Youth socio-economic empowerment through policy implementation in rural Zimbabwe: A case study of youth self-help projects in Mwenezi District (Masvingo Province).
Hlungwani, Machingo Promise.
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This study looks at policy implementation of the National Youth Policy in rural Zimbabwe. Using youth self-help projects in Mwenezi District as a case study, the research explores the effectiveness of policy implementation in promoting youth socio-economic empowerment. A qualitative approach using in-depth semi-structured interviews was adopted in the study. A total of five key informants drawn from the NGOs and government officers implementing self-help projects were targeted. In addition, twenty-five youth respondents engaging in self-help projects were interviewed across the district, totalling 30 interviews. Findings from the interviews illustrated the policy strengths as well as weaknesses in light of youth empowerment drive in the district. The findings also shed light on the nature of self-help projects and their contribution to youth socio-economic empowerment. Using the sustainable livelihood approach, it became apparent that many of the youth projects are survivalist in nature, with their members operating from ‘hand to mouth’. The study pointed to a range of challenges which explain this position, as youth have limited skills and finances to run effective projects. Additionally, competition between projects, transport problems, access to markets as well as raw materials, are further challenges. The study revealed that the policy implementers do not have adequate capacity to help the youth realise socio-economic emancipation. Several challenges have continued to affect the attempts to implement sustainable youth projects. These include; limited funds, lack of transport, lack of coordination and cooperation. The study concluded that the top-down policy implementation strategy is ineffective in addressing the concerns of the disempowered youth in remote and rural areas. Needs of the youth are scarcely addressed by the policy initiatives. Additionally, the implementation gaps point to the limited capacity of both the government and NGOs. It was noted that this dependency on NGOs created a benefit trap for the youth who fail to expand projects beyond capital support. The study further revealed that there is a level of animosity towards government programmes, as they are seen to be favoured over other youth self-help development initiatives. This thesis recommends that there is need to involve the youth in policy formulation and implementation in order to fully address their concerns. This recommendation is made based upon the findings which suggest that the current arrangement is not taking into consideration the context in which the youth implement their self-help projects. Whilst the literature revealed that the youth can enhance their livelihoods through income generation, the study revealed that many youth in Mwenezi District perceive self-help projects as temporary engagements, which cannot substitute formal employment. Female youth dominate the enterprises and they are the major beneficiaries of the support given by donors and government. It was also clear that many youth are not aware of the government initiatives aimed at emancipating the youth. Indeed, they appreciate NGOs programmes which they see as contributing immensely to the survival and continuation of the youth projects in the district. This study advances the view that youth should be trained and equipped with effective skills and competencies in order to confront the challenges found in the 21st century. A major challenge for the youth in Mwenezi District in accessing information related to government programmes is that they are largely illiterate. In addition to low literacy levels, the environmental conditions affect their ability to access resources necessary to maintain their livelihood. Against this background, it is recommended that institutions and policies be mainstreamed towards engendering pro-youth, consensual and progressive policies. This can be attained through a multi-stakeholder approach taking into account the interests of all the interested parties.