initially the target of 40% female enrolment was not met. When we started digging into that, we realised it started with our own staff. Some of them said ‘working in Biogas is not for women.’ We had some tough discussions about this. By now several very successful female biogas entrepreneurs and solar household system installers have proven them wrong. LINKS
To a certain level however, you need to accept that the situation of women is different from men, fifteen year old girls with a baby on their back are less mobile. So we specifically looked for work that can be combined with household chores, making clay cookstoves for example. Here is an important role for what we call ‘household dialogues’ between men and women (part of our Balancing Benefits approach LINK). Husbands need to understand the benefits of their wives being economically successful..
After the mid-term evaluation we committed to at least 50% female youth entering the OYE programme and we presented the local government – who were all male - that selected this youth with two separate lists to fill instead of one; male and female. A simple way to make gender top of mind. And we starting working with female peer to peer coaches.
What was your best moment?
Except for my recurring joy when I see youth taking their life in their own hands, it was actually the moment when after three years of hard work we had a meeting with our three teams from Mozambique, Tanzania and Rwanda, together with a colleague from the Mastercard Foundation. They all showed their results and their plans, and I realised they had really become good at what they did. They had actually become like the youth we were working with; taking initiative, entrepreneurial. This was also the moment when companies started coming to our teams, asking for more youth to employ
That moment I realised that you can have TOR’s, log frames, reports, push-match-pull models and what have you, but in the end it is your team that matters.