Making Urban Livelihoods Programming work for African Youth

With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the largest youth population in the world. With more people in the working age group it is expected that by 2040 Africa’s labour force could reach one billion, surpassing that of India and China. This would typically be seen as an opportunity, a positive demographic trend with the potential to add to the productivity of a nation. But in the context of Africa, there is constant talk of the ‘youth bulge’, a term that does not refer to a neutral demographic observation, as one commentator points out, but one loaded with fear and warning. The development discourse around Africa’s growing youth population is captured in headlines such as ‘promise or peril’ ‘demographic dividend or demographic bomb’, ‘ticking time bomb or opportunity’, all indicating concern among the international community. This is because unemployment continues to be a major problem. If the increasing number of working age individuals can be employed in productive activities, the WB explains, the level of average income per capita should increase as a result. But this is not yet the case in Africa. According to the World Bank youths account for 60% of all of Africa’s jobless. Likewise, the African Development Bank points out that youth unemployment in most African countries ‘occurs at a rate more than twice that for adults’. While several development frameworks seek to address this gap between the labour force and productive employment in Africa, many attempts at livelihoods programs on ground seem to be misplaced.

The obvious macro need may be economic transformation comprising growth, investment, infrastructure and industry that generates social wealth, jobs, and develops social resources, as well as changes at the level of national policies. However, a multitude of international organisations and NGOs are also engaged in livelihoods training and programmes that seek to address the immediate skills deficit and access to market and jobs. And yet, while the motivation for these programmes are well-meaning they often end up being misplaced or short-termist, and at worst a box-ticking exercise. Training programmes too often fail to meet young people’s expectations, do not provide sustainable employment opportunities, or skills training that ensures employability. The result is community-based small-scale measures such as broom-making or hairdressing for women, which apart from keeping them in the informal sector, sustains gender stereotyping, where women are trained to do jobs that are traditionally seen as women’s work rather than transcend these expectations.

Our field research in urban centres in the region has shown that youth in informal settlements lament NGO projects that do not do enough to capitalise on existing skills or take into account labour market needs. The majority of the urban poor are engaged in petty trade and unskilled informal labour already, with irregular income and a cycle of debt and poverty. Programmes such as these do not result in secure sustainable incomes and rarely meet labour market requirements. Young people would rather have a vocation such as plumbing, masonry or transferable skills such as sales and marketing, English language training, and IT which allows them to transition to formal jobs.

The need of the hour is to make programming more relevant, with skills assessments that identify community needs. Further, assessments of public and private sectors to identify skills shortages and how young people could be absorbed by the labour market is important. While some organisations are now focusing on assessments that consider labour demand, this ought to be a necessary aspect of livelihood programming. Crucially many livelihood training programmes lack any follow-up monitoring and evaluation mechanism to determine how successful they are in ensuring the trainees secure and retain jobs. This would result in a much-needed reality-check for organisations in terms of their livelihood interventions. A multi-pronged approach based on sound research, labour demand and supply assessments along with effective M&E systems would result in programmes that are more likely to address the problem of urban livelihoods.


On World Cities Day, Putting Urban Issues into Perspective

As heavy rains lashed across South Asia this year, affecting over 41 million people across the subcontinent, Mumbai in particular witnessed chaos and collapse… of buildings, transport, infrastructure and everyday life. Roads were clogged, hospitals flooded, schools closed and flights grounded as scenes of people wading through waist high water did the rounds of international media.

A lot has been written since about the problem, blaming urbanisation, population growth or climate change. Is Mumbai, like urban centres in developing countries, growing too fast? How can we stem the inflow of migrants? Perhaps the destruction was inevitable and the increasing levels of rainfall in itself is the issue? While these may be relevant factors a singular focus on climate change or population growth or migration often discounts the issue of governance and administration, and fails to recognise the complexities and particularities of the political economy of developing cities. These scenes of a city coming to a standstill are a routine annual occurrence in Mumbai. Every year during the monsoons residents try to cope with clogged drains, flooded roads, disruption of transport and threat of infection from rubbish and waste circulating in the city.In 2005 flooding in the city claimed over 1,000 lives with shanty towns most severely affected. It is a failure of planning, policy and governance but also a result of social and political factors that need unravelling.

A number of overlapping issues contribute to urbanisation challenges: a lack of affordable housing (where they do exist, as per a 2014 McKinsey report 33% of India’s housing are of substandard quality), poor infrastructure related to the poor regulation of land use and construction of buildings, roads and bridge; lack of authority at local administrative levels and a lack of financial autonomy of urban local bodies; according to one report, while the share of local governments in total Chinese government revenue is 25%, the share in India is 3%; in per capita terms, India's annual capital spending of $17 is only 14 per cent of China’s $116 and less than 6 per cent of New York's $292. Add to the mix, education, social and cultural norms, structure of governance or the patterns and nature of migration, and we quickly realise the need for more knowledge and analysis.

For instance, while critics of migration point to the problem of people leaving rural areas, migration is both a problem and a positive force, a marker of progress in many developing countries. An insightful analysis in the Mint puts the issue of migration into perspective: arguing that while greater urbanisation “will boost citizens’ quality of life and boost the country’s GDP” one of the problems of migration in the Indian context is that the majority of migrants are seasonal labour not absorbed into formal sector, pointing also to the need for more nuanced data on migration patterns and composition of migrant population for effective policymaking.

India’s urban population is expected to hit the 600 million mark by 2031. According to the UN World Urbanisation Prospects report 2014, the annual growth in urban population in India between 2010 and 2015 was the highest among the major economies. Cities are therefore important centres of change, they fuel growth but also present very particular challenges. According to a McKinsey report on urbanisation, Indian cities are expected to generate 70 per cent of the net jobs created up to 2030, produce around 70 percent of Indian GDP.

Urbanisation is a positive force, a driver of change and development, of competition, strife, conflict, innovation — both material and cultural. It is also a complex web of political, social and economic issues. There is no ignoring the fact that for many developing countries urbanisation is desirable and inevitable. It is also a source of many challenges in need of better governance, planning and policy and the way to achieve that will be to acknowledge the importance of cities and strive to develop a better nuanced understanding of the drivers of urbanisation, its failures and successes and its unique complexities.


Introducing Bodhi Global Analysis -- informing policy through research rigour

‘Stop trying to save the world’ said a scathing and insightful piece in the New Republic written three years ago by a former international development worker, on the failures of international development. Hobbes laments that ‘donors, governments, the public, the media, aid recipients themselves—they all contribute to the dysfunction’. He is not alone; many of us who are familiar with international development programmes can relate to Hobbes’ frustrations.

In the past few years many others have voiced similar opinions and concerns. Where millions in many western developed countries came out to partake in one of the biggest celebrity backed “make poverty history” campaign a decade ago, the public mood is now more sceptical, questioning the point of development aid and the inefficiency of many donor and NGOs programmes. Perhaps that was the problem; that admirable rhetoric of “making poverty history”, which is so often disconnected from realities on the ground.

International development theories have shifted and evolved over six long decades from the basic-needs approach popularised in the 1970s to rights-based development advocated by Amartya Sen in his book. In practice, development projects focussed on implementing top-down agendas and priorities. For example Hobbes in the article above talks of the idea of PlayPumps — the brainwave of an NGO that proposed to harness clean water in sub-Saharan Africa by getting children to spin around this big colour wheel installed in villages. The project caught the imagination of donors, media and celebrities only for a UNICEF report to find two years in that these pumps were left abandoned, rusting and broken, and some accusations of child labour. Our own experiences of speaking to people in India, Ghana or Thailand reveal similar stories — of slum-dwellers raging against training programmes in hygiene when they did not have access to running water or sanitation facilities or gender-sensitisation training for communities when they would prefer jobs, toilets or healthcare.

Two ingredients have been missing for long — a political context and research objectivity. Unfortunately the need to ‘do something’ sometimes overlooks or disregards both. Our starting point should be not what we would like to see but what already exists. What are the most pressing problems in a particular community, area or sector? What is their relationship to their own governments? What are the political and cultural norms, the historical context? Who are the different stakeholders and their respective roles? How does conflict or political volatility affect these roles? What are the constraints to governance? The list goes on… and increasingly, the value of sound political analysis and research is taking hold within development circles.

There is a greater acknowledgement among donors and policymakers of the need for objective dispassionate research that goes beyond pushing agendas, ticking boxes or fitting within pre-conceived frameworks. The emphasis should be on trained professionals building knowledge, conducting fieldwork and creating a context in which opportunities and constraints play out.

Bodhi Global Analysis was born out of this recognition of the need for political context, and a commitment to objective knowledge. We had worked in international development research for a decade, living and working in different countries, speaking multiple languages and building networks on the ground. In pursuing a Phd we were trained in research practices, going through the rigour of objective analysis and intellectual integrity. We now want to build a new standard in international development research where our aim is to provide context through equitable analysis and an independent approach. We want to use sound methodology and intensive fieldwork to create a knowledge base of useful data, insights and perspectives. We hope that in providing this service we can inform best practice and approach to policy-making within international development.