Building a New Generation of Young Change Makers
Updated: Jul 27, 2021
By Rehema Z.Namukose
How it all started
When I joined university 13 years ago, my goal was to get good grades, graduate and hopefully, get a good job. With my bachelor’s degree in mass communication at hand, I thought it would be easy to acquire a job because, a few years back during a career guidance session in S.4 (senoir 4 level in school), I had been informed that this was one of the marketable courses. Friends and family reaffirmed the same thing as I prepared for my undergraduate studies.
But the issue was more complex than my imagination could comprehend at the time. More young people were now acquiring higher education and competition for jobs was getting stiffer. Not even outstanding grades, work experience, and a great attitude would guarantee a job for someone of my background without connections or exposure. I was also timid, naïve, and with zero self-awareness about my strengths, capabilities, and passions. Even with all this, I still did not think I was the most disadvantaged. I attended middle-class schools that afforded me the privilege to attain career guidance earlier than most, an experience that informed my choices in the next phase of my academic career. Not many youths have such opportunities to make informed decisions.
Still, when you join the world of work, you all compete on the same level for the limited jobs in the economy. Matter of factly, currently, the economy can only provide approximately 3000 jobs annually compared to the approximately 30,000 – 40,000 fresh graduates that join the market each year. Although education is still viewed as the greatest social equalizer, high unemployment levels and competing social issues such as nepotism, corruption, among other social impediments, still frustrate many.
The Uganda National Household Survey 2016/2017 indicates that the national unemployment rate is 9.2% and the unemployment rate for youth aged 18-30 is 13.3%. As a complex social, political, and economic issue, many have argued that causes are mainly structural; the economy does not have enough jobs to accommodate the thousands of fresh graduates every year and the education system is not preparing young people enough for the realities of the job market today. Young people receive theoretical knowledge and skills that are inadequate, incompatible and inapplicable with today’s market demands. Therefore, solutions to this problem should be practical and systemic.
To understand and skillfully navigate all this, we needed mentorship, nurturing, support, and connections. Young adults joining the world of work need to know the realities of the economy but also understand that issues such as the newly imposed internet tax of 12% for all Ugandans deeply widen the digital divide between the rich and the poor, affecting businesses, online socialization, job search, e-work, and freedom of expression. They need to know their labor rights, but also recognize the gender disparities and challenges, majorly affecting young women in search of or while at work. These interconnected social issues affect youth innovation, creativity, and motivation, and prevents many from progressing in life.
The birth of Re!gnite Africa
All this led to the founding of Re!gnite Africa. Without any funding, I dared to dream of addressing the career challenges I had encountered while navigating the turbulent waters of youth. My mentor – who later turned into a colleague, Amos Zikusooka - and I realized that we needed to create a platform that bridged the gap between school and the world of work. We started with two career development programs that provided 21st-century knowledge and practical training in soft skills and entrepreneurship, nurturing them into competent and transformed problem solvers. These programs, funded out of pocket by co-founders - were:
The Career Positioning Program (CPP) – a flagship and popular program at Re!gnite, CPP prepares fresh graduates for the modern workplace by equipping them with knowledge, skills, mentorship, and apprenticeship opportunities in formal employment and entrepreneurship. Re!gnite has directly worked with over 500 fresh graduates and helped them get jobs and become better prepared for the workforce. A former participant, Sanyu Immaculate (2019 Fellow), shares her experience: "On top of gaining excellent CV and cover letter writing skills which I believe every young person ought to know...I managed to polish my communication skills, especially public speaking. I write better emails now, have a great CV, my network is expanding as I climb the corporate ladder and I have never been better prepared for my working life...’’.
The Dream Connect Program focused on teaching soft skills to youth pursuing vocational courses and connecting them to technical experts and platforms that would expand their knowledge, skills and even provide them opportunities for jobs and seed capital. This program has directly impacted 50 out of school young adults
Five years later, the organization has expanded its programming to include leadership and advocacy programs that focus on enabling youth to understand structural barriers to their pursuit of personal and career goals while also coaching and amplifying their voices on critical issues related to employment, decent work, and labor rights for young adults. Through all this, Re!gnite has directly worked with 1000 youth and impacted over 10,000 people through a ripple effect. This impact has been recognized and rewarded by the United Nation’s Uganda 2020 #1MillionSDGSolutions campaign as among the top 10 youth platforms changing lives of young people, and by 2020 FOYA East African awards under the Social Founder of the Year category that highlights the work of founders making change among vulnerable populations in their communities with minimal resources.
Impact and vision
The stories of the impact of our work are endless. Many youths who launched their careers at Re!gnite have gone on to excel in their jobs, businesses, and social ventures they set up to create positive change in their communities.
The young leader Sophie Nabukenya (2016) was selected to be the youth ambassador on teenage pregnancies by Plan International Uganda.
Mugisha Obed (2016) founded School of Inspiration, a social enterprise addressing education inequalities in rural Uganda.
Sarah Owembabazi (2016) and Justine Katusiime (2017) are building a laundry business.
Noreen Oboteite (2018), a young social change maker founded Tell Your Story Foundation Uganda, a charity organization that changes the lives of vulnerable and differently-abled children
Enock Jjumba (2018 Cohort) is leading the production of the Insurrectionist Magazine, an online media platform covering East African left-wing liberation issues.
But the journey has not always been smooth. Like all youth-led initiatives, we have had to work against many forces, with limited funding being the biggest issue. Many funders equate the lack of technical experience among many youth organizations to unreliability and failure. It is true that many of us young change-makers figure out things as we go because we rarely get the support we need. However, if we are not given a chance, how will we learn and build our institutions? When will we get it right without support? Doesn’t our creativity and energy - if fully harnessed - count?
The pandemic has exacerbated already existing institutional challenges and weaknesses. We have had to figure out what leadership looks like in crisis while also trying to mobilize resources, taking care of our mental health while ensuring our staff is well taken care of with meagre resources, while also not forgetting to center to the needs of our key target audiences – the young adults we serve. Nonetheless, we are grateful for the continued support from our funders, technical advisors, implementing partners, and the young team of volunteers who continue to commit time to serve others. I encourage donors to give young people a chance to be part of teams that are reimagining the future and working towards achieving it.
To young people – do not be afraid to dream a little bigger. Allow yourself to be challenged and to be part of change in your community. If you must, take a break but do not give up. There is a lot we can achieve collectively to make the world more habitable for future generations. Dare to be a part of the change you seek.
Follow Re!gnite Africa and learn more:
Rehema's Youth Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/rehema.namukosewl/
on their website: https://reigniteafrica.org
follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ReigniteAfrica/
follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReigniteAfrica