‘We’re investing in a generation of young people who have known nothing but conflict’

Young people have a right to decent work, education and a life in dignity. But how can these things be provided in Somalia, where a whole generation has known nothing but social, political and economic turmoil? ‘By working with local organisations and paying attention to mental health,’ says Deqa Abshir of the Dutch embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Deqa is responsible for the Nexus Skills and Jobs programme.

Enlarge image Deqa Abshir
Deqa Abshir

What is the Nexus Skills and Jobs programme?

‘With Nexus Skills and Jobs, the Netherlands is improving prospects for young people in Somalia by investing in education, jobs and the link between them. The same programme has been launched in seven other countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal. As skills and jobs policy officer at the Dutch embassy in Nairobi, I’m responsible for the activities in Somalia.’

Nexus Skills and Jobs is one of the three major Dutch programmes to improve young people’s prospects. Why is it so important to invest in young people?

‘Investments that improve young people’s prospects pay dividends many times over. Not only do they increase young people’s chances of getting decent work, education and a life in dignity – things that the Netherlands believes everyone has a right to. But, in the case of Somalia, opportunities for young people also enhance security and prosperity. This makes the country more stable. And if a stable Somalia curbs radicalisation and extremism, the whole Horn of Africa benefits, and the Netherlands too.’

Nexus Skills and Jobs is part of the Youth at Heart strategy. What is the aim of this strategy?

‘The Youth at Heart strategy is enabling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to improve young people’s prospects by investing in education and employment. And that’s important: in Africa alone, twelve million young people enter the labour market each year, while only three million new jobs are created.’ 

What prospects do young people have right now in Somalia?

‘I won’t beat around the bush. Somali young people have hardly any prospects for the future. Of young people between 15 and 25 years of age, almost 70% are unemployed. And bear in mind that 70% of the population is younger than 25. So this is a huge group. All of these young people were born around the time the civil war started in 1991. In short, it’s a generation that has never known anything but social, political and economic turmoil and danger.’

If young people make up most of the population, do they also have the most say and influence within society?

‘Absolutely not. Young people feel that they are terribly under-represented. And they’re right. Their voices are not heard and their influence is too limited. In the Nexus Skills and Jobs programme, however, and the Youth at Heart strategy as a whole, young people’s opinions are taken into account in policy. In this way we ensure that what we do is aligned with young people’s reality and meets their needs.’

What projects is the Nexus Skills and Jobs programme currently running in Somalia?

‘In December 2020 the embassy in Nairobi started working with four local partners in Somalia. They’re active in different areas, and we’re working with them for a year on different pilot projects.’

What are these organisations and what do they do?

‘The Puntland Development & Research Center (PDRC) focuses on nomadic communities. It studies ways of seeing to it that the knowledge and skills that people have in these communities can be better matched with jobs that are available or needed. Holland House Hargeisa focuses on entrepreneurship in the agrarian sector. Specifically, they help enterprising farmers raise their productivity, generate sustainable income and build a sustainable local network.’

Enlarge image Diploma-uitreiking_Iftiin Foundation
Image: ©Iftiin Foundation
Graduation of healthcare workers

‘The Iftiin Foundation works with City University of Mogadishu to train healthcare workers so that they can provide psychosocial care in local communities. At first glance this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with jobs and skills. But as I said, young Somalis under 25 have known nothing but social, political and economic turmoil and danger. Their psychological and emotional trauma limits their opportunities for decent work, education and a life in dignity. That’s why we’re investing in mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS).’

Enlarge image Training voor jonge ondernemers
Image: ©Success Institute
Training for Young Entrepreneurs

‘Finally, the Success Institute for Human Development (SIHD) runs a training and mentoring programme for internally displaced people (IDPs) from other parts of Somalia, so they can acquire the knowledge and skills they need to start a business.’

What distinguishes these direct partnerships with four local organisations from other programmes?

‘The direct partnerships really make the difference. They mean that, in each case, there’s only a single Somali organisation between the embassy and young people in Somalia. This makes us feel more involved, and makes it easier to monitor the progress and effects of the projects.’

When can we say that the Nexus Skills and Jobs programme is a success

‘I would say: when all young Somalis have the prospects they’re entitled to and the opportunities that this entails. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. The goal we have reached after six months is a situation where the four organisations are working closely with one another and sharing knowledge.’

‘Right now they’re already thinking about establishing a consortium together. This would enable these four organisations to jointly submit project proposals to the Dutch embassy, as well as other EU countries’ embassies and international NGOs. This would allow them to expand their activities to improve young people’s prospects more widely across Somalia.’