Skills acquisition and employability through volunteering by displaced youth in Uganda

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Arts, Design and Social Sciences


This project investigates the capacity of volunteering to reduce inequalities experienced by displaced youths in Uganda and to build their skills and employability. Forced displacement has become one of the most intractable challenges of the 21st century, with 65.6 million people displaced worldwide at the end of 2016 - a number which is predicted to rise further in the coming years.

1.4 million of these refugees are currently seeking refuge in Uganda, fleeing from conflicts in the Central African countries of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Somalia to the east. The majority of these refugees are children, and so building the skills and employability of the many young people (understood in this research as aged 15 - 25) - caught up in this crisis is critical not only to their own future prospects, but to the long-term stability of their host country and region.

Often, however, economic and other inequalities will exclude young refugees from formal schooling and wider opportunities for skills acquisition; while they will also frequently "fall through the cracks" of humanitarian programming. Many, though, are engaged in volunteering, a practice increasingly identified with building skills and enhancing employability. Thus, the aim of this research is to develop a new conceptual framework and produce a body of data and evidence for critically analysing whether volunteering by displaced youths in Uganda helps their skills acquisition and employability and reduces the inequalities they experience.

The project will take an interdisciplinary (Youth Studies, Volunteering Studies, Refugee Studies, Urban Studies and Development Studies) mixed method approach, and establish and exploit collaborative links with global South refugee NGOs, volunteers and leading global volunteering and development actors. Fieldwork will be conducted in four case study regions - Kampala city, North Western Uganda, South Uganda, where two of the populations are in the same district, and South West Uganda - and proceed through the following three phases.

In Phase 1, the research team will carry out a series of workshops, key informant interviews and field visits in order to build stakeholder engagement, refine and confirm the impact plan, and establish an initial typology of forms and understandings of volunteering to inform the large-scale quantitative survey in phase 2.

In Phase 2, the research team will design, develop, pilot and launch a large quantitative survey of young refugees involved in volunteering. Preliminary analysis of the data arising from this survey will inform the questions and focus of phase 3.

Comprising 6 main activities - participatory mapping, participatory photography, one to one semi-structured interviews, life history interviews, and stakeholder interviews - Phase 3 will deepen our understanding of where and how young refugees volunteer, address the factors shaping volunteering activity, and its impacts on skills acquisition and employability.

The main outputs from the project will include 10 international peer-reviewed journal articles; presentations at major national and international conferences; a project website, containing findings, updates and working notes targeted at different audiences; a compendium of policy briefings; a (touring) photographic exhibition (and accompanying booklet), drawing on images solicited in the context of the participatory photography exercise; and a volunteering for skills acquisition and employability toolkit.

By developing a conceptual framework and body of data and evidence on the impact of volunteering by displaced youths in Uganda on skills acquisition, employability and inequality, the research will contribute directly to knowledge which supports how creative solutions to meeting the Sustainable Development Goal challenges work with programmes to develop education and skills.

Planned Impact

The research aims, objectives, methodology and impact plans have been co-designed with local partners and stakeholders in Uganda, with input from leading global humanitarian and development actors, ensuring our outputs are oriented to need and likely to have high impact.

We anticipate the research will enhance approaches to tackling inequality, skills acquisition and employability for young displaced people in Uganda by:

- Producing accessible knowledge and evidence to inform and shape policy making that affects the livelihoods of young refugees in Uganda, including by government ministries (e.g. Office of the Prime Minister Refugees Department, The Ministry of Local Government) and civil society organisations.

- Providing knowledge and resources for volunteer and refugee engaging organisations to design, develop and improve approaches to volunteering to maximise impacts on skills acquisition, employability and inequality, such as through improved recruitment, training, placement allocation, volunteer management and support to translate experiences into employment opportunities.

- Raising policy maker, civil society, business and public understanding in Uganda and more broadly, about different forms of volunteering and their capacities to enhance skills acquisition and employability and address inequality, in order to increase volunteer opportunities and participation, aid recognition of volunteer experience in employee recruitment and locate volunteering within wider development policy repertoires around young people, skills acquisition and inequality.

- Developing indicators and building stakeholder capacity to evaluate and assess the impact of volunteering on skills acquisition, employability and tackling inequality within Uganda, as well as in other developing countries hosting young displaced people.

- Building the capacity of local stakeholders to listen to the voices of young displaced people using approaches that recognise the inequalities and challenges they face, and develop strategies enabling young people's voices to shape and influence policy and practice.

- Fostering dialogue and co-ordination between volunteer and refugee engaging organisations in Uganda to develop more integrated approaches to volunteering for young refugees.

Developments in each of these regards will be facilitated by the following outputs: a project website (with integrated social media); Stakeholder workshops; Capacity building workshops; a Volunteering for Skills Toolkit; a compendium of Policy briefings; in-country Policy and Practice workshops; a photography exhibition and booklet; Pop Up Labs; Global policy and practice events; and papers at leading Policy and Practice conferences.

An Alignment, Interest and Influence Matrix (AIIM) will be developed during initial stakeholder workshops, mapping degrees of interest in the programme, alignment with objectives and influence in policy making and practice. An Outcome Mapping process will then confirm our final communications and impact approach. Two sets of indicators will be developed to monitor impact, one for individual young refugees and the other for stakeholder organisations, based on the Theory of Change approach. Our overall approach will be guided by an advisory board of leading Ugandan and global actors including The Norwegian Refugee Council, the Lutheran World Federation and Finn Church Aid and 5 citizen advisory boards of young displaced refugee volunteers.


10 25 50