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Internships Incubating Youth-led Social Start-ups in Uganda

Empowering youth-led change through cost-effective experiential learning of social entrepreneurship

Photo of Leo Henghes
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Each year in Uganda, 50,000 students graduate while only 10,000 jobs are created in the formal economy. In Sub-Saharan Africa more broadly, a graduate is three times more likely to be unemployed than a peer who never finished primary school (The Economist, 12th April 2017). Our project idea is to support more of these graduates to develop into social entrepreneurs, able to create jobs for themselves and others whilst solving social issues. We believe the best way to do this is not by offering money, but an experiential learning framework for creating social ventures. So, we will offer 3 month internship placements to cohorts of between 20 and 40 young Ugandans. These internships will be unlike anything else offered in Uganda. Rather than expecting interns to stay in the office and wait for instruction, they will form teams of 3-4 and go into communities, using human centered design methods to design and prototype a new social venture over the 3 month period. We will guide this experience through a weekly workshop on Monday mornings introducing new tools to be completed during the week, as well as a 2 hour tutorial with each individual team at the end of each week. By the end of the 3 months, we expect the majority of the new social start-ups to continue to develop into sustainable and impactful organisations. Other interns will have developed skills which will enable them to develop other enterprises throughout their careers. Additionally, international volunteers will be able to come and participate in these internships to add their skills and cross-cultural collaboration. We believe this is a much more equitable and effective form of international volunteering. They will be able to continue to volunteer on the start-up when they return home over the internet.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our primary beneficiaries are university students and recent graduates in Kampala, Uganda. Our secondary beneficiaries are (1) young people who want to volunteer internationally, and (2) the beneficiaries of the youth-led social ventures we incubate.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our idea provides the first professional support students are likely to receive as entrepreneurs. It bridges universities and traditional incubators, who are interested in small and medium sized ventures – not ideas and micro enterprise. It also targets social ventures, rather than any enterprises, as most other schemes do. Therefore, it will create a much larger pipeline of young people starting careers as effective social entrepreneurs in Uganda. In Uganda, other organisations cannot afford to give such time to young people. Our idea is cost-effective because of its 'flipped-classroom' methodology where students are learning-by-doing under effective but limited supervision. Our organisation, United Social Ventures, has developed a curriculum of toolkits to develop youth-led social start-ups. We are well-placed to adapt this curriculum to the internships format.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

UniTED Social Ventures empowers youth-led change through incubating social start-ups.

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

In early 2017, we were approached by Judith, a student at Makerere University with an idea we were incubating, to do an internship. We realised that our current offering of incubating youth-led social start-ups could be adapted to enable students to work full-time for 3 months on their ventures, and it could be accessible to those who didn't even have ventures at the start. So, we agreed to test the format with Judith, and it worked really well, with her team creating a website to help tailors.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Prosperity in Uganda, and more generally around the world, is threatened by youth unemployment and a lack of social enterprises. Peace is also impacted by youth unemployment and the poor quality of cross-cultural collaborations.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We will partner with universities to recruit interns. For our pilot in June-August 2018, we partnered with Makerere Development Studies Department to recruit 5 of our 20 interns.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Our community is a large number of young people wanting to lead change in their communities. They are creative and critical thinkers with compassion, courage and commitment.

Geographic Focus

Kampala, Uganda

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The project will pilot 6 cohorts of interns over a 24 month period.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • Yes

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)

Last year we submitted our tutorials program to the Bridgebuilder Challenge. This is our more developed format for incubating pre-existing youth-led social ventures. Our internship program is a new idea which we tested with 2 students in 2017, and are now piloting fully with 20 students over June to August 2018. It targets young Ugandans who do not yet have a social venture, but are interested in becoming social entrepreneurs. Therefore, it starts at an early phase of their journey as social entrepreneurs.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Nicole Ballou

Hi Leo Henghes 

It sounds like your youth-led social entrepreneurial focus of the internship is a new way of addressing the challenge of unemployment in Uganda. I think one of the strongest aspects of your project is the community-centered approach, where interns listen to the needs of the community and develop solutions based on the desires of local community members. Our project wants to harness the power of youth as well, and instill self-motivation for thinking beyond themselves and for community betterment. It's great to see you all doing similar work with a different approach! Is there a scope to the social ventures your intern cohorts will come up with? What specifically should their social venture be addressing?

Also, I'm interested in how you will address saturation in the job market. Are there review mechanisms in place to prevent over-saturation of the job market, in the event the social venture aims at creating local jobs in a market that already exists. We're based in Ghana and there is a program in the Western Region that connects Ghanaian youth to an architecture firm in the US. The youth are trained in design and become responsible for drafting architectural designs that are then used by the firm. This global partnership has created jobs and taught new skills, while preventing over saturation in markets like soap making, sewing, welding, etc...

I'd love to connect more and learn more about your program, and see if there are any areas where we could share knowledge.

Best of luck!

Photo of Leo Henghes

Thanks Nicole! Good to e-meet.

The social ventures can be in any sector, but they need to be innovative and replicable beyond the initial pilot community. The community-centered approach prevents creating unnecessary enterprises. So no soap making, sewing, welding... The pilot from 2017 is a good case study: from initial research in the first 2-3 weeks - including taking a flyer with a hypothetical vocational training center around town to gauge demand -the interns realised the saturation of tailors in the marketplace. So, they then did a systems mapping of the problems faced by tailors and identified poor marketing as the problem they would address. From more brainstorming they then created a website which links high quality tailors on the street to clients for repairs and adjustments.

Would be happy to chat more!

Best wishes,

Photo of Nicole Ballou

Hi Leo Henghes 

Thanks for sharing more about your work! I enjoyed hearing more about your 2017 case study. Hopefully we can connect and share ideas.


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