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Young pastoralists expand business

Eager entrepreneurs want to work but are unaware of or unequipped for job opportunities


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With more than 70% of Ethiopia’s population under 30 years of age, the ability of the country’s labor market to absorb so many young people is being challenged, leaving many unemployed. While unemployment is most common in urban areas, jobs are also hard to find in the pastoral lowlands, as climate change and population growth have made traditional agro-pastoral life more difficult. Recognizing these challenges, iDE Ethiopia and partners PCI and GOAL launched the Resilience in Pastoral Areas or RIPA initiative, funded by USAID, to better understand and address the challenges that pastoralists face in finding new jobs and earning a living.

Livelihood variety for the next generation

iDE’s RIPA team began by conducting in-depth ethnographic research to understand the specific needs and interests of pastoralist youth in the southern lowlands, directly asking the community how they might diversify their livelihoods through other income-generating activities and businesses. The challenges that young pastoralists face in finding new livelihoods—from perceived risk of failure to economic inflation and limited market linkages—were also uncovered through one-to-one interviews.

To further understand the feasibility and viability of new businesses and value chains, the design team actively engaged in market observation and held interviews with a variety of actors and consumers. This background work provided insight into the supply and demand of different pastoral products, the pain points within the existing value chain, and possibilities for adding value to products to maximize profits. Results from the human-centered design process told the team that while both men and women had increased their engagement in local markets, they often lacked access, agency, and commercial scale to reach larger markets and expand their profit margins.

A new vision of the future

Equipped with knowledge and skills from their agro-pastoralist upbringing, aspiring entrepreneurs understand they need diversified skills to be successful in the future. However, business training and development services are largely absent from the lowland regions of Ethiopia. iDE, partners, and early participants have encouraged more actors, from market players to elders, to come forward and share their own visions for creating more sustainable livelihoods.

➥ Case Study: Powering pastoralist youth to diversify their livelihoods

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Uncovering market challenges and opportunities

Human-centered design research work conducted by iDE revealed common barriers youth face in seeking employment; perceptions and values around work; and the ‘whys’ behind what they currently do or want to do in the future. Many young pastoralists are not aware of available job opportunities and a significant portion expressed that they are not interested in engaging in jobs that are currently in demand such as hospitality, road construction work, and manual labor at sugar factories. 

Pastoral communities maintain their pride rooted in their pastoral heritage and find some forms of wage labor undignified. Accustomed to their traditional livelihood practices and to living with their own ethnic group, they are reluctant to relocate to an unfamiliar place and pursue an unfamiliar activity. Even if they are interested, youth cannot easily afford and access the training they need to gain the required skills and knowledge to make them competitive in the job market.

Desirable work is valuable and meaningful

Older generations tend to perceive youth as unmotivated and unwilling to engage in hard work. However, in many cases youth want to work but are unaware of or unequipped to pursue such job opportunities. Armed with a better understanding of their diverse challenges, we developed a multi-faceted approach to better support youth in gaining meaningful, skilled employment.

➥ Key findings gathered in a short Learning Brief

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Co-designing a youth entrepreneurship hub

Youth in the Borana zone of southern Ethiopia demonstrated diverse interests and entrepreneurial enthusiasm when we visited them for our human-centered design research. Given the enthusiasm we selected them to take part in a focused co-design process. The idea was to create one place that would offer multiple services and be run by experienced youth entrepreneurs. After sketching a low-resolution prototype, we created a poster that advertised the youth hub and posted it around woreda (or district) towns to test whether there would be interest in the initiative.

The team received numerous phone calls and office visits from young people who wanted to learn more about the hub and how they could utilize its services. This early show of interest confirmed our thinking that the hub might address the needs of young entrepreneurs. A co-creation workshop with interested youth and government stakeholders was convened to refine the model, making it more user-friendly.

Time to test feasibility and viability

Borana youth demonstrated an entrepreneurial mindset, eager to gain more business skills and technical expertise to continue diversifying their livelihoods. When they expressed interest in a youth entrepreneurship hub, iDE hosted further discussion in a co-creation session and unearthed some significant findings for future work.

➥ Learning Brief: Designing an entrepreneurship hub with Borana youth

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