Youth capacity building: An international development case study in Uganda

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Read the story from the Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences on Youth Capacity Building at:

Youth capacity building: An international development case study in Uganda

Youth capacity building: An international development case study in Uganda

Jan 1, 2001 - Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Author(s): Crave, Mary Therese; Sawi, Gwenneth W El

Scholarship and Practice


Development without including a country's youth is not sustainable. A pilot USAID program in Uganda was designed to increase the capacity of youth organizations by increasing the individual skills of members while contributing to national development. More than 150 youths ages 18-30 were involved in a 5-day training-of- trainers (TOT) activity that taught leadership and community development skills. Youths increased their skills, gained confidence to lead community projects, started businesses, received funding for development projects, and continued training. Youths want to be involved in development efforts and training can develop the capacity for them to be partners and leaders in the process.

Development without including a country's youths is not sustainable (USAID/USDA, 2000). In many developing countries, 60% or more of the population is youths under the age of 30 (Population Reference Bureau, 1999). If not productively engaged, either in earning a living or in gaining the skills and knowledge to do so, this population can pose a potential threat to national security. This article describes an educational intervention designed to increase the capacity of youth organizations by increasing the individual skills of members while contributing to national development.

This case study describes a pilot program in Uganda, part of a youth capacity building initiative funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The activities, implemented from 1998- 2000, were part of a youth-focused initiative on workforce development and strengthening the capacity of youth organizations.


Throughout the pilot activities, every attempt was made to model the best practices of working with youths as full partners in planning, implementing, and monitoring activities. There were two underlying assumptions: (a) youths would learn valuable activity planning, organizing, and monitoring skills while working as partners with activity implementation; and (b) the development of their individual skills and competencies contributes to each youth participant developing a portfolio of skills and competencies that can be used to earn a livelihood, as well as to strengthen their organizations, community, and nation.

The intended outcome was to help youths attain the skills they identified as fundamental for contributing to development of their nation.

Toward that result, and in consultation with youths, activities were designed that engaged youths as full partners, applied and modeled experiential "hands-on-learning," and prepared the selected youth organizations to sustain and continue activities contributing to community and national development. To enhance sustainability, the program was designed to complement and support USAID and national development strategic objectives. USDA was a partner in the pilot activities, using expertise from its Cooperative Extension System and the Land Grant Colleges and Universities.


Current philosophies and research in youth development support the practices implemented in the Uganda project. An underlying philosophy of the entire project was viewing youths as assets and resources to be developed for economic growth rather than youth as a problem to be fixed (Lofquist, 1989; McLaughlin, Irby, and Langman, 1994; Zeldin et al., 1994). Youth development is community development (U.S. Peace Corps, n.d.) and developing youths as resources addresses many of the larger development challenges of communities and countries.

A recurring, but new perspective to Ugandans was helping both adults and youths appreciate that they have many strengths and assets on which to build. This includes not only economic, but also personal and community assets (Kretzmann and McKnight, 1993). "Appreciative inquiry," a method whereby the expectation of the future strongly determines the future, helped youths appreciate and identify strengths, promoting higher expectations (Cooperrider and Whitney, 1999).

Because of the myriad of challenges facing youths in Uganda, the training content focused on building knowledge and a range of leadership, project, and self-management competencies needed to address the challenges they will face as they mature, while helping them avoid problem behaviors and contribute to their communities. The youths repeatedly expressed interest in providing not just for their individual needs, but also in contributing to the future of their country, as found in other youth development projects (Roth et al., 1998; Dryfoos, 1990; Benson, 1997; Zeldin et al., 1994).

Another best practice of youth development is involving young people in the decision and rule making of their programs. The young people in Uganda established training rules and were involved in the training needs assessment, planning, designing, implementing, and evaluating. They also mobilized community leaders and elected officials in supporting the training. These opportunities are essential to the success and sustainability of the program, as well as to the individual development of the participants (Zeldin, Kimball, and Price, 1995).

These trends in youth development are relevant for international work as well. International development organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the U.S. Peace Corps, have adapted these theories to their work. If youth development includes "experiences, education, and opportunities that meet basic physical and social needs of youths and prepares them to be competent, caring, and responsible," then it may apply to different cultures since it is the culture that determines the meaning of competent, caring, and responsible (USAID/USDA, 2000).


About 75% of Uganda's citizens are children (0-17 years) and youths (18-30 years). Many youths feel marginalized and are frequently dismissed when they assert their interest in contributing to and sustaining the development of their country. Meanwhile, they are highly vulnerable to many of the problems facing the government of Uganda such as the AIDS pandemic, lack of educational opportunity, lack of employment, violence and insecurity, and competition for natural resources (Population Reference Bureau, 1998).

The Youth Initiative teamed with two nationwide Ugandan youth organizations: (a) the National Youth Council (NYC), a newly formed quasi-governmental youth organization for citizens 18-30 years old with representation at each level of government, including five youth members elected to the national Parliament; and (b) the Uganda National Students' Association (UNSA), a quasi-- governmental organization that advocates for the rights of students from the elementary through tertiary levels. The project's training design team met with about 150 youths from these partner organizations to determine specific training needs.

Youths identified four major needs:

(1) With government decentralization, a strong affirmative action program designates seats at all five levels of government for youth, yet they have little experience in public leadership.

(2) There are few jobs for youth, especially with a government emphasis both on privatization and on those who leave school early. Only 8% of the girls and 14% of the boys are in secondary school (Population Reference Bureau, 1998).

(3) Funds are available for local development projects and youth activities but youths lack the knowledge and skills to access and manage this funding.

(4) Youths have the desire but lack the skills to make changes and/ or provide leadership in their communities. As a result they often lack credibility with their elders who may fail to see them as resources.

Based on this needs assessment, a three-person design team from USDA/USAID, along with three leaders from NYC and UNSA conducted several Training of Trainers (TOT) activities over an eight-month period. A five-- day TOT curriculum was designed, focusing on leadership and community development, project management, entrepreneurship, and training skills. This curriculum was taught to 32 NYC and UNSA leaders invited from throughout the country, who in turn, with the design team's guidance, implemented four regional, residential training programs for an additional 113 youths. Concurrently, the USDA/USAID consultants provided organizational and leadership training to the UNSA and NYC team members on program/ project management, evaluation, community collaboration, and proposal writing.

Ultimately, the whole system of youth TOT training in Uganda will include 18,000 youths who have participated in capacity- building training sessions.

This was the first time the youths had ever taken part in training designed specifically for their age and needs. The training modeled experiential-learning practices and heavily involved the participants in implementation at both the national and the regional levels, also methods new to the youth.


A training-of-trainers format was well accepted by the youth. At the conclusion of the training, all 145 of the national and regional participants evaluated the training on a Likert-type scale of 1-5: 1 = poor, 3 = good, and 5 = excellent. Table 1 includes the rank order, mean responses for s\even measures. "Confidence to train others" was rated the highest. All the means are above "good," indicating that the participants found the training format and content relevant and applicable.

Increase in skill attainment or knowledge was measured by a pre- then post-training self-assessment (Rockwell and Kohn, 1989). Learners rated 24 skills in five categories on the basis of training content and units, on a Likert-type scale of 1-5: 1 = poor, 3 = good, and 5 = excellent. Table 2 shows that participants, on average, changed more than 16 of their 24 skills by one to two points. Overall, 54% of the participants assessed themselves as having increased at least one-- half (12) of their skills by at least two points.

These data suggest that the training content was appropriate yet challenging to most participants, who thought they did increase their skills. In addition to assessments of skill levels, participants were asked at the conclusion of the training to rate the usefulness of each skill category on a scale of 1-5: 1 = poor, 3 = good, 5 = excellent. These means are compared to the mean increase in skills and the mean post-training ratings in Table 3.

All the skills were deemed useful and participants increased their overall skills, rating themselves high in each category at the conclusion of the training. They rated their increase in leadership skills lower than the other categories, yet still rated their overall leadership skills significantly higher and the content significantly more useful than the other categories. Even though the participants thought that they learned the least and believed that they already knew a lot of the content, they still thought leadership skills were the most important topic.

Table 1.


The training was also evaluated qualitatively, and trainers observed many changes in mind sets and organizational capacity during the training implementation. A notable example is that historically, foreign aid organizations pay learners a "sitting fee" to attend training. Although public transportation, lodging, and meals were paid by the USAID grant, a sitting fee was not paid to the youth, who said training opportunities are rare and personal development was incentive enough to take part.

NYC and UNSA leaders were diligent to involve local dignitaries in the opening and closing ceremonies of the training. This involvement helped to sensitize local elected officials to the training and reinforced the concept that area youths can contribute positively to the community.

Experiential learning methods were new to the youth, who at first found the methods challenging and firing. Later they agreed they had learned many practical skills and applications that went beyond theory. Even participants who were experienced teachers felt the learning activities were more effective than commonly used lecture formats and they intended to apply many of the methods in their classrooms.

A history of political dictatorship and corruption has developed a generation of distrustful Ugandan youth, many who are unaccustomed to teamwork and sharing leadership responsibilities. Because the pilot activities modeled full partnership and decision-making with the youth organizations, the youths started to think more about working with rather than for others, to articulate the value of working together to accomplish goals, and to more highly value the concept of shared leadership. Participants learned the need to be accountable and transparent in community activities and to assess and express their roles as assets to their communities.


It is still too early to measure the long-term impact of this training program. But even immediate outcomes are promising. NYC and UNSA leaders have secured funding from the Ugandan government to take the training to the next step in eight districts-an unprecedented responsibility for youths in the country.

An informal impact assessment one year after the national training found several of the trainers had started their own businesses, which they attributed to their gain in entrepreneurial skills and self- confidence. Several others listed leadership skills, especially conflict resolution, patience, and creativity, and project proposal writing and management skills as the most personally beneficial. Almost all of the national trainees had conducted training for others, and many remained in frequent contact with the other trainees. All of the participants felt that their job and career prospects were better after the training.

Many had multiple contacts with Government of Uganda officials from the local to the national level and several had contacted international donors besides USAID. At least three of the trainees are running for the Ugandan Parliament.

Perhaps the most impressive impact reported was that eight of the national trainees surveyed have written a total of 10 project proposals. Funded projects include mobilizing youths to combat HIV/ AIDS, enhancing child education in girls, The Heifer Project, youth agricultural production, sexual and reproductive health, microenterprises for youth, and female youth involvement in economic and political development. These young people are putting into practice the skills they attained through the TOT and are actively engaged in training other youths at the county and subcounty levels.


"Development without including youth is not sustainable," evolved as a theme with this pilot project and sums up the importance of engaging youth. This and other lessons learned during this youth development initiative suggest some guidelines and best practices for incorporating youths into development activities.

Table 2.

Table 3.

1. Give youths a seat at the table. Engage them as full, contributing partners at all stages of program and activity planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating.

2. Model, coach, and teach experiential learning. Hands-on learning coupled with reflection is one of the most effective learning and skill development strategies.

3. Provide opportunities for youths to develop a set of core skills that can be transferred to income-generating activities. Skills such as project planning, needs assessment, budgeting, evaluating, self-assessment and management, negotiating, and teamwork are applicable in personal, community, and business settings.

4. Proactively select partners when engaging youth, using carefully constructed criteria linked to the objectives of the activity. Be open and transparent about the criteria and selection process. For example, not every young person has the people skills to be come a trainer-of-trainers or a community development outreach coordinator.

5. Build on strengths. Use culturally appropriate, localized, and tested training materials and resources. Help youths and community members appreciate what human, natural, social, and financial resources they have in their community. Encourage and facilitate collaboration at the local level.

The underlying principle of these practices is for youths to gain transferable skills to earn a livelihood while making a contribution to the development of their community and ultimately to their nation. The project's design team hopes this list will be tested further, evaluated, expanded, and refined as part of a growing trend toward identifying and relating to youths as full partners and resources in development.

The underlying principle of these practices is for youths to gain transferable skills to earn a livelihood while making a contribution to the development of their community and ultimately to their nation.


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Cooperrider, D. L., and Whitney, D. (1999). Appreciative Inquiry. San Francisco, CA: Berret-Koehler Publishers.

Dryfoos, J. G. (1990). Adolescents at Risk: Prevalence and Prevention. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kretzmann, J. P., and McKnight, J. L. (1993). Building Community from the Inside Out: A Path toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University.

Lofquist, W. A. (1989). The Technology of Prevention Workbook. Tucson, AZ: Associated Youth Development Publications.

McLaughlin, M., Irby, M., and Langman, J. (1994). Urban Sanctuaries: Neighborhood Organizations in

the Lives and Futures of Inner-City Youth. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Population Reference Bureau. (1999). [Online]. Available: wpds99_2.htm

Population Reference Bureau. (1998). U.S. in the World. Wisconsin and Uganda. Washington, DC: Author.

Rockwell, S. K, and Kohn, H. (1989). Post-then-- pre evaluation. journal of Extension, 27, 19-21.

Roth, J., Brooks-Gunn, J., Murray, L. and Foster, W. (1998). Promoting healthy adolescents: Synthesis of youth development program evaluations.journal of Research on Adolescence, 8, 423-459.

U.S. Agency for International Development/ U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2000). Rural youth capacity building: A model for enhancing economic sustainability with youth as partners. A Report on USAID/USDA Rural Youth Initiative Pilots in Uganda and Zambia. Washington, D.C.: Author.

U.S. Peace Corps. (n.d.). Building on Assets in Community Development: A Guide to Working with Community Groups. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Zeldin, S., Kimball, M., and Price, L. (1995). The Day to Day Experiences that Promote Adolescent Development: An Annotated Review of the Literature. Washington: D.C.: Academy for Educational Development.

Zeldin, S., Pittman, K, Price, L., and Irby, M. (1994). Principles of Practice for Promoting Youth Development: A Position Paper. Review draft for Carnegie Corporation of New York Youth Outcomes and Best Practices Project.


Evaluation and Diversity Specialist,

Universi\ty of Wisconsin-Extension


Workforce and Youth Development Advisor,

United States Agency for International


Copyright American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences 2001

By david opio odier ( on Monday, February 23, 2004 - 5:13 am: Edit Post

i wish you coul set up a data base to include other upcoming rural youth norhen uganda

david opio

By david opio odier ( on Monday, February 23, 2004 - 5:19 am: Edit Post

i wish you coul set up a data base to include other upcoming rural youth norhen uganda

david opio

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