Empowering youth to build skills and opportunities through social innovation and entrepreneurship

Upshift logo with Upshifters in the background
UNICEF Innovation

There are 1.8 billion young people in the world today, nearly 90 per cent of whom live in low- and middle-income countries — the largest cohort ever. 

Yet globally more than 200 million adolescents are out of school and youth unemployment is 13% globally; 3 times higher than the rate for adults. There are many different reasons for this, ranging from escaping conflict to disability to education systems that don’t provide the skills young people need for employment today. But the common challenges are systems that fail to provide skills for work and life and a lack of opportunity. 

Youth smile at the camera with their ideas and inventions

UPSHIFT is designed to address both of these challenges, with a focus on creating opportunity for the most marginalised young people.

The core UPSHIFT content is modular, allowing UPSHIFT to be adapted to different contexts and delivered in different settings – ranging from youth innovation labs to non-formal education centres. Through a combination of training and mentorship, participants gain valuable transferable skills, including problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and leadership.

UPSHIFT combines some of the leading approaches to youth and adolescent development to empower marginalized youth and adolescents to become social innovators and entrepreneurs.

UPSHIFT empowers young people to identify challenges in their communities and create entrepreneurial solutions to address them. Young people directly involved in UPSHIFT learn to generate new ideas and turn these ideas into actions that will meet unmet social needs in their communities.

UPSHIFT is built on human-centred design methodologies, which have been tailored for use with marginalized young people.

Upshift in action

By design, UPSHIFT specifically seeks to engaged marginalized communities, including for example girls, young people with disabilities, young refugees and ethnic minority communities.

Take for example, in Vietnam, UPSHIFT has been very successful at engaging young people with disabilities as problem solvers; in turn leading to employment opportunities.


Kosovo: introducing UPSHIFT
Vietnam: creating opportunities for young people with disabilities
Tajikistan: solving water and sanitation challenges

There are two main approaches to UPSHIFT, which can build on each other. One is focused on skills development; the other on social entrepreneurship.

Both are built on human-centred design methodologies and are tailored to engage marginalised young people as co-creators of solutions, rather than just as beneficiaries.

Both can be focused on specific issues (e.g. climate change adaptations, water and sanitation solutions) or can be entirely youth-led, with young people selecting the issues that most affect them and their communities.

We know that UPSHIFT is a programme which needs to be adapted to the local context, cognizant of the education system, cultural values and the local entrepreneurship ecosystem. The process of scaling is therefore about adaptation, rather than replication.

flow chart of the two main approaches of UPSHIFT
UNICEF Innovation

UPSHIFT programmes that focus on skills development lend themselves to delivery through the education system, both formal and non-formal. Work is underway in partnership with Ministries of Education in a number of countries to integrate UPSHIFT into the education curriculum. UPSHIFT for social innovation skills is a modular approach. Phase 1 supports young people through a process of identifying their own strengths and those of their peers, before building teams to identify and address challenges that they see around them in their communities. Phase 2 provides business development tools and support to enable young people to turn their ideas into sustainable solutions.

The main outcomes from UPSHIFT social innovation skills are:

  • 21st-century skills development
  • Skills and opportunity related to employment and entrepreneurship
  • Community-building, peace-building and social cohesion are also important outcomes

UPSHIFT started as a social entrepreneurship. This is a bootcamp approach, with compressed content, typically delivered over 1 or 2 weekends to develop potential solutions. The most promising solutions receive seed funding, business development support and mentorship over the next 3-6 months.

UPSHIFT Social Entrepreneurship outcome measures relate to:

  • 21st-century skills development
  • Skills and opportunity related to employment and entrepreneurship
  • Community-building, peace-building and social cohesion are also important outcomes

Many ventures started by young UPSHIFTers also have a significant impact on their local communities.

Youth creating solutions and prototyping

UPSHIFT is an adaptable and scalable approach, which supports the development of skills for life and employment and supports youth to positively engage with their local communities as change makers.

The programme has also been included in the World Bank’s Solutions for Youth Employment Impact Portfolio.

What’s Next.

UPSHIFT is transformative for young people. We are now developing models that enable this experience to reach a far greater number of young people in each country, particularly through the education system and local government. The open source and freely available digital version of UPSHIFT and its Train the Trainer model will shortly be released and we are seeking a digital collaboration platform to host Train the Trainer content, enabling scale up through both Unicef and other organisations working with young people and young social entrepreneurs.

UPSHIFT started it’s journey in Kosovo in 2014 and is now in 12 different countries, but more importantly, it is impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people. To develop a generation of skilled, civically engaged young people, we need to reach millions.