ILO and UNICEF join forces to launch UPSHIFT skills programme in Uganda

"It is important that skills of young people meet the demands of the labour market, Liesje Schreinemacher

04 February 2022

Today, through the PROSPECTS partnership, the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNICEF and Unleashed, a youth-led NGO “ launched “UPSHIFT”, a youth social innovation and social entrepreneurship skills programme.

The launching bootcamp in Nakivale refugee settlement in Isingiro District was attended by the Dutch Minister of Trade and Development Cooperation, Liesje Schreinemacher, UNICEF Representative, Dr. Munir Safieldin, ILO Chief Technical Advisor, Stephen Opio, UNHCR Deputy Representative, Ms. Briditte Mukanga Eno, Refugee Desk Officer in Office of Prime Minister Ms. Poly Abbey other members of the delegation of PROSPECTS partnership as well as representatives of Isingiro District local government.


“Meaningful participation of youth is one of the priorities for the Netherlands development cooperation. It is important that skills of young people meet the demands of the labour market. The UPSHIFT programme is an important contribution to this, not only skilling but also empowering young people to thrive in their communities,”

said  Liesje Schreinemacher, the Dutch  Minister of Trade and Development. 

At its core, UPSHIFT is a highly adaptable innovation programme anchored in human-centered design, combining innovation workshops, mentorship and seed funding to equip adolescents and young people with the skills and resources they need to identify problems in their communities and opportunities to build solutions addressing them. 

It started in 2014 and eight years later, the UPSHIFT programme has lifted more than 2.2 million adolescents and young people across 42 countries. With a strong focus on experimental learning and social entrepreneurship, the approach leads to employability outcomes for participants, and the development of problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, social innovation and leadership skills. 

Witnessing innovative solutions that young refugees developed after a four-day bootcamp, UNICEF Representative, Dr. Munir Safieldin, underlined that “the UPSHIFT initiative is a valuable product of a unique partnership between UNICEF and ILO. The initiative is helping youth in under-served societies to develop entrepreneurial solutions for the social and market problems of their communities.”

adolescents, skilling, Uganda, refugees, ILO, UNHCR, the International Labour Organization, Netherlands Government,
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Khushbakht

With support from the ILO and UNICEF, Unleashed is bringing UPSHIFT to the Nakivale refugee settlement. According to the Refugee Desk Office in Office of The Prime Minister in Mbarara, Ms. Poly Abbe, “Before the COVID-19 global pandemic, over 15,000 out-of-school adolescents  and youth were living in Nakivale. Post COVID-19, numbers of out of school have continued to grow every day. The implementation of the UPSHIFT life skills programme in Nakivale will support marginalized young people from ages 15 to 24 to reach their true potential.” 

Unleashed, whose tagline is ‘potentials in motion’, is a refugee youth-led organisation operating in the Nakivale settlement, located in the Isingiro District in Uganda. The organisation was launched in 2018 to restore hope among young refugees, build self-esteem and confidence, and develop skills and talents to enable them to live meaningful lives through social entrepreneurship.

Delivered through co-curricular and non-formal education training, UPSHIFT starts with a training where the young participants learn to identify and analyse problems of their concern, and later in the process, develop products or solutions to address them. The most promising of the solutions are selected to receive additional training, mentoring support, and seed funding, up to US$150 to further develop their project and bring it to life. This way, the programme is not only directly benefiting young people, who develop entrepreneurial skills through experimental learning, but also the wider community with the implementation of the solutions created.

ILO Chief Technical Advisor, Stephen Opio believes that “UPSHIFT social innovation programme with complemented ILO best practice entrepreneurship training packages is able to provide alternative learning and skilling pathway to most vulnerable adolescents and youth on the move.”

The ILO with Unleashed has introduced entrepreneurship training packages including ILO’s Generate Your Business Idea (GYB), Start Your Business (SYB), Improve Your Business (IYB), and Expand Your Business (EYB). These aim to create jobs by enabling potential and existing small entrepreneurs to start viable businesses, increase profitability of their existing enterprises and improve the working conditions of their employees in a way that enhances productivity. 

The UPSHIFT social innovation and social entrepreneurship programme in Uganda will be further expanded by ILO and UNICEF under the umbrella of the PROSPECTS partnership, which has played a catalytic role in the achieving of this milestone. 

adolescents, skilling, Uganda, refugees, ILO, UNHCR, the International Labour Organization, Netherlands Government,
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Khush

PROSPECTS is a four-year strategic partnership (2019-2023) with the Government of the Netherlands and five development partners in Uganda to help refugees and forcibly displaced individuals with sustainable solutions to support better integration and inclusion.
In Uganda, UNICEF and ILO, together partners, plays a key role in contributing towards one of the partnership’s three pillars: Education and Learning, with the implementation of activities that focus on building the breadth of skills for the 21st century among both refugee and host community adolescents. In the coming months, UPSHIFT will greatly contribute to the PROSPECTS’s partnership objectives as it builds alternative skills pathways for the most marginalized adolescents and youth in Uganda, including adolescent girls, within the education system and beyond.

Through the ILO-UNICEF partnership, the transformative power of UPSHIFT will be scaled up in 15 districts of Uganda, with the aim of reaching thousands of marginalized adolescents and youth.