URBANET has received funding from EMpower, the Emerging Markets Foundation, to support the development of programs that empower youth with skills training and development, particularly young girls. EMpower is a USA-based charity organization that focusses on supporting youth in emerging market countries through partnerships and grants given to local organizations. The goals of EMpower align with the focus of URBANET, to address the needs of Ghana’s expanding youth population, who often have few skills and livelihood opportunities.

According to the Ghana Statistical Service (2010) a quarter of Ghana’s population is between the ages of 15 and 24. Moreover, 55.4% of the Northern Region population is under the age of twenty. Thus, youth make up a significant portion of Ghana’s population. Yet they often face great challenges, including an unemployment rate of an average 19.5%, according to the World Development Database (2012), with that rate jumping to 48.6 % in the Northern Region (Ghana Statistical Service, 2010). Youth also face high levels of illiteracy, lack of education, and inability to access credit or jobs skills training. Women face further sociocultural barriers, and are more likely to drop out of school and have difficulty accessing credit and other resources. These challenges leave youth vulnerable to poverty, unsafe working conditions, sexual abuse and rape, and HIV/AIDS.

URBANET’s relationship with EMpower focuses on a diverse portfolio of projects, which enables the organization to meet the various needs of youth in northern Ghana. This includes programs to train young people, especially women, in Shea Butter processing, as Community Livestock Workers and as Seed Producers. These projects simultaneously address the critical need for youth skills training and employment, while also providing in-demand goods and services. Quality seeds, for example, are a sought-after product in the Northern Region, as are Community Livestock Workers, who bridge the gap between the hugely understaffed veterinary services and smallholder farmers. As well, the Shea Butter value chain represents a lucrative and growing employment opportunity.

URBANET’s relationship with Empower also recognizes the widespread challenges faced by youth, and particularly young girls, beyond simply a lack of employment. To this end, the organization addresses these challenges through complementary training in reproductive health, gender issues, business and entrepreneurship and information communication. Overall, through funding from EMpower, URBANET aims to increase youth livelihoods through capacity and skills development, which is gradually increasing employment opportunities as well as encouraging youth to re-enter education and to start their own businesses.

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