Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator was founded in the year 2011 to build a solution for youth unemployment. South Africa is battling the highest unemployment rate in the world, at 34.9% as of the third quarter of 2021, according to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey. The ramifications of unemployment are even more severe for South Africa’s youth, who have to navigate barriers like inaccessible internet connectivity, ruptured social networks, inadequate learning opportunities and unfriendly labour laws.
In the first ten years of their existence, Harambee developed proofs-of-concept that gave one million youth ‘a leg up’ and demonstrated that excluded work-seekers, with no prior work experience, could succeed in formal-sector jobs. Over time, Harambee turned its attention to dismantling the barriers giving rise to the problem of youth unemployment, so that livelihood problems could be solved at scale and sustainably. Thus began the organisation’s next phase: the platform approach.
SA Youth was launched in 2021 in partnership with South Africa’s Presidential Youth Employment Intervention. It is a scalable pathway management platform, and is multi-channel, free of cost, and free of data charges and supports young people excluded from the labour market to build their profile and offer them pathways to work opportunities.
Placing the youth at the centre allows Harambee to reimagine pathways to opportunities beyond the linear (more skills/educational qualifications/training mean more jobs) as diverse and subjective.
Here are some snippets from our conversation with Sharmi Surianarain, Chief Impact Officer of the Harambee, about their journey to impact at scale.
- What are your biggest learnings from the early days of Harambee’s journey?
In its initial days, Harambee identified the problem of youth unemployment in South Africa as one of connecting the demand and supply – upon graduating, a young person in South Africa was unlikely to find a job, even though employers were looking for talent.
We soon realised that there is more than what meets the eye to youth unemployment. To solve this complex issue at scale, it became imperative to remove barriers on both the demand and the supply side, along with tackling other deeply entrenched structural problems that keep the youth from meaningfully entering the labour market. We needed a solution that was inclusive, sustainable and built for scale.
- What barriers did Harambee identify and address in solving for youth unemployment?
Long histories of social exclusion and poverty create conditions that keep South African youth out of the labour market. Data costs for South African youth were too high, and that often inhibited them from accessing the job site. They also faced trouble understanding complex job applications. This called for a solution that could stimulate easy access and simplify the job seeking process. On the other side, employers posed unrealistic expectations while hiring. For instance, an entry level job sometimes asked for three years’ experience! This needed calibration. Harambee asked the employer: ‘What does the job really need?’ With Harambee’s intervention, the employer was encouraged to drop these qualifications, and to look at the required skill sets. The process is readjusted to asking what the job really requires and then connecting the right job seekers.
- What does Societal Thinking mean for Harambee’s vision and practice? Has it opened up pathways for Harambee to reimagine problem-solving?
Societal Thinking has definitely helped shift Harambee’s thinking and mindset – by pushing us to think beyond scaling products to shaping ecosystems. While systems thinking has always been in our DNA, Societal Thinking has helped embed that into Harambee’s operations and approach overall, particularly with other partners of our SA Youth platform, on issues of interoperability in order to build a “network of networks,” as well as the opportunity to create and amplify value by building public assets and goods that can leverage off the infrastructure of the Harambee platform.
- So how does SAYouth break the systemic barriers around employment?
SAYouth.mobi is an online platform managed by Harambee that operates under the government’s Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI) – a massive partnership with the presidency that intends to accelerate youth pathways into the economy. We bring together varied partners, and link diverse employers so that a variety of jobs can be made available on the platform.
On the other side SAYouth creates pathways for the youth to get trained and employed. Young people can register themselves as work-seekers and the platform connects them to relevant opportunities. In order to strengthen access, the platform is made data free -this means that young people do not need to have data on their devices in order to access SA Youth. We also started an SMS service and an inbound toll-free hotline, along with an outbound call centre where young mentors guide the youth on available opportunities and pathways.
- Could you give us a glimpse into Harambee’s journey so far?
SAYouth is already creating work opportunities at scale and enabling collaboration in the ecosystem. Take Basic Education Employment Intervention (BEEI) for example, which used SAYouth to recruit teaching assistants in partnership with the Department of Basic Education . The BEEI, which is part of the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme, placed nearly 320,000 youth in schools in November 2020, and 287,000 more in Phase Two.Over 80% of the first cohort of school assistants learnt new skills that are in demand by employers. When placement ends, the SA Youth platform can connect participants to opportunities towards the next one by building their profile.
- What’s next for Harambee?
Over the next 5 years, Harambee’s intent is to impact 3 million youth by creating a network of transformed work-seekers, and by enabling over 1 million pathways for them. By delivering a million work opportunities in the following five years, Harambee is set to triple their impact by the turn of the decade. We hope to continue to break barriers for unemployed work-seekers drawing on insights and evidence to help us understand the pathways of unemployed work-seekers and to shape the South African labour market to become more inclusive.