March 19, 2018 | By Annie Bergman, Richard Ekodeu

Guest Commentary - Soft Skills Training in Heifer International’s East Africa Youth Inclusion Program (EAYIP)

Editor's Note: As part of our new blog series, The Next Generation, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs is inviting a diverse group of experts to explore topics related to youth employement and agriculture in advance of the 2018 Global Food Security Symposium.  Join the discussion using #GlobalAg, and tune in to the symposium live stream on March 21 and 22.

By Annie Bergman and Richard Ekodeu

Annie Bergman, global communications director for Heifer International, interviewed Richard Ekodeu, project director for Heifer’s East Africa Youth Inclusion Program.

Annie Bergman (AB): Tell us about the East Africa Youth Inclusion Program.
 
Richard Ekodeu (RE): In partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, Heifer International is implementing the $19 million East Africa Youth Inclusion Program (EAYIP) in Uganda and Tanzania. The program’s goal is to help 25,000 young women and men between the ages of 15 and 24 start small businesses or find jobs in the agriculture sector. EAYIP builds upon the success of Heifer’s East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project, which has improved dairy production and market access for more than 1 million farmers since its inception in 2008.
 
 
AB: How does the East Africa Youth Inclusion Program build soft skills like communication, time management, self-confidence, motivation and negotiation?
 
RE: Well-developed “soft skills” can boost individuals’ employment opportunities, earnings and overall well-being. EAYIP builds participants’ soft skills through youth-tailored training programs that promote both hard (technical) and soft skills. So, while young people are picking up skills for careers in agribusiness and vocational fields, we make sure they’re also polishing their social skills. Participants are called on to acknowledge and build their own empathy, strengthen friendships and support positive outcomes for their classmates.
 
Strong and positive relationships are at the core of the theory of change of EAYIP. That’s why participants are encouraged to strengthen family ties and contribute to their communities. Additionally, EAYIP pairs young people with mentors who help them build up confidence, assertiveness and leadership.
 
AB: Agricultural work—specifically on-farm work—isn’t typically associated with a high need for soft skills. Why does Heifer place an emphasis on building these kinds of skills?
 
RE: Agriculture work is changing, and soft skills are needed to address new challenges. Workers must adapt to changing conditions and new opportunities. In the face of volatile market forces, communication and negotiation skills are increasingly important.
 
Youth attitudes toward agriculture as a viable employment opportunity are shifting. In recent years, agriculture has been looked upon as a last-resort employment opportunity. But as farmers in Uganda and Tanzania ramp up production, enter thriving markets and use new technologies, attitudes are becoming far more positive.
 
Only with soft skills can youth fully participate in agricultural value chains, from production to processing to marketing. Negotiation, communication and time management skills are absolutely necessary for young farmers who want to secure better prices for their commodities and work together as teams to bulk for bigger markets and profits. 
 
I am reading a new report by the Youth Employment Funders Group in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation “What Works in Soft Skills Development for Youth Employment.” It highlights how employers are looking for new hires to bring soft skills like working with others, communicating well and solving problems as well as technical skills.
 
Abel Ntambala was thinking about leaving his family’s dairy farm in central Uganda and looking for work in Kampala. “I just didn’t see many opportunities to earn more money and improve my life,” said the 22-year-old. Although he enjoys farming and wants to continue, he’s also an entrepreneur and wants to explore more ways to diversify his income. He’s excited about the East Africa Youth Inclusion Program, which will help young people find jobs or start businesses in the dairy and agriculture industries.
 
AB: How do participants respond to the requirement for trainings in soft skills that focus on behaviors and attitudes?  How do you deal with pushback or skepticism?
 
RE: There has been a mixed bag of responses to the trainings in soft skills that focus on behaviors and attitudes among the youth. When participants were at first reluctant, we called in well-respected members of the community to facilitate these discussions.
We have incorporated safe spaces and inclusion strategies to enable full participation and involvement of all youth, female and male, in discussions and activities. These strategies help all participants feel comfortable and secure in the training environment, so they can learn and express themselves freely.
Other EAYIP inclusion strategies include:
  • Forming youth self-help groups
  • Accommodating differences in language, literacy levels, physical ability and schedules
  • Making sure pregnant women and young mothers feel welcome
  • Offering one-on-one guidance
 
AB: How have you seen EAYIP participants deploy those skills?
 
RE: In Iringa, a group member reported, “Communication in the group is very good and there is change, we are now working together.” In Bubusi in Uganda’s Wakiso district, participants learned negotiation skills and now they are able to get better prices for their tomatoes.
 
As a result of teamwork skills gained from the trainings, the youth groups have joined forces to clear and protect water sources and repair church compounds. They’ve also teamed up to improve sanitation and hygiene in the districts of Ngora and Amuria, Uganda.
 
Some of our youth have established village savings and loan associations (VSLAs), and now they are accessing loans.
 
AB: What would you say are the top three to five soft skills necessary for youth who want to get jobs or start small businesses in the agricultural industry in East Africa?
 
RE:
  1. Teamwork
  2. Effective communication
  3. Negotiation
  4. Self-motivation
  5. Time Management
These five are part of a 16-session soft skills training program for EAYIP participants.
 
“Young people in Africa often see careers in agriculture as outdated, unprofitable and arduous. We have to change not only the view, but the reality as well. We have to demonstrate that farming can provide an exceptionally dignified and modern way of life,” said Heifer President and CEO Pierre Ferrari.
 
AB: How do soft skills fit into Heifer’s vision for youth in agriculture globally?
 
Heifer International's mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. We’ve been doing this work for more than 70 years, and while the mission has not changed, our methods continue to evolve.
 
Women’s empowerment and social capital have emerged as the key foundational elements we can count on as multipliers of change. Communities in which women are empowered to achieve their potential, and where relationships and opportunities are strong, are the communities where families best achieve increased incomes, food security, better health and cleaner environments.
 
We know that soft skills like teamwork, motivation, communication, good leadership and time management are key ingredients for the women’s empowerment and social capital at the foundation of these communities’ success. That’s why it’s so important for young people to have a strong base of soft skills upon which to build their communities’ futures.
 
 

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