by Joe DiSilvio
At the time of writing this post, I have just completed a ten-week internship with Education Development Center (EDC) in Kigali, Rwanda focused on providing stable employment outcomes for Rwanda’s large young working-age population. In the course of this post I aim to give the reader an overview of the project, the type of work I did with EDC, and reflections that may be useful to prospective and current students, as well as those starting out in the field of international development.
EDC operates education programming in every state in the U.S. and more than 22 other countries, but in Rwanda EDC is best known for its USAID-funded project Akazi Kanoze, meaning “Work Well Done” in Kinyarwanda. Akazi Kanoze (AK) has achieved great success providing market-relevant work readiness and technical training to out-of-school youth for private sector employment and entrepreneurship since 2009. Since the end of 2016 AK has become known as Akazi Kanoze Access (AKA), a wholly independent Rwandan NGO. Building off the success of AK, EDC has received funding for two new projects, Akazi Kanoze 2 and its newest 5-year project called Huguka Dukore, meaning “Get Trained and Let’s Work.”
I am supporting both Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) and program development for Huguka Dukore (HD), which maintains the youth workforce development programming of AKA but with a specific focus on targeting the most vulnerable youth: those living on less than $1.75 a day that have dropped out of school before completing 9th grade, with a particular focus on the inclusion of vulnerable girls, youth with disabilities (YwD), and LGBT youth.
I joined HD this June just as it was getting ready to launch, which made for a very exciting and busy time to join the team as they started in earnest the difficult work of getting their monitoring and evaluation systems up and running, deciding on how to best engage and recruit vulnerable youth, and training local Implementing Partners (IPs) throughout the country.
As mentioned, HD has a specific mandate to be socially inclusive. It is not a program specifically for youth with disabilities or vulnerable populations, but HD seeks to make sure it is including those populations in our programming to the greatest extent possible. In many ways, HD’s programs are inherently socially inclusive since our selection criteria targets vulnerable groups including youth, those without stable employment, those with low levels of educational attainment, and youth from the poorest segments of the population. However, the small Social Inclusion team here seeks to build the program’s capacity to be ever more inclusive of all eligible youth throughout the program’s life.
During my third and fourth weeks here, a Technical Advisor from EDC’s New York office, Nalini Chugani, joined us in the field to begin conducting a Social Inclusion Assessment that will serve to inform the project’s design going forward. Along with our Social Inclusion Specialist, Lenarda Uwinkesha, we spent most of our days shuttling around Kigali to interview different government, local, and international organizations working with vulnerable youth.
We met with over twenty organizations, including a dozen local disability organizations, which helped us to identify avenues for accessing youth with disabilities nationwide, as well as finding potential partners with expertise needed to help train youth with disabilities and build the capacity of our existing partners. Our meetings regarding gender focused on finding ways to work with more vulnerable subsets of women such as sex workers and teenage mothers, as well as to incorporate strategies to start helping youth explore jobs outside of traditional gender norms.
Over the following five weeks, I have worked to create a comprehensive Social Inclusion Assessment Report that codifies our findings and outlines our program’s social inclusion strategy and plan going forward. Key in our recommendations is forming strategic partnerships with specialty organizations that have the facilities and technical expertise to work with youth with disabilities and other vulnerable categories of youth. Our recommendations also emphasize a phased learning approach where we frequently collect feedback and learning from the field to make our programming more inclusive over time. This approach will also hopefully expand every IP’s capacity to meaningfully serve every youth that is eligible, while also building awareness and capacity amongst private sector partners to train and employ youth with special needs.
Ideally, this Social Inclusion Assessment would have been conducted several months ago, since IPs have started recruiting and training the first cohort of 3500 youth over the past several weeks. While IPs knew that social inclusion was generally a goal for the project, there has been a lack of clarity over exactly what this means or how to target their efforts. While our report has gone through revisions and cycles of feedback, we visited training sites to discuss challenges and successes with youth participants, trainers, and partner organizations. The good news is that partners largely made positive efforts to recruit youth with disabilities, young single mothers, and other vulnerable youth, however many did not think through the practical support systems necessary for many of these youth.
Our report seeks to clarify the way forward to make sure that IPs are working to be more socially inclusive in a practical and responsible way, taking on youth with disabilities only if they have the facilities and materials to support them. Over time, bringing in specialty organizations to work with youth with special needs and to train others will expand these efforts. This is vital at this stage as we move from the initial 3500 youth we will reach this summer, to the 10,000 youth we will train in year 2 starting this October.
These field visits, however, did also bring out some incredible work being done by local organizations. One organization, AVSI, is currently serving around 60 young, single mothers by creating a rotating child care system that allows these young women to participate in the trainings while their children are cared for on-site. Such best practices will be shared widely to help build the capacity of all organizations to give the necessary support to vulnerable populations.
Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)
Throughout the startup of the project, I had the opportunity to work on several key M&E projects, including the development of the youth enrolment form and baseline surveys. The enrolment form collected key information about program participants, ensuring that the youth recruited fit all the programs’ eligibility criteria as well as collecting key information about disability status, and attitudes about gender equality and social inclusion.
Similarly, we developed a survey specifically related to social inclusion to measure attitudes about gender and youth with disabilities. As we implement these again in the middle and end of the project they will help demonstrate the impact of our social inclusion work over the course of the project. I have also helped to design and conduct trainings for our implementing partners and trainers on how to administer our baseline survey to youth and how to build in this social inclusion work so that we are accurately measuring our impact towards being more inclusive.
Since enrolment has begun over the past few weeks, some major data quality control issues have arisen; some IPs are recruiting ineligible youth, such as youth with insufficient literacy skills, and key data is not always being collected accurately. As expected, all the trainings done in the previous weeks have not translated into uniform or consistent action on the ground where it matters. As such, we have conducted several Data Quality Assessments (DQA) at field sites, making sure that what our project aims to do is actually implemented and accurately measured in the field amongst a number of different implementing partners.
This summer experience with EDC was a fantastic one; the project was well run and pragmatic in its goals, staff was knowledgeable and driven, and the impact it will have on Rwandan youth is real and commendable. During the course of the summer, I have had time to reflect on the experience and have thought of some ideas that will hopefully be useful to readers.
- 10 weeks is short. Having finished my internship, I feel good that I have made a positive impact on EDC’s programs, but also feel that much of the work I did here was left unfinished. Doing as much before getting in country as possible is essential so that you have the background deeply understood, know what has been done and what the needs are, and are ready to dive in right away.
- When choosing a project, consider the organization, location, and content of the work, but also consider where in the project lifecycle you would like to work. For me, being part of a project during its startup and launch was extremely rewarding and ensured that there was no shortage of work to do. Watching the various stakeholders make sense of how to ensure the project best reaches its beneficiaries and deal with the many practical challenges on the ground was extremely interesting and gave me a rich experience that will be useful throughout my career.
- Timelines and priorities will often shift even in a short time period; what you expect from the project or internship can change quickly once other influential actors weigh in. In HD, our social inclusion plan explicitly included LGBT youth, but the Ministry of Education told us to take out any mention of the issue during one of our first meetings with them. Similarly, when conducting the social inclusion assessment we had lots of ideas to expand the social inclusion work in HD. Our Chief of Party quickly asked us to make sure that we remain focused on the big picture (finding stable employment for 40,000 youth) and make sure that the social inclusion component doesn’t become a project in and of itself, straining the project’s limited resources.
- Assume that what is planned in the office will need constant clarification and monitoring at the field level. This is likely obvious to many, but is worth remembering at a practical level, especially if much of your work takes place from an office in the capital city.
- On a project with competing priorities and a limited budget, action follows what is being measured; if you think something is important, then working hard to make sure the project has targets or indicators related to it can help drive action. HD has no indicators specifically related to how many youth with disabilities, LGBT youth, or other vulnerable categories of young people we actually are aiming to serve in our workforce training programs. As such, keeping these groups a priority in the program will constantly be a challenge. Part of this lack of specificity is by design; since this social inclusion work is so new in Rwanda, it is hard to make targets for how many of these youth our program can accommodate when they have largely been invisible in the past. At the same time, the fact that these groups have been so severely underserved creates a huge opportunity to expand the youth workforce development programs that EDC has implemented here to include all youth that could benefit.
- Meeting beneficiaries is incredibly important, not only to make sure the work is being implemented effectively, but also to ground project staff in the realities on the ground. Interviewing young mothers who travel three hours each way to training sites with a child on their back provides a tangible reminder of how important it is that we make these programs as effective as possible, and why these interventions are so important.