Debunking Africa’s “Youth challenge”-narrative?

Playing around with data is kinda fun, until the data shows exactly the opposite of what you want to hear. Much of my work, including this blog, is predicated on the assumption that there are a whole lot of young people in this world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Now, and in the decades to come.

Indeed, the graph below (from Filmer and Fox 2014) is quite telling (each bar shows the projected number of 15- to 24-year-olds for one year at five-year intervals).

Estimated 15-24 year olds

But then I started playing around with some graphs. If I estimate the percentage of 15-24 year old’s I get a different picture. Starting from 2030, youth -defined as those between 15 and 29 year old here, actually goes down (the same trend applies if youth is defined as those between 15 and 24, as in the previous graph).

estimation 15-29 year olds africa

Oops! Does this mean the narrative of a staggering wave of youth in Africa, and  the potential problems due to a lack of jobs available, perhaps needs a bit more scrutiny? Adding projections for other parts of the world puts things a bit in perspective. The following graph confirms that after 2030 the relative youth population will decline in Africa. But…..will still be much higher than for other regions.

Projected youth pops across world regions

This will have implications for the total working population (potential labor force if there are jobs) for decades to come. Quite an impressive trend, almost the direct opposite of other world regions.

Working population

So, there you have it. The absolute number of youth will grow but its relative size decreases a bit over time. Still, what explains this decrease? Probably the most important factor are fertility rates; they have been going down and will continue to do so. As such, the relative (!) number of youth will eventually decline.

Declining fertility rates

So, the narrative largely stands, albeit with a bit more nuance.

Practical Guidelines for Youth Employment

There is an emerging body of academic literature on youth employment, but little practical guidelines for those who do the heavy lifting and actually manage these programmes.

Last year I was so lucky to manage a small research project for Plan International with the exact aim to fill this gap. Our objective was to identify some of the critical factors for youth employment programmes to be successful. A very ambitious task, indeed.

We did field research looking at support programmes targeted at young people in Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador. Youth were trained and through apprenticeships, funding and alliances with the private sector connected to the labour market (both self-employment and wage employment).

The document is written for staff on the ground to inform policy makers and donors about what they are doing and the lessons they have learned. It also serves as a reference for practitioners who are new to the area of youth employment. For this reason it is not just available in English but also in Portuguese and Spanish.

The report can be downloaded here.

Lazy pig producers

I was recently in Uganda doing research on young people and their interaction with the pig value chain. ‘Piggery’ is still considered a dirty activity by many, but there is money in pork. For those who have been to Uganda will probably have noticed the so-called ‘pork joints’ sprawling across urban centers. These small, kiosk-like shops are very popular among Ugandans (those who are not Muslim) for a beer and roasted pork meat. These joints are often integrated businesses, oftentimes serving as a mini-restaurant and bar as well as a butchery providing slaughtering services and selling fresh meat. It is a bit similar to the milk bars in Kenya. The owners of milk bars are often engaged in multiple activities as well.

Two observations that stuck with me and that are perhaps worthy of sharing (a draft version with some summary findings can be found here, bear in mind though that the conclusions are geared towards the organization I work for, the International Livestock Research Institute ):

I) Primary production can still be a very valuable source of income for youth. Often the argument is made that young people are not interested in traditional agricultural production as the returns are modest and take time, while land and capital is required, something youth usually have no or limited access to. Usually off-farm and value added activities are suggested as an alternative, for example managing a pork joint. I have argued before (see this post) this is not always the right approach. The pig value chain in Uganda for me is another example which illustrates primary production can be an attractive option. Piggery requires only a small plot of land, little capital and gives relative quick and attractive returns.

II) It might not be surprising that non-youth (those aged 35 and above) hold negative views of youth, thinking of them as “untrustworthy and lacking patience and dedication”. However, youth themselves seem to increasingly hold negative views of their peers as well. A few months earlier I experienced the same during research in Eastern Kenya. Young people accused each other of being “lazy” and only interested in “drinking and gambling”. They no longer want to ‘get their hands dirty’.

Who needs enemies….right?

Youth roasting meat on the roadside (c) Wouter Kleijn

What to make of this then? Those who argue that this generation of youth is indeed lethargic and apathetic, will find confirmation of their opinion. Which is somewhat ironic, as it would demonstrate a degree of self-reflection by youth, which the same people accuse these lazy youngsters of lacking.

I am inclined to disagree. Gambling and drinking is a problem for some youth. But their lack of interest in agriculture is the result of two factors. Firstly, young people look at what their parents have been able to accomplish in agriculture in the past decades, which is very little. And the scarcity of land and climate change do not help either. Secondly, youngsters experience an increase in opportunities in the non-farm sector, both in rural and urban areas, which in turn makes agriculture less attractive. See for example a recent study on youth in Ghana, by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRPI), demonstrating that many “rural households have shifted their primary employment from agriculture to nonagriculture”, especially those households led by young people. That is not laziness, that is common sense. The authors also observe that “rural poverty rates are consistently lower among nonagricultural households, and the share of middle-class population is also disproportionally higher among rural nonagricultural households than agricultural households”.

Although hardly much better than a life in farming, the reality is that many youth end up in the informal off-farm sector. As such the study re-affirms what we already knew: there are more options for this generation of youth and they are probably more rational than lazy in recognizing them.

Links I liked

1) Powerful words by Salina Abraham (of the International Forestry Students’ Association) on the Global Landscapes Forum 2015 in Paris. Every so often I am part of discussions and panels on youth empowerment and employment and it is startling how non-youth (let’s say anyone above 35) dominate the discussion. It is a bit like launching a girls’ council in Saudi Arabia, without any females attending.

2) A great lecture/webinar by Thomas Jayne, professor at Michigan State University on the rise of Medium-Scale Farms in Africa. Some highlights for me:

  • the proportion of medium scale farms is significant (around 45+% according to current datasets but this percentage is probably underestimated)
  • we don’t know exactly how this will affect the multiplier effect (i.e. increasing agricultural productivity which in turn increases demand for non-agricultural goods and services and therefore contributes to overall job growth in the urban areas)
  • there is only a small percentage of smallholders who are able to upgrade to this class of medium scale farmers (but they merit our attention)
  • employment creation by medium-scale farmers is likely to be limited

3) This is pretty cool: Nigerian hackers turned into entrepreneurs.

4) A new bulletin by the Institute for Development Studies completely dedicated to youth employment and entrepreneurship in Africa.

5) Three recent panel discussions on youth and agri-business can be found here

6) A decent synthesis report on ‘Boosting youth employment in Africa: What works and why?’

7) And finally a wonderful TedTalk by Rutger Bregman contributing to the flurry of literature and opinions on Universal Basic Income.

The Importance of Secondary Towns

Last week I was so lucky to travel through the Eastern region of Kenya. Half of the time we were actually in a car, driving from one place to the other. That is not a bad thing considering one can only be in awe of the degree of variety in landscapes and agro-ecological zones along the way. From pastoral to coastal communities, from arid to highlands: it was all there.

Focus Group Discussion on Youth Involvement

One of the things that struck me in particular was the number of towns we passed through. Perhaps to my own fault,  I tend to associate the term urban migration with large cities. In Kenya, where I currently live and work, this would include cities such as Mombasa, Kisumu and of course Nairobi. But speaking to some young people, asking them where they and their friends travel to in search of jobs and witnessing the high degree of economic activity while passing through these towns, made me think again.

One of the places we visited was Kitui, a town with 150.000 inhabitants (back at home we would
call this a city). Rural youth from around migrate to Kitui often in search of employment opportunities. Some of those jobs might include burning trees for charcoal production, transporting charcoal, baking bricks, transporting and selling of vegetables on the local market, digging and other construction work, car washing and mechanics, vendor in grocery shops, etcetera.

Of course the definition of ‘urban’ is rather vague. One place we visited was Mwatate, a town with just over 5000 inhabitants (I grew up in a place like this and we called it a village). Yet youth from the surrounding rural areas found reason to move there take up the boda boda jobs (motorbike taxi), working in mom and pop chops, engage in trading, etcetera. What will support the increase in economic activity in Mwatate even more is the construction of a tarmac road, sub-contracted to a Chinese company  (see photo below). Perhaps not surprisingly, this has been conveniently planned in the run-up to the elections taking place in August this year.

Construction of a tarmac road, leading up to the election

A leading authority on this topic of ‘secondary towns’  is Luc Christiaensen of the World Bank. In a blogpost co-authored by Ravi Kanbur from Cornell University they write that “cross-country evidence suggests that poverty declines faster when people leave agriculture for secondary towns and their rural hinterlands, than when they move to cities.” As it turns out “the economies of scale associated with many of the activities most developing countries focus on, can already be captured at much smaller urban scales”.

They provide a telling example from the rural population of Kagera, in Tanzania, in which migration patterns were tracked over two decades (1991-2010):

“As expected, those who made it to Dar es Salaam, saw their incomes more than triple; they all escaped poverty. Those who remained farmers in the rural areas, also saw their incomes rise, but by only 60 percent. Those who left agriculture for the secondary towns or the rural nonfarm sector experienced a doubling of their income, with the share of people living in poverty declining from 64 percent in 1991-4 to 25 percent in 2010. Yet, when looking at their contribution to overall consumption growth and poverty reduction, it was those who moved to the towns and their hinterlands who contributed most (42 and 50 percent respectively). There were simply many more of them who made it to these urban centers (one in three), while only very few made it to Dar es Salaam (one in seven).”

Would it not be interesting to think how we can help a young person, in a cost-effective manner, to grow his bricks business? Or to produce charcoal in a more sustainable way? Supporting a micro-entrepreneur to scale up his basic processing of agricultural products? Or perhaps to support successful small entrepreneurs venture into other business activities, make profits and employ others? This can be done in a variety of ways, by providing support via unconditional cash transfers  or support mechanisms combining technical, business and soft skills training with loans/grants.

Currently most youth employment programmes are either focused on urban areas, by which they mean large cities, or rural areas looking at self-employment (entrepreneurship) opportunities. However the opportunities in these smaller urban areas deserve, perhaps, a bit more of our attention.

The ‘Magic’ of Value Adding Activities

In my previous post I highlighted the increased attention for agriculture as a pathway for youth employment. Since many rural youth do not show much interest in starting or taking over a farm, agriculture and agri-business should be made more attractive.

I conduct quite a lot of interviews for my current job, asking experts in the field of agricultural development where they see opportunities for youth. Almost all of them suggest to focus on creating employment opportunities through value adding activities (VAAs) – which means basically everything aside from primary production. Instead of merely producing potatoes, VAAs would include the production of potato seed, marketing of potatoes, selling seeds and agro-chemicals, processing of potatoes into chips and so on and so forth.

For example Yvonne Lokko, working for the Agribusiness Department of UNIDO, argues that “there are opportunities in value addition like making packaging materials, processing, marketing and even informing people on agriculture in simplified language”.

There are a couple of arguments one can think of in favor of VAAs:
1. At times more value is added than in the primary production phase
2. It is not seen as traditional farming, which often has a bad reputation among youth (and their parents) as being backward and a poor man’s job – VAAs are more ‘cool’
3. VAAs often require less use of land compared to primary production (with the exception of feed production). This is an advantage as land is often inaccessible for youth until their parents die. And when they do get some land from their parents they often watch closely over their children’s shoulder.

Problem solved? Hmm, not quite. Fair enough, a job is a job and if there are opportunities I would be the last one to argue against any form of decent employment. There are however also a few sobering reasons why perhaps VAAs are not as promising as some might believe them to be:

1) There are still ample business opportunities in primary production. It would be unwise to neglect them. We also know that labor absorption capacity of smallholder farming can be significant, which is mainly characterized by primary production. The Green Revolution showed this (albeit that labor absorption declined over time, see this case study from Bangladesh and this one on East Asian economies)

2) Perhaps it is very difficult to make some money with primary production, but is that because of the product itself or the lack of an enabling environment (market access, infrastructure, market information, etc.)? If it is the enabling environment that is posing a challenge, surely this will pose challenges to any form of VAA as well.

3) If there is no demand for the product, then you might wonder about the strength of the business case for adding any value. Let’s say the production of tomatoes in country X is not attractive for a young person because it is tedious work and prices are low. Will this not affect the demand of value adding activities? How many tomato farmers are going to be interested in improved seeds for instance? Or irrigation techniques?

4) One could argue, however, that demand for VAA is not always related to demand for primary production. Let us stick with the tomato example. Even if too many tomatoes are brought to the market (making it less attractive due to the low price fetched at the local market) there might still be a demand for improved seeds for other crops, or a tomato processing facility to make tomato juice.

Yet if all elderly people are moving out of primary production simply because they become too old and eventually die, overall production will drop and there will not be enough production to add value to (unless remaining farmers and agri-business steps in and starts producing using economies of scale). The scenario would be the following:

5) Finally, the potential employment capacity (or labor absorption capacity) might be quite limited. Indeed, setting up a tomato processing factory might create a significant number of jobs, but that is not the case for the majority of such activities. How many youth can actually become agrodealers, veterinarians or middlemen?

Taking all of these arguments into account, it seems to me that it would be advisable to support youth engaging in primary production as well. This can be done by keeping our eyes open for opportunities in primary production, especially those that are less capital and land-intensive such as horticulture. And in addition by helping entrepreneurial youth engaged in VAAs to venture into primary production. For example, a young person involved in milk trading can be assisted in acquiring a healthy dairy cow to secure his/her supply of milk.

This is coming from an individual who was never properly trained in economics, so please shoot. However it seems to me that the math just does not add up and a more balanced approach, with both attention for primary production and VAAs, is more sensible.

Making Agriculture Sexy

One billion additional youth will enter the global job market in the next ten years. Only 40 percent are expected to be able to get jobs that currently exist. This means we need to create 600 million jobs over the next decade, which amounts to five million jobs each month.

With many young people still living in the rural areas in developing countries and a lack of employment opportunities available in non-agricultural activities and urban areas, one pathway is agriculture.

Yet most rural youth do not seem to be very keen to choose the career path of their parents. Who really wants to do the tedious work of tilling the land using a hoe or harvesting your crop by hand, against limited returns? Indeed, most research shows that interest of youth in traditional agriculture is low.

Hence the plight by some to make agriculture more attractive and “make it sexy”.

Jane Karuku, the former head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA),  has argued that agriculture should become a more sexy career choice.

And for some visuals, see the following advertisement by seed company East West Seed International:

And this is not only confined to developing countries. A youth farming association in Bavaria Germany has presented its latest edition of a calendar “showing farm girls in erotic poses in the hopes of making agriculture more attractive to younger Germans”. For those interested, the actual photos can be found here.

Of course there are more subtle approaches. One of them is Shujaaz, a multi-media platform that aims to help improve the lives of young Africans. One of their aims is to make agriculture more sexy attractive through the use of comics and radio shows.

Another example, here in Kenya, is the series Seeds of Gold in the Daily nation newspaper, which often features young successful farmers.

There is nothing wrong with dusting off the image of farming. However there is no clear consensus on the exact push and pull factors for youth involvement in agriculture in developing countries. In other words, we often do not exactly know what causes the lack of interest in agriculture as the reasons differ significantly per area, age group, gender etc. The most commonly cited factors revolve around the image of agriculture and economic returns.

Type of Argument Push Pull
Image Agriculture is seen as dirty, not ‘cool’ City is ‘cool’ (fashion, dating material, cars)
Economic Limited access to land and capital and other basic infrastructure to enable profitable agri-business Job opportunities in the (peri-urban) areas in non-agricultural activities

When you hear talk about making agriculture sexy again, it is often about the first type of push and pull arguments. A telling example is a case study by Edwin and Glover on migration by youth in Ghana from the poorer northern to the more prosperous and industrialized southern region. It argues that one of the reasons for migration from rural areas it that youth “want to attend night clubs, eat out and wear fancy cloths and hair styles”. Or as one agronomist in South Africa once told me: “The legs of the girls in the city are just longer”. The city is where the pretty girls and boys are at, the expensive cars from the video clips on TV and the hang-outs and bars. In such a case it might be useful to make agriculture a bit more sexy, possibly using some of tactics employed by the campaigns mentioned.

However a lot of youth mention a lack of employment opportunities in the rural areas and potential employment in the urban zones as the primary reason for migration (including in the case study by Edwin and Glover). To counter this narrative much more is needed than spreading some ‘coolness’. For instance by providing access to capital, inputs and finance, strengthening infrastructure and marketing channels, which is easier said than done.

Secondly, more specific and localized reasons are left out of the discussion. In their study Edwin and Glover reveal that half of the 89 interviewees (79% were women) migrated to urban areas because their parents divorced which created “instability in their homes with serious implications for the children”. Pushing these youth into agriculture seems ill-advised in such a situation and not very effective.

The point here is that making agriculture more sexy will only work if is only going to be successful if coolness is the main problem, but more often than not there are hard economic realities and social challenges that lead youth to deliberately opt for a life outside the realm of agriculture and livestock.

Links I liked

After some procrastination I decided to take up blogging more frequently. I have recently accepted a job which allows me to focus full time on youth employment. I hope to share some of my experiences on a more regular basis.

For now, three links I liked:

1) One of the better articles I have been reading on youth employment so far, authored by four very talented colleagues from the Institute of Development Studies. Their main argument is that under- and unemployment of youth is hardly a supply-driven problem (e.g. lack of access to capital, skills and networks), but instead is a consequence of demand-side and structural constraints.

One of the reasons I believe so many projects only want to look at the supply-side is because it is simply more easy. Training 10.000 potential entrepreneurs can be molded in a project, whereas trying to create an enabling environment and quality jobs is a whole other ballgame.

The authors mention supporting family farming, stimulating apprenticeships and public works programmes such as in India as possible entry-points. But the first two options will hardly contribute to employment creation either, and the impact of public works programmes is still debated.

Demand creation probably requires a more elusive approach. Again, perhaps we focus on economic projects on the micro-level because we have not truly figured out yet how to create productivity increases and competitive advantages within sectors and the national economy, and with that job creation (although these are some solid attempts, for those of you interested: A, B and C).

2) A great paper on the effect of land inheritance on youth employment and migration decisions, based on evidence from rural Ethiopia:

The results reaffirm the notion that push factors dominate pull factors in dictating occupational and migration decisions in Ethiopia and highlight youth preferences to use migration or non-agricultural employment as a last resort after exhausting other means of accessing land, such as temporary land rental.

This goes against the prevailing narrative that a) rural youth want to move to the cities and b) prefer non-agricultural activities. It reminds me of a recent study in Morocco, co-authored by my colleague Ingrid Flink, which concludes that the majority of the young people interviewed said they desired to stay and make a decent living in their home villages and communities.

3) There has been quite some hype in recent years around business innovation hubs in developing countries. This article in the Economist paints a bit of a sobering picture, claiming “only one incubator on the continent is profitable without grants”. I am not very much concerned about the fate of the business hubs per se, but it is troublesome if taken as an indicator of the success rate of its members (the hub only thrives if its members do).

And then two jobs I came across:
Program Officer, Youth Opportunity and Learning (East Africa – Ford Foundation /closed but contact me if interested)
Associate Global Practice Specialist, Workforce Development and Youth (US – DAI)


Recently I had to deliver a brief talk for a group of development professionals. I was asked to say something uplifting about  the entrepreneurship opportunities for youth active in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa.

These “agri-preneurs” seems to be a trending topic these days. And yes, you can add that term to the development jargon list. Or as Tony O. Elumelu, a self-made billionaire tycoon from Nigeria puts it:  “Young entrepreneurs and those they inspire are the lifeblood of Africa’s rise”.

I really beg to differ. Quite often entrepreneurship seems to be a catchy phrase for the otherwise miserable livelihoods of small-scale farmers in developing countries, in the absence of decent jobs. I will acknowledge rural entrepreneurship could have many other forms as well such processing, agro-inputs supply, transport, etc. – but these jobs are more scare. There needs to be some level of increase in production-related activities to facilitate growth in value added activities. As farming is a darn difficult sell we repackage it, while adding a sauce of ‘youthiness’ and perhaps some ICT to top it off.

That is a very cynical way to put it, I do apologize. Perhaps a more intelligent way to look at this is to study the level of ‘entrepreneurship’ of the middle-class. Duflo and Banerjee conclude in a paper from 2007 “[that] nothing seems more middle class than the fact of having a steady well-paying job”.

What about the poor? In their standard work Poor Economics Duflo and Banerjee refer to a large study of 18 developing countries. They conclude that “[the poor] mainly operate tiny businesses. And second, these tiny businesses are, for the most part, making very little money [..] The enterprises of the poor often seem more a way to buy a job when a more conventional employment opportunity is not available than a reflection of a particular entrepreneurial urge.”

This is a more powerful rebuttal than the popular argument, which I have often used myself, that entrepreneurship is very difficult in sub-Saharan Africa and therefore we should not try it all. Indeed, in my home country the Netherlands more than half of young enterprises do not survive. But the mere fact that it is very difficult, does not mean it is more difficult than, for instance, large scale private sector development through medium and large scale national and international companies.

Does this mean we should refrain from supporting entrepreneurship altogether (including entrepreneurship opportunities for youth)? I do not believe so as entrepreneurship can still be a means through which livelihoods can improve. Some ‘learned lessons’ include (based on personal experiences, I was too lazy for problematic induction):

  • Entrepreneurs usually have multiple sources of income. Take for instance vendors of agro-inputs, also known as agrodealers. Besides selling inputs, which only brings in revenue during the planting season(s), they might sell cement, food, equipment etc. Or engage in other business ventures such as bulking and transport. Support interventions should take into account these other activities when aiming to be effective. So not just training in financial bookkeeping only focusing on the revenues retrieved through selling seeds, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
  • Training of entrepreneurs by itself rarely works. Some form of financial support (loans, grants) seem to be essential.
  • In fact, there is mounting evidence that cash transfers show promising results. The co-authors Chris Blattman goes as far as to argue that cash transfers should be the basis and maybe skills training / capacity development could support this.
  • Make sure the training practical. Still much of training and education is basically a teacher standing in front of an audience, sending out information. Think of action and participatory research, as well as building in interactive games and dialogue.  Something we are currently experimenting with in one of our programmes in Mozambique are small action research grants. These grants will help students and teachers to get out of the classroom (i.e. comfort zone) and build a relationship with relevant actors in the field to understand what is really going on. Through internships and apprenticeships engagement with the private sector can be stimulated and the overall likelihood of employment increases.
  • Do not forget about the post-training phase. Indeed, a lot of programmes focus on the # of ‘graduated’ participants. While in fact ongoing support is key. Think of mentorship, refresher courses, finance etc.
  • Of course value for money is key here, how much does support of entrepreneurs cost vis-à-vis other interventions (education vouchers, unconditional cash transfers, deworming drugs, clean water supply, vaccines etc.).

The big elephant in the room here is scale. Tiny micro-enterprises are probably not the way to go. But what about rural entrepreneurs that employ 5, 10 or maybe 20 people and with a significant yearly turnover? Surely, micro-enterprises might lead to localized improved livelihoods at best, bigger SMEs hold more promise. The constraints, opportunities as well as the potential intervention mechanisms will differ significantly. It is this lack of clarity that clouds the discussion. Alas, something I only truly realized after I delivered my talk.

Mentorship or friendship?

In employment and entrepreneurship training mentorship is often suggested as having a positive impact on the ‘trainees’. Often these mentors are supposed to carry considerable professional work experience. Or as Hartley (2004) puts it:

“Formal mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship which involves a more experienced person helping a less experienced person to identify and achieve goals”

This makes kinda sense, no?! Why would a young person listen to a peer or adult without some experience and accomplishments under her or his belt? When I studied journalism back in university the only teacher that actually taught me something was a real journalist. I found it hard to accept advice from teachers who barely engaged in any serious reporting or documentary filming themselves

Recently a colleague of mine took a closer look at a entrepreneurship programmes in El Salvador and Colombia.
 Young participants involved in the programme pointed out that the experience of their mentors, who themselves are entrepreneurs, is greatly appreciated.

Yet visiting Salvador (Bahia, Brazil) shows that experienced mentors is not always necessary. In Salvador mentors are usually aged between 20 and 25 and university students. As such they do not differ significantly from most youth in the programme in terms of age (17-25). Most of them come from rather similar backgrounds, perhaps with the exception of the most vulnerable participants in the programme. 

A general video giving an overview of the project in Salvador named Pontes Para O Futuro

The mentors do differ somewhat from the mentees. For instance youth mentors  have managed to join a university programme, which in Brazil is challenging as enrollment for public universities is highly competitive and private universities can be costly (especially in times of economic and political crisis).

Using young mentors however allowed the programme to offer them an internship position (alongside their studies) which would not have been possible with mentors engaged in full professional employment with permanent contracts.

As a result mentors spend a large amount of their time at the college where the courses are being taught, very much available to the youth. Mentors have a weekly half-day session with the youth they accompany (around 30 now, going up to 60 in the next semesters) and often sit in and participate in classes as well. Another important characteristic was the comradery and mutual support among the mentors – I attended one of the goodbye ceremonies of one group and their mentor and the majority of students were crying there eyes out.

The programme in Salvador as a result could be seen more as one of support than traditional ‘mentoring’ or tutoring. According to this article by Chris Holland two models of mentoring can be found in the literature. “A restricted, functionalist model, where there is a formal distance between the learner and the mentor and where the focus is on learning outcomes rather than the learner as a whole person. The second is a relational model, where the learner is regarded as a valued equal who happens to have specific support needs, and where issues of respect and trust play a larger part.”

The approach used in Salvador clearly falls in the second category and deserves attention from those interested in employment and entrepreneurship programmes.

I willl leave you with a trailer of the beautiful documentary Keep on Keepin’ On. The mentorship model between a young and aspiring blind jazz pianist and a elderly legendary jazz trumpet player, is informal and one-on-one. Perhaps not very realistic in the context of development programmes but definitively inspiring and worth a watch.