Youth spark innovation in Sudan

‘UPSHIFT’ programme helps some of the most disadvantaged young people solve problems in their communities.

By Toby Fricker and Hadeel Zahir
A girl sits in a classroom, Sudan
UNICEF Sudan/2018/Fricker

25 September 2018

KHARTOUM, Sudan, 28 September 2018 – Bahri market, north Khartoum, bustles with activity, as buyers hustle to get the best deal possible on colourful fabrics, food and other goods – a typical market scene. But there’s a different kind of energy coming from an unassuming first-floor space that overlooks the action.

Fifty young Sudanese are bouncing ideas off each other to try and find solutions to the issues that affect them in everyday life. Most of the youth here, between the ages of 14 and 24, have never been to school. Many of the boys work in the market and the girls are mostly confined to helping their mothers at home.

“I can’t read or write but I think education is very important in life."

“I had no idea about school, there was no one helping financially,” says 18-year old Mohammed, referring to the cost of school supplies and transport that can keep vulnerable children out of classrooms.

Sixteen-year-old Nafisa has also never set foot in class. She married at 14 but divorced shortly after. “I can’t read or write but I think education is very important in life, without this I can’t read a form, a paper, if someone needs something written I can’t do it,” she says.
 

A teenage boy sits with a model generator, Sudan
UNICEF Sudan/2018/Fricker
18-year old Mohammed, from Samklap, Khartoum, sits with the model that he built with his peers to demonstrate their idea to create a generator that can run on solar or fuel energy. Mohammed never went to school but now he attends one of UNICEF Sudan’s ‘UPSHIFT’ programmes at the ‘Nile Dream’ learning centre in Bahri market, Khartoum.

Social innovation for community development

So Nafisa and Mohammed, along with their peers, joined ‘UPSHIFT’, a youth and adolescent development programme that helps some of the most disadvantaged young people become social innovators. The programme combines innovation workshops with mentorship, materials and seed funding to equip young people with the skills and resources to identify problems in their communities and build solutions (in the form of products or services).

Beyond tapping into the creativity of some of the most vulnerable children in Sudan, the ‘UPSHIFT’ sessions also provide some basic education, conflict resolution and presentation skills.

"It’s a very good feeling whenever you find solutions for a problem you face." 

“The idea now is to think how to solve problems, like electricity, to help create power for the market,” says Mohammed, as he displays a model generator he made with his team.

Their innovative plan is to design a generator that can be powered by either solar or fuel energy. His idea was sparked by the economic crisis in Sudan that led to a recent fuel shortage and affected local trade.              

“It’s a very good feeling whenever you find solutions for a problem you face, a very good feeling,” Mohammed stresses. His group just returned to the class from a field trip to a mechanics workshop, where they explored ideas on how to put their concept into practice.
 

A group of teenagers look at a diagram, Sudan
UNICEF Sudan/2018/Fricker
16-year old Nafisa and her team work out plans on how to improve access to education for children and young people in Khartoum. Nafisa and her peers attend the UNICEF supported UPSHIFT programme in Khartoum. Most of the children and young people here have never been to school.

Generation Unlimited

Meanwhile Nafisa’s group is studying a chart they put together, which lays out plans for breaking through the barriers that prevent access to education.

“I’m working on a project here to get every child into school. We went to the local education authorities to convince them to build more schools and to enrol more children,” she says, with a determined smile. “This will help me to be educated and then to help my sons and daughters to get educated, it will help in my personal life,” Nafisa adds.

After the session, Mohammed goes back to work at the market and in a greenhouse where they grow cucumbers and tomatoes. “Now I learn so many things. Like how to express myself, how to be self-confident, and responsible and how to talk to and deal with people who I work with,” says Mohammed. “In the future, it will help us to make more money.”

The plan now is to reach vulnerable young people across the country by scaling up the programme and taking it nationwide through partnerships with young people and communities, government, civil society and the private sector.

The ‘UPSHIFT’ programme is part of Generation Unlimited, a new partnership – launched during the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly – aimed at getting every young person into quality education, training or employment by 2030.

In Sudan, the ‘UPSHIFT’ programme is funded by the German, Italian, UK Governments and UNICEF Netherlands.