“You are a girl, not a boy. You can’t travel alone.” “Sorry, you are a fresh graduate who doesn't have enough practical experience, so we can’t consider you for this entry level job.” “Unfortunately, we don’t provide any workshops or training in your city.” These are all sentences that were repeated endlessly to Arwa, a young woman from Upper Egypt, when she was looking to begin a career after graduating from college.
Upper Egypt has an unemployment rate of over 16%, which doesn’t account for the many people who have dropped out of the workforce entirely - they are unemployed and not looking for employment. In fact, almost half of all young people in Upper Egypt are in this group - completely shut out from employment opportunities in their own community, largely due to a lack of access to the resources they need to build the skills required to make them employable. The majority of employment and training opportunities in Egypt are in the capital city of Cairo, which is almost 900 km away and the cost of travel is often well beyond reach.
It gets more challenging: over 70% of young women, in particular, are jobless in Upper Egypt, because of deeply rooted cultural beliefs and traditions that frown upon female independence and often reject any notion of her leaving the home, much less the city to work. There were no role models or mentors she could go to. The odds weren’t in Arwa’s favor.
Arwa realized that this was not a unique problem and that many, like her, must be facing the same struggle. But she was determined to change things for herself and the other young people in a similar situation. She started AL4SAGIA, which translates to ‘Opportunity Hunters,’ in colloquial Arabic spoken by Egyptians and aims to provide youth in Upper Egypt with training in skills that will empower them and make them qualified to go after the job they want. It then connects the participants with local startups for potential internships or volunteer opportunities, providing essential experience that can be leveraged into full time employment.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic complicated the project, forcing Arwa to rethink how AL4SAGIA will work moving forward. And with Peace First’s funding for a premium Zoom subscription, she built a team online and launched their first digital training program that focused on HR, business development, graphic design and presentation and communication skills. They also built partnerships with more than 30 startups and organizations to provide internships for their trainees to gain the practical experience they need to be competitive in the job market.
In six months, the AL4SAGIA team have been able to train more than 600 young people in Egypt, reaching over 14,000 followers on Facebook and receiving recognition from the Ministry of Youth and Sports which named them as one of the top five best initiatives in Egypt to support youth development in 2020. But with this incredible success, came additional challenges. The demand became much higher than the capacity with young people across MENA showing interest in the workshops. Recruiting quality volunteer trainers during a pandemic was a challenge, but Arwa managed to expand the team to be able to increase the number of virtual sessions and in February of this year, AL4SAGIA provided training to over 400 young people in the region in just ten days.
The team soon realized they will need a sustainable solution to the increasing demand which is why they are launching a leadership program in the MENA region that will create cohorts of trainers and mentors to add to the initiative’s growing roster and hence, be able to deliver workshops to more young people. They’re also looking to implement a social impact initiative that will serve the African Union’s Agenda 2063 for a better Africa and support those left out of the job market in the region.
Arwa’s advice for young changemakers like herself is that they must gain a deep understanding of the issue, its roots and who it impacts before trying to come up with a solution. “Never give up, the beginning is always so hard but think of it as laying the foundation. Once you start seeing the impact you will forget about how hard it was to get there,” she adds.
You can learn more about AL4SAGIA by visiting their Facebook page.