Using innovation to disrupt unemployment in Uganda.

Uganda ranks second as the country with the youngest population in the world as 48.5% of the country’s population is below the age of 15 years. While most of those teenagers are still school going, the education system and pedagogies used in most government schools and institutions are outdated. After completing school these youth have to compete for a few available jobs in government or private sector.

The unemployment rate for young people ages 15–24 is a staggering 83%. This rate is even higher for those who have formal degrees and live in the urban area. This is due to the disconnect between the degree achieved and the vocational skills needed for the jobs that are in demand for workers. Those without a degree are also not able to obtain jobs because they lack the skills needed for the position or they don’t have the resources such as land or capital.

Uganda’s biggest asset are the youth and in light of massive unemployment, there’s need to re-think different ways of engaging the youth to tackle some of the greatest challenges we face. There’s a lot of opportunity for solving challenges with in the city but also in rural areas and it’s time for the youth to begin thinking more critically about creating jobs rather than seeking them.

Disruptive innovation is one of the ways we can start thinking about solving some of our greatest challenges. Today, technology is in our hands and is a big enabler at how we choose to address problems.

The world is in need of a new type of entrepreneur who seeks to look at every challenge and be able to see an opportunity to solve a problem, that’s where innovation comes in. It’s being able to critically assess challenges within our surroundings and crafting solutions that are well through out and tested with communities with which we intend to serve.

I recently started a venture with a friend that’s meant to use technology to disrupt social and humanitarian programs. Most of these programs serve huge numbers of people and they struggle to find the best way to serve efficiently and effectively. In most cases deploying simple disruptive technologies can go a long way in enabling these programs to achieve their targets.

Our flagship product the electronic voucher system enabling small holder farmers to redeem seed via agro-dealers and agents has yielded great results in it’s pilot phase. With the use of simple feature phones and a USSD menu, agro-dealers in the most remote villages in Kaabong, Kotido and Abim are able to redeem electronic vouchers and get paid instantly for each voucher redeemed. More than just a voucher system comes the data that we are able to collect. With each voucher redeemed, we get to learn more about the thousands of farmers agro-dealers serve. The data we collect can be used by banks and SACCOs for credit scoring and giving loans to some of the consistent and well performing farmers and that’s just one application of data.

At the just concluded 26th annual World Economic Forum on Africa that was conducted in Rwandan from 11–13 May under the theme “Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation” — I was fortunate to be shortlisted among 10 of Africa’s top female innovators. As flattering as that was, I feel that my greatest achievement will be seeing us disrupting more sectors using technology and innovation as the biggest driving force.

The youth in Uganda need to learn that our unemployment struggles can only be solved when we get out of our comfort zone and seek to take on challenges in our communities as the greatest opportunities.

By Evelyn Namara


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