Empowering Youth in Uganda through StartUp!

Ugandan Youth participants for entrepreneurship training
By Kristen Richards and Kiana Campbell
Nov. 27, 2023

Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world. The median age in Uganda is 16.3 (UNICEF). One in four teenage girls in Uganda age 15-19 has had a child or is pregnant (UNFPA). Two Peace Corps Uganda Volunteers are working to transform this youth bulge into a youth dividend! These are their stories.

When can we do this again? - Kristen Richards

Not long after I arrived in my community and got settled, it became obvious that an opportunity to focus on youth would be beneficial to the community. My organization focuses on teaching, supporting, and caring for 276 children, youth and their caregivers. With over 100 youth, my coworkers and I started to discuss the benefits of implementing StartUp Uganda, a weeklong camp that teaches youth a wide range of entrepreneurship and life skills. Each school holiday, the youth spend a week learning new marketable skills. What is lacking are the resources and opportunities to utilize their newly acquired skills. That's where StartUp Uganda comes in. It is the perfect opportunity to invest in youth and go beyond skills-building to application.

Planning a weeklong overnight camp for youth is no small task. This started with the implementation of a community needs assessment followed by building partnerships, budgeting, and completing a grant application from the Peace Corps. After many late nights of planning, it was finally time and 34 youth descended upon us. For one week, youth learned: public speaking, innovations in agriculture, marketing, budgeting, how to pitch a business, and an Income Generating Activity of paper bag making. The week's learning culminated in the business pitch competition. Youth pitched their businesses to a panel and a winner was announced with a grand cash prize.

The competition was a great way to synthesize all they have learned. The weeklong event finished with a big celebration, certificates, and of course lots of dancing. Overall, the camp was a huge success with all participants taking away new ideas, connections, and skills that will enable them to create their own businesses.

In December, the participants will regroup for a one day follow-up camp. They will review key points and will also have the opportunity to give presentations on their new businesses. A few participants will coteach one lesson to their peers who did not attend the camp, allowing others in the community to benefit from the skills learned at StartUp Uganda. I am really looking forward to reuniting and spending time with all the youth and cannot wait to hear updates on how StartUp has impacted them over the past few months.

Our hope for participants is that they take the new skills they learned and use them into their everyday lives: by starting their own business, applying skills at organizations in schools, or by assisting in their family businesses. We hope that they take this new knowledge and actively use it for the betterment of themselves and their community. The general comment from all participants after we asked them for reflections was, “When can we do this all over again?

Youth in Uganda pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges
Youth in Uganda pitch their business ideas

Youth confidence booster - Kiana Campbell

When I first learned about StartUp Uganda at Pre-Service Training, I instantly knew I wanted to do it. A weeklong overnight youth camp that's all about entrepreneurship and business skills is right up my alley. I took the project head-on. My organization and I began planning for StartUp Uganda four months before the event.

After securing partnerships and a venue, my favorite part of the process was mobilizing youth. We met with each youth and gave them a rundown of the camp and expectations. We secured facilitators, judges for the pitch competition, and materials. In the blink of an eye, it was time for the first day of camp. In total, we gathered 29 youth, ages 15-26, an almost equal number of 15-17-year olds to 18-26 year olds. We also had a good balance of gender and in and out-of-school youth.

Sessions included: record keeping, saving & budgeting, community assessment, business planning for social impact, pitching your business, building resources, public speaking, customer service, pricing and marketing, innovation, and leadership in the workplace. Youth also got the chance to learn bee-keeping as an income-generating activity (IGA) and were able to make their own candles out of beeswax and make a bee box from scratch. Seeing an opportunity to integrate health education and promotion, youth were also empowered with sexual negotiation skills. We also integrated fun through sports, dancing, playing cards, watch movies, making jewelry, and bonding.

Finally, it was pitch competition day, where youth present their business ideas to a panel of judges for a cash prize. On the first day of camp, only three youth were interested in competing in the competition. By the end of the camp, twenty-seven out of twenty-nine of the youth competed! This was the highlight of my StartUp experience. Throughout the week, youth gained confidence in their business and entrepreneurship skills. Seeing this progression was beautiful to witness.

There was a very emotional last session where youth spoke expressed their gratitude for participating in StartUp. They made new friendships and were able to gain knowledge and skills that are extremely hard to come by in their communities. During that session, I realized just how important this camp was for the youth, and also for me. To this day, I continue to receive messages from youth updating me on their businesses and how much the camp has helped them gain the confidence to reach for the stars. Three different youth groups were formed that focus on IGA’s and exchanging skills and ideas to further their business ideas.

I am so happy to have done StartUp and even more grateful for the amazing group of youth who participated. StartUp by far is the highlight of my service thus far in Uganda.

The realities that youth face in Uganda can be daunting. Challenges in accessing education, youth-friendly health services, viable means of economic livelihood, and food security and nutrition are just a few of these challenges. These two Peace Corps Uganda Volunteers are making a difference where it counts! The activities they implemented were funded by United States Agency for International Development through a Global Agreement with the Peace Corps. We thank them for the support!

Peace Corps Volunteer Kiana with youth
Peace Corps Uganda Volunteer Kiana at StartUp camp