Japan and UNDP Egypt: Partnering for Youth Employment and Democracy Promotion
The Government of Japan has been a key supporter of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) work in restoring peace, security and stability for countries in transition throughout the world. In the Arab region, Japan has quickly responded to the wave of change that began to sweep the region in late 2010 by launching a new initiative to help achieve stability and resilience during a time of transition.
Since 2012, Egypt has been one of the main recipients of the UNDP/Japan partnership receiving some 26.6 million US dollars in support from the Japanese government. With this generous support from Japan, UNDP Egypt has carried out priority projects that leads to concrete and tangible results and addresses critical challenges people face living in a turbulent political and socio-economic environment.
Along this line, UNDP together with the Egyptian government and local partners identified youth unemployment and civic participation in democratic processes as key areas requiring support. Egypt had experienced a severe economic downturn since the 2011 Revolution. Bleak economic conditions increased the level of poverty in Egypt from 16.7% in 1996 to 25.2% in 2011 and unemployment rates reach 13.5% at the end of 2013 (CAPMAS). Youth bear an uneven share of the jobless rate constituting 70.8% of the unemployed and is considered one of the most disenfranchised groups in Egypt’s political and social context.
Furthermore, the transition has increased political awareness and demand from the people for more participation, engagement and democracy. UNDP had been well-positioned to support Egypt’s political and economic transition with its expertise and experience in fighting poverty and building democratic societies.
Youth, Jobs and Development
Recognizing the need to engage with and provide economic opportunities for youths, UNDP Egypt with support from the Japan fund launched a number of projects to develop youth capacities, improve their economic prospects and directly create jobs for youth.
UNDP together with government partners realised that the skills mismatch between youth skills and private sector needs was a major factor hindering youth to find quality jobs. To close this gap, UNDP (2012) in partnership with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology provided some 2,800 young job-seekers and entrepreneurs with essential, demand-driven vocational training on ICT and management skills to increase their employment prospects.
The project also launched a competition to motivate youth to start small businesses that have social impact based on their newly acquired skills and knowledge. The project has recently received the prestigious World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Project Prize 2014 in recognition of its innovative approach and contribution to youth in Egypt.
In addition to vocational skills, UNDP, partnering with the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and with support from the Government of Japan, have directly provided opportunities of short-term public works for youth and other marginalized people. These emergency jobs act as a social protection in time of economic slowdown, targeting unskilled and poor youth and providing them with much-needed income.
The projects include construction of public infrastructure such as paved roads, potable water networks and public market places in the most impoverished villages of Egypt. While traditional public works have only focused on building basic infrastructure and, hence, creating work for mostly men, this project introduced a social service delivery component to involve women in health and environmental campaigns.
Through these public works projects, UNDP created some 570,000 workdays between 2012 and 2014 and plans to create an additional 200,000 workdays in 2014-2015. “The project offered many jobs for unemployed people and gave them a decent income,” said Ahmed Sedky, a participant. Moreover, the infrastructure and social services provided have greatly benefited the local communities by boosting their economy, enhancing their health conditions and raising their awareness of environmental protection.
The Egyptian government has highly valued the employment opportunities and services provided by the public works projects and the SFD is currently scaling up this programme with new funds from other international donor partners, based on the model developed through the UNDP-Japan partnership.
Promoting Public Dialogue and Strengthening the Democratic Process in Egypt and Supporting Peacekeeping in Africa
The transition period in Egypt presented a unique opportunity to promote public dialogue on social cohesion and strengthen the democratic process in Egypt. Building on the work started in 2007 through the Social Contract Centre, which promotes open and constructive dialogue within society towards a new social contract, UNDP increased its engagement and empowerment of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and youth groups thanks to the support of Japan by providing quality policy advice and capacity development for key policymakers on socio-economic rights, good governance and anti-corruption.
The Centre, in particular, targets youth as a key group to engage in the public dialogue processes, organising workshops and outreach activities for some 2,500 students in 10 public universities throughout Egypt.It also established a Youth Advisory Board to manage youth networks and sustain engagement with youth groups. Moreover, the project published reports on Egypt’s poverty and social policies, conducted mapping of CSOs and youth groups, and organized several capacities development workshops on monitoring and evaluation of poverty and social programmes.
The Government of Japan has also supported UNDP’s electoral assistance project in Egypt since 2012. The project focuses on the long-term institutional capacity building of electoral authorities and other relevant stakeholders by strengthening public outreach and voter information, upgrading the technical and operational capacity of national electoral authorities, providing lessons learned from previous elections and increasing access of women and rural dwellers to exercise their citizenship rights through the issuance of national ID cards (117,000 cards have been issued to date and a total of 292,000 women are currently registered for receiving an ID card).
Through exposure to comparative experiences in electoral practices, electoral authorities have acquired considerable knowledge and awareness of key electoral topics, leading to a growing community of electoral practitioners. The use of good practice electoral materials were introduced to increase the integrity of the electoral processes such as tamper-evident bags, seals, transparent ballot boxes, ballot booths and badges for the recognition of polling station staff.
The project also developed and disseminated manuals for judges supervising the electoral processes and handbooks for the media. Professional voter campaigns have become an integral part of electoral operations in Egypt. For the first time, the voter register was displayed for the public to review as part of the voter register update process.
Furthermore, UNDP, in partnership with the Japanese government, has been providing support to the Cairo Regional Centre for Training on Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Africa (CCCPA) since 2008. This intervention succeeded in building the capacities of 2,400 civilians, military and police personnel from various African countries in the field of peacekeeping.
The project is a good example of South-South cooperation especially that CCCPA is now recognized as a regional centre of excellence with established networks with African and regional peacekeeping centres. The new phase of the project which started in March 2014, also with support from Japan, focuses on strengthening the capacities of national institutions in African countries and in Egypt in three areas, namely crisis management, border management, peace-building and peace-keeping, with the overall objective of improving peace and stability in North Africa, the Sahel and Great Lakes regions.
These results demonstrate the tangible impact that the UNDP/Japan partnership has had on the Egyptian society by providing youth with essential skills and jobs and contributing to promoting democracy and dialogue in this time of transition. As mentioned by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark: “Japan’s commitment to fighting poverty and building resilient societies, particularly in countries that have emerged from crisis or are undergoing challenging transitions, will help some of the most vulnerable populations around the world.”
UNDP and the Government of Japan’s strong partnership has indeed greatly supported the human development of the Egyptian people and contributed to Egypt’s transition to a democratic society.