The thousands of miles that separate Guinea from the United States and COVID 19 were overcome by technology to enable us to attend this public policy implementation training at the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School. When the opening bell rang in June, I knew I was about to embark on a new adventure that would not only change my life, but also end the suffering of so many young people in my country, Guinea.
Introduction The Youth Employment Agency (YEA) of Ghana was created specifically to address the issue of youth unemployment. In 2006 when the Agency was created, the unemployment rate especially among the youth was very high. Facing this challenge, the government set up the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP), now YEA, to find a solution to the problem, albeit as a stop-gap measure. The jobs that were created had two- year duration and not permanent solutions. With a new government came a new management. This new management’s vision is to find permanent solutions to the youth unemployment problem in the country. The Agency wants to do this by creating more sustainable jobs for the youth and moving away from the two-year temporary jobs. Now the challenge is, creating sustainable jobs is alien to the Agency. There are no laid down structures and processes neither are there any concepts to follow.
The past 10 weeks participating in the LEG have signaled a period of personal and professional growth. Being part of a global online learning environment was a massive shift from my previous learning experiences which were almost entirely based on face-to-face teaching and group learning exercises. I have engaged in studies with professionals from the African continent, but this was my first exposure to such a diverse student population. Orientation to this approach took a few weeks but being part of a smaller peer learning group assisted greatly with the immersion into the course’s content and participatory dynamics.
What can I say? This has been one of most interesting trainings I have attended in a while. Right from the first class where we were asked to think about crossing a country in 2015 with a well-drawn map versus crossing the same country in 1804 when there was no map in existence. This class sort of felt like the 1804 case. I came into the class with a preconceived notion on economic growth and a set of ideas of how my growth challenge should be tackled by my organization and government, but I as the class progressed, kept leaning something new at the end of each class and adjusting my thinking as we went along. This was PDIA in practice (Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation) a step-by-step approach which helps you break down your problems into its root causes, identify entry points, search for possible solutions, take action, reflect upon what you have learned, adapt and then act again.
The course was broken down into 4 components, reading and watching the weekly materials provided by the faculty, working on a weekly assignment, participating in a small group discussion and a live question and answer session with the faculty every Tuesday. There were optional sessions with TA every Friday.
When I received a work email asking for my interest in taking the Leading Economic Growth course, I quickly had a look and was not entirely sure that it was the one for me. I did some quick mental calculation to check whether it made sense for me to devote scarce extra hours from my heavily stretched bandwidth for a 10 week period – I am so glad that it did.
Applying to the program required sharing an economic growth challenge that you intended to work during the program. This was very practical for me as I had just been co-leading a multi-disciplinary team at USAID/Kenya and East Africa in developing a five-year strategy to address youth unemployment. We had set ourselves a purpose to increase economically productive opportunities for young women and young men in Kenya and to empower them to actively engage in these opportunities. I reasoned that the course could be useful in providing new ways to analyze this challenge, and potentially offer solutions for me to think about. I would soon to find out that application of the theory and ideas taught in the course was designed as the primary learning arena for the program.
As a field-tested international development professional who crisscrossed 15 countries in Africa and in the Americas to support policy implementation, I carry my fair share of disillusion, cynicism and frustration regarding the slow pace of change and the lack of effectiveness of foreign aid. This is a matter of significant concern that led me to pursue my master degree in international development, with an emphasis on the implementation of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action.
From the hot and arid villages of Niger to the valleys and mountains of Haiti, I witnessed first-hand the shortcomings of conventional wisdom and orthodoxy when it comes to public policy formulation and implementation in complex settings fraught with unknowns and uncertainty. I was very eager to explore new ways of conceptualizing and implementing public policies beyond “plan and control” and the rigid approaches that are blatantly inappropriate for countries with ever-changing political and social contexts. Moreover, having read a great book entitled “Politics and Policy implementation in the Third World”, I was convinced that policy implementation professionals must take into account the political economy and the overall ecosystem of intervention for context-specific, targeted approach to policy-making.
I was ready for out-of-the box solutions. And this is exactly what the Harvard Kennedy School’s IPP program delivered.
The understanding of Public Policy Implementation became a necessity for me after my appointment as the Senior Special Assistant on SDGs to the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State, Nigeria. My career path has, up till then been in the Private sector where the main aim is profiteering as against the Social services for communal purpose of the public sector. My first instinct for success is to equip myself with the requisite Public Policy knowledge. This is with a view to reduce the incidence of Policy failure on all my assigned duties.
There is no better place for this learning process than the IPP Program as offered by Harvard Executive Program which I immediately applied for, and when I got admitted, my excitement was beyond measure.
I have attended quite a few Executive Education courses, mostly as in-person events. I therefore commenced the IPP Online program with a mixed feeling as regards to the content, engagement, and fluidity of knowledge transferability. I discovered, some weeks into the program, that the IPP Online is a well-structured program with engagement as close to an in-person experience, but only better-thanks to Salimah and Amber. The program is intense as well as extensive with a caution for ‘burn-out.’ A good use of feedback mechanism is encouraged throughout the duration of the program. Thumps up Ms Anisha Poobalan, my TA for interactive feedback and encouragement.
The Guinean tertiary education and Technical Education and Professional Training (TVET) system is dominated by programs that do not meet the needs of the labor market. Inappropriate orientation of training is a major cause of programs’ lack of relevance to business requirements. The system lacks scientific, technical, and professional training opportunities. Graduates rarely develop entrepreneurial skills, as most aspire to enter the public service. Challenges include overstaffing, poor linkages between training institutions and businesses, an over abundance of theoretical courses, dilapidated laboratories, and a lack of practical activities. The result is a very high unemployment rate among young graduates, despite many years of study.
Unemployment is highest among Technical Education and Professional Training (TVET) – 40% and Higher Education graduates -60%. With the exception of large-scale mining companies, the economy is dominated by informal enterprises and low productivity jobs and a skills mismatch between graduates and those demanded by employers.[i]
This problem is politically sensitive (the population of Guinea is young) and it affects the country’s growth as well as its prosperity. Once this problem is solved, it will put an end to the paradox of seeing employers complaining about the lack of skilled labor on the ground to fill the available positions.
Moreover, including entrepreneurial programs in the skill-training will also save most unemployed graduates complaining about the lack of jobs/employment; they can instead use their initiative to create their own enterprise with some kind of support both financially and morally.
For all these reasons, the Government of Guinea and its partner the World Bank, have set up a project to address this problem which will aim to boost the employability and employment outcomes of Guinean youth in targeted skills programs. More specifically, it aims to improve the effectiveness of training programs in universities and vocational institutions, and provide professional opportunities to young, job-seeking graduates by strengthening their skills through training, internships, jobs, or personalized support for business setup.
The project is based on public-private partnership. Its success in terms of impact and sustainability depend on the ability to use standard project management tools, the commitment of the various stakeholders and the quality of the partnership. For all these reasons, these points have been identified as critical and are essential for the sustainability and effectiveness of the project. Continue reading Enhancing the employability of young people in Guinea
Guest blog written by Raunak Thapa, Sayujya Sharma, Shraddha Gautam, Srizu Bajracharya, NatashaKafle, Sameer S.J.B. Rana
This is a team of six development practitioners working for an NGO in Nepal called Daayitwa. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.
We first came to know about the PDIA Course through our colleagues at Daayitwa, who had previously taken the course. They told us how it would help us understand the problems we were working in as an organization. We were very excited about what it does and how it works.
Daayitwa works towards building an entrepreneurial environment for youths in the country – the majority of whom are leaving the country every day for better opportunities in foreign countries. However, most have fallen to work for labor jobs. Some countries in the middle east house many Nepali workers, who sometimes do not return to the country, to their families because of their dire financial situation at home.
Daayitwa since its initiation has been working to make an enabling environment for youths through its different programs: Fellowship, Rural Enterprise Acceleration Program, Leadership Course, and Yuwa Aaja! (Youth Engagement for Youth Employment.)
The six of us (who took the PDIA course) actually come from different entities under Daayitwa; however, we were keen to understand the experience that our friends who had taken the course appreciated so much. Initially, we didn’t comprehend many questions like what is our problem? Who does this matter to? When would be the appropriate time to take actions? How do we work towards the problem?
Sometimes, when you come into an organization – there is already a set way of doing things, which everybody follows. But the PDIA course, helped us (the six of us) look at problems we were looking at in more detail, and gave a chance to work closely and to understand how to deconstruct the issues that we were working to identify solutions. Continue reading Youth Unemployment in Nepal