news2014-02

All posts tagged news2014-02

Is University the Only Road to Success?

by Lucrezia Biteete on 20/01/2014 No comments

The Fontes Foundation scholarship programme provides sorely needed technical and practical education to disadvantaged youth in western Ugandan villages.

Uganda shares the fate of many developing countries, where university education is seen by the parent generation as the only way to have a successful life. This perception is based on the history of the civil servants of the past, where everyone who made it to university became a civil servant and automatically earned a salary. Today, the reality is different. The civil service is filled up with people, wages are low and working conditions are poor. The young graduates therefore fight for a job in the country’s formal sector, which is extremely limited and where competition is fierce. Only 12% of Ugandans pay taxes, meaning that they work in the “formal” sector. University graduates can easily wait for 2 years after graduating without any work, not even an internship.

Zarika is part of the programme and branched out of senior four. In the long term she wishes to open up a hospital.

Zarika is part of the programme and branched out of senior four. In the long term she wishes to open up a hospital.

In addition, university degrees are extremely theoretical and often based on outdated curricula, and the students are not given sufficient “life skills” and entrepreneurship skills to venture out on their own. Increasingly, young graduates have to compete with children of the upper-middle class that have been sent abroad to study in order to improve their chances on the job market. But even a graduate with a degree from the UK or the US can easily sit at home for 2 years before getting a job.

Paradoxically, the employers are screaming for qualified workers. There is a huge shortage of medical personnel in Uganda, especially nurses and midwives. Companies lack plumbers, carpenters, welders; even drivers of heavy machinery are high in demand. At the same time, parents are breaking their backs, selling off family land and livestock just to send their children to university.

Our scholarship programme in Katunguru, western Uganda, was created out of the huge demand for education in the villages. Students and parents only had one goal: to complete high school in order to get a chance to go to university. However, university studies are extremely expensive, and as explained above, not always an easy career path.

Therefore, we slowly started to introduce the possibility of going for a technical education after “O-level”, and not do the two years of “A-level” that mainly prepare you for an academic future. It has not always been easy to convince parents, guardians and community elders that have a more traditional view. But in the recent years, there has also been more and more debate in the media and by politicians and leaders about the need to develop practical skills and entrepreneurship skills in the young population.

Kichwamba High School in Rubirizi, Kamwenge District in Uganda is another school where our scholarship students develop their skills.

Kichwamba High School in Rubirizi, Kamwenge District in Uganda is another school where our scholarship students develop their skills.

Fontes Foundation established the youth centre in Kampala as a response to the same problem. We also organised a study trip for all the scholarship students in 2013 to the nearby Wildlife school, to expose them to the possibility of a practical course.

Last year, one of our students started a course in midwifery after she completed her O-levels, and this year four students are starting nursing school, only two are going to A-levels. After only two or three years these students will already be earning a salary and contributing to the development of the country.

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Lucrezia BiteeteIs University the Only Road to Success?

Ongoing Success Needs Ongoing Support

by fontes on 13/01/2014 No comments

This year it is 10 years since our first water project was installed, and it is still providing safe water. Essential for this achievement were continuous support and trainings. This long-term approach has also been tightly integrated into the Potentiam Youth Development Centre in Kampala.

Providing safe drinking water has to be linked with long term educational activities in the villages in order to maximize the effects.

Providing safe drinking water has to be linked with long term educational activities in the villages in order to maximize the effects.

One of Fontes’ core values is the long-term approach of our projects. Experience has shown us that a project only will last long if the implementer is willing to invest his resources over a decent period of time and provide the beneficiaries with ongoing support and guidance. Regular visits for follow up and capacity building in small steps are key to ensure the success of our projects to empower communities in an enduring and sustainable way.

Many safe water projects in Uganda are unpleasant but illustrative examples of failed attempts to provide proper and long-lasting solutions to communities in need. On average, a water project in Uganda is failing 3 years after its implementation. Fontes’ first safe water project in Katunguru-Rubirizi, western Uganda, was implemented in 2004. For more than 10 years it is providing water on a reliable basis! These beneficiaries are undergoing training in managing the water systems on their own.

Education is the core of all development activities, but it takes time to see the results.

Education is the core of all development activities, but it takes time to see the results.

Since 2012 Fontes has been providing professional training for disadvantaged youth through the Potentiam Youth Development Centre in Kampala. Naturally, the long-term approach was one of our major guidelines when developing the concept of this project. Our empowerment programme gives the students skills in applied business, entrepreneurship and personal development and in addition, through our mentorship programme, follows up and motivates the students through training and for 18 months into their professional lives. With every graduation, the network of Potentiam-Alumni is growing so that successful former students of the centre create opportunities of employment for the “next generation” of graduates.

Fontes Foundation thanks all of you who supported our Christmas Campaign in 2013 and 2014. The Campaign is continuuing still and we want to include more donors into our “Fontes Family”. On top of this years agenda is the Potentiam Youth Centre. The youth empowerment project is our main focus, and in order to boost the success we are asking for support from our friends around the globe to advocate for the campaign in our name.

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fontesOngoing Success Needs Ongoing Support

All Eggs in One Basket

by Lucrezia Biteete on 06/12/2013 No comments

HR Management in Africa requires adaptability but gains on the input of your European egalitarian principles and horizontal management style.

Lucrezia Biteete and Marius Koestler, both involved with Fontes for almost 10 years, have recently ventured into new waters, but have brought with them much of the experience gained through work with Fontes Foundation. For example, they are both advisors with the Norwegian-African Business Association (NABA), a private sector organisation in Norway that promotes business in Africa and provides advice. The Fontes experience has also been vital in their newest project, which is establishing the Norwegian IT consultancy firm Laboremus in East Africa through an office in Kampala. On the 1st of November 2013, they were asked to hold a presentation at the prestigious NABA summit in Oslo, about human resources management in Africa. This article summarises the presentation, which can also be found on www.norwegianafrican.no

Managing staff in Africa can easily cause high levels of frustrations and challenges Norwegians are not used to meet. However, the key is to better understand where the workers come from, what society they live in and what problems they deal with. A good start when trying to get to know somebody, and where they are coming from, is by asking “How are you?”

Once you have a job, all family and friends expect you to help out with all financial matters. The social pressure is immense.

Once you have a job, all family and friends expect you to help out with all financial matters. The social pressure is immense.

In Uganda, you will most likely be baffled by the fact that few people you know well will reply the expected “Good, I’m fine” and you will be surprised to see that many respond, “I’m getting by”, “I’m struggling” , “I’m trying, trying” or they will say; “fair, fair”. So why do they say this? You could of course just blow it off as some linguistic practice. It is not. They are indeed “Struggling, trying and trying to get by”. For example, if all school-age children in Uganda would go to school this would represent 40% of the population, against 12% in Norway. All these children have to be taken care of and school fees must be paid. One of our friends and collaborators, for example, has to come up with at least USD 4,575 three times a year to pay for his own 6 kids as well as 7 others that he is taking care of since he is one of the few in the family with a job. Family in Africa goes well beyond the nuclear family known in the west, and don’t be surprised if your employee tells you that he is expected to pay for his wife’s half brother’s funeral costs.

The large inequalities between rich and poor in Africa cause stress on the entire society.

The large inequalities between rich and poor in Africa cause stress on the entire society.

It is also important to understand that countries like Uganda still have a highly class divided society. As a manager, you need to understand these differences and make sure that people from all social layers work well together and respect each other. For example, when you invite people out for a drink you need to explicitly make sure everyone knows they are invited, not only the upper ranks. And you need to discretely arrange for your female staff’s cab ride home, otherwise she will not afford to come. Most Norwegians are naïve and even in denial about this fact.

Another thing, Norwegians are naïve and in denial about is the hierarchical management structure everyone is used to and which is instilled into them from primary school. Although we love our flat and democratic management style, it is important to step into the leader role and show authority, otherwise you will manage an office of headless chicken. Once that is established you can start breaking down the artificial barriers and encourage your employees to provide their input, first in an institutionalised way. At the same time, it is important to counter-act an arrogant culture of upper management by leading by example, and take sufficient time to explain to employees WHY certain issues are important, instead of lecturing (or even worse, yelling).

The differences between the Ugandan (left) and the Norwegian (right) management structure are substantial. In Norway, the structure is egalitarian, while in Uganda it is clearly hierarchical. The key is be conscious about the differences and to find the right balance.

The differences between the Ugandan (left) and the Norwegian (right) management structure are substantial. In Norway, the structure is egalitarian, while in Uganda it is clearly hierarchical. The key is be conscious about the differences and to find the right balance.

This will motivate your staff, but you should also be sensitive to their problems and concerns when you consider other motivational measures. For example, whereas Norwegians think a Christmas party paid for by the employer is the coolest thing, people in Uganda would equally appreciate a cash bonus or a shopping voucher (for the same value as the staff dinner) that could help them cover some of the additional expenses over the Christmas season. At the same time, all motivation does not have to come from cash, and there are a number of other ways your company can keep staff motivated which are not expensive but means the world to them. For example, make it possible for staff to take low interest salary loans from the company, write a recommendation letter for them to get a loan in a bank or lend them the company car for going to a funeral or wedding out of town.

Your goal is that your employees will eventually trust your business and focus entirely on it.

Your goal is that your employees will eventually trust your business and focus entirely on it.

If you look back at what we have claimed so far, you might be confused. In one way we ask you to respect and adhere to the way things are managed in Africa, and at the same time we ask you to stick to your principles and bring in your own values. But that’s exactly the point. You do not want to create a Norwegian enterprise in Africa, nor create yet another African one. Yet your African employees are struggling. As one of our Ugandan employees stated after being in Oslo: imagine the potential that can be unleashed if you reduce the struggle of the everyday life in Africa! As we have seen, many times this can be done at a limited financial cost. But in order to address these concerns you need to understand their realities, and this is what this presentation is all about.

In order to spread the risk in an unpredictable market, it is very common to have multiple professional engagements in order to get by i.e. not putting all your eggs in one basket.

In order to spread the risk in an unpredictable market, it is very common to have multiple professional engagements in order to get by i.e. not putting all your eggs in one basket.

As one of our senior programmers in Uganda told us: Africans literarily live by a proverb you probably have heard before: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. This means that most people will always have more than one professional engagement in order to make ends meet, or cope with an unpredictable employment market.

Therefore, in most cases, a working place is just one of many baskets, and this makes it extremely difficult for us to manage staff, as they will act fundamentally different from what we expect. However, through directed and conscious efforts, and by providing some of the safety net that is lacking elsewhere in society, you might very well get your staff to put all their eggs in ONE basket – and that basket should be yours.

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Lucrezia BiteeteAll Eggs in One Basket

Numbers Proving Success

by Apiyo Oweka-Laboke on 09/11/2013 No comments

Our holistic approach with emphasis on service quality and long perspective mentor support changes attitudes and counters youth unemployment.

After 2 years of operation Potentiam Youth Centre can finally claim that the concept has been tried and tested with excellent results. Ignoring the road of least resistance the centre took the daunting task of changing attitudes and the mindset of disadvantaged youth to make them more employable. The initial assessment study suggested that part of the unemployment problem was the poor attitudes of the young people that discouraged a lot of employees.

The monthly salary 6 months after graduation of the students from the Core Course.

The monthly salary 6 months after graduation of the students from the Core Course.

The Centre has to date graduated 147 youth that have undergone training in Basic ICT, English and Literacy and the Core Course in Applied Business Skills. There was a 92% graduation rate for the Core course and of those who graduated, 73% were able to find employment within the first 3 months of finishing the course and 82% were employed by the 6th month. These are impressive statistics that have not been registered by any youth development programme in Uganda so far.

Half of the students had more than doubled their income compared to what they earned before taking the course. 55% of the employment is in the informal sector, 18% in the formal sector, 18% in both formal and informal sectors combined and 9% are unemployed. The salary scale of these graduates ranges from USD 25 a month up to USD 365 per month. Out of the total graduated students from the first core course, 80% of the incomes are regular with only two students fluctuating depending on the number of jobs and season of a given month.

Months without employment after graduation from PYC.

Months without employment after graduation from PYC.

The training we provide is not unique to the centre. There are several other youth development programmes providing the same sort of training. However, the centre’s success is rooted in its holistic approach and the quality of service provided. Albeit still small and growing, it allows the centre the flexibility to review the curriculum often with input from the students so there is constant improvement. The support system provided by the staff, the mentors and the community is unrivalled as supportive relationships are the back bone to the success of any community programme.

The activities at the centre are designed to enhance confidence and promote independent and analytical thinking. The personal development classes prepares the students for the employment market. In the core course of the class the students get to know themselves, gain value and worthiness and develops a sense of belonging to the centre and the community. This is important since most of the students come from troubled backgrounds. The students are followed up by mentors for six months during the course, and then for 18 months after graduation and into their professional lives. We are interested in knowing how the students fare in their carriers and to fix the problem if they are struggling.

The centre has invested highly in quality staff that is motivated and hired not just because they are skilled but also for their passion for the work they do. The staff undergoes constant capacity building to improve their teaching skills especially working with disadvantaged youth who need a little extra help. Investing in people for long term impact is our model of sustainability and as long as the centre continues to innovate and think outside the box, it will continue putting a dent in the youth unemployment statistics.

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Apiyo Oweka-LabokeNumbers Proving Success

Potentiam Welcomes Balder Foundation

by fontes on 15/10/2013 No comments

On October 14th 2013, the youth programme donor representatives from the Balder Foundation visited the Potentiam Youth Centre for the first time to observe and monitor the progress of the project. The team comprised of Lars, Nanna and Gunvor all representatives and trustees on the board of the Balder Foundation in Norway. They were accompanied by Ove Haugsdal and Hilde Sandnes of the Adina Foundation in northern Uganda. There was so much hustle and bustle and a positive energy throughout the community at the youth center on that day. The youth no doubt were excited to finally put a face to the selfless people who were greatly responsible for empowering them and providing them with a livelihood means. Fontes Cultural Troupe put up an impressive performance of local dances from Uganda and a short hilarious sketch on HIV/AIDS which is still prevalent in Uganda. The donors are convinced that their support is providing a great opportunity for the youth in Uganda and pledged their continued support for the project.

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fontesPotentiam Welcomes Balder Foundation