Zambian youth elevating SMEs through Futuremakers by Standard Chartered

Challenges Group
10 Mar 2022
6 min read

Opportunity knocks many times every day but, in some instances, some people will be averse to grabbing hold of any new prospect because they have failed in the past. In this light, it takes a group of people with the same mindset, goal and vision to give hope to those that have tried job hunting but did not succeed despite their education qualifications.

Youth to Work is a placement-based programme that seeks to position and equip young people with skills and opportunities to create economic and employment changes across the economy for sustainable and measurable impact. It is an initiative under Future makers by Standard Chartered, funded by the Standard Chartered Foundation (SCF) and implemented by Challenges Worldwide. The programme recruits young professionals known as Junior Associates (JAs) who are trained and placed in an SME where they become implementers of change through identifying barriers & strengths, conducting business diagnostics, co-create recommendations and implementing the short-term recommendation with key staff within the enterprise to help the business function smoothly in Finance, Sales & Marketing and Operation.

In return, after the JAs are done with recommendations, the SME expects an improved position in presenting itself effectively to investors and to satisfy any diligence process included in a future transaction which will grow their company and maintain momentum and motivation to improve more.

Launched in 2020, Youth to Work was first piloted in Uganda, with 40 Junior Associates (JAs). After its 76% employability success rate, a new dawn of hope was given to youths in other countries with Standard Chartered Foundation deciding to expand the programme in markets where the Challenges Group has a presence such as Zambia and Ghana.

As part of the program’s key components, is to support the SMEs networking opportunities by supporting the creation and promotion of trade linkages among businesses globally. With business improvement as one of its main components, the idea is to not only create employment or entrepreneurship opportunities for Zambian youths but also help improve the internal management and operations of SMEs across Lusaka.

In its first Zambia cohort, the programme had 41 enterprises that came on board with 45 promising young Zambians placed on to the programme.

According to first cohort Junior Associate Anita Mulenga, after writing so many application letters in search of work and attending fruitless interviews, the programme opened doors for her to be given a real chance of being hired by the organisation she worked for during placement. Anita says the experience is something that she will always value and words alone cannot express the gratitude she has for being allowed to be part of such an uplifting programme.

She adds that the programme came with exposure to meeting and interacting with fellow youths from various professional backgrounds, whilst acquiring new knowledge on leadership & management through the UK Chartered Management Institute training, developing networks & entrepreneurship skills and complementing each other’s efforts.

The programme does not simply place Junior Associates in fields they are well-acquainted with, instead, they are placed in other areas in which they can experience personal and professional growth.

“My approach to handling this challenge was simply to keep an open mind and not limit myself to the things I could achieve from being placed in an organisation which was different from my field of study,” Anita said. “, My hard work did not go unnoticed and I am proud to mention how much Youth to Work pushed me into the right direction in my career. Despite not being well acquainted in the field I was placed to work in, it turned out to be the perfect match for me.”

In this regard, Anita feels that this should be motivation enough for anyone out there. Sometimes in life, not everything needs to go one’s way and the sooner one accepts the path that is before them, the better for everyone.

Former JA Chanda Kanyanta says her experience was a learning process because she got on the programme straight from University when she had zero experience and was actively job hunting. To her, this opportunity came at a time when she needed to learn so much about professional life, how to apply for jobs; and in the end, she acquired so many skills that she can use daily. “In as much as I was put in a field I was not well acquainted with, I got support from my colleagues, especially the Challenges Zambia team and there was never a time I felt inferior. Without Youth to Work, I definitely wouldn’t have now been working as a Junior Consultant (JC) with Challenges Zambia. It is through the skills that I acquired on the programme that I can do my role description. It has given me outstanding confidence; I can now speak publicly to an audience which I never used to do before. It is because of the skills I acquired on the programme that I’m where I am today.” Chanda said.

In Chanda’s words “one thing that makes the programme different is its accommodative way of infusing various professions (not selective in any way) and its way of encouraging innovative approaches in the real world”.

The former JA’s are optimistic about YTW and they believe that the programme was a breakthrough that they had been praying for a long time. “I mean, if we had not signed up for the programme, we can safely say, we would not have had the exposure to opportunities and networks that we have experienced this far; and so, we remain forever grateful and humbled to have been selected and groomed into the people that we have become today and anyone can see that truly we are the living testimony,” Chanda said.

They say hard work and determination with a dash of focus, yields good results. The tremendous impact of the first cohort created and recorded a 78% employability success rate. The programme recorded progress in the business recommendations that were provided by the young people together with the Challenges team. Some of the recommendations included additional staff members in some of the businesses on the programme, meaning the businesses also created employment opportunities as part of the recommendations provided.

Those that do not get hired or are still job-seeking join the alumni network of young people where different opportunities are shared. Aside from that, the unemployed JAs have engaged in different entrepreneurial endeavours which would, in turn, create employment opportunities not only for themselves but for others as well.

In addition, the programme provided training to enterprise staff members through the Master Class sessions led by key industry professionals and through this, the SMEs benefited in learning how to deal with challenges that the enterprise is likely to encounter and how to overcome unforeseen circumstances. Enterprises became more familiar with Digital Marketing, E-commerce as well as customer service. These sessions, helped SMEs develop their businesses on a professional level to an extent of them implanting Legal accounting and auditing.

The impact from the first cohort birthed new hope for prolongation of the programme, which resulted in having a second cohort with the start of 2022 and a 3rd Cohort later in the year. The newly introduced Zambian JAs are now on placements helping SMEs with recommendations so that the businesses can have a smooth workflow.

All in all, the programme has helped several young people and businesses with the impact being seen and heard from those that have gone through the programme. As the programme continues, it is hoped that someone that feels like giving up learns from the first cohort and the hope is that this inspires young Zambians to apply, take part and be change-makers that Zambia needs.