Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) – Uganda

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Context: About 60 per cent of Uganda’s population is aged below 20 years. The country also has the second lowest median age of all countries and the highest child dependency ratio. Uganda also has one of the highest rates of young women being out of the labour force at around 86 per cent compared to an average of 58 per cent for 14 selected Sub-Saharan African countries. Also, majority of females in Uganda get married before age 24. In Uganda, women aged 15-24 years are almost eight times more likely to be HIV positive than men. The young girls in Uganda, therefore, face economic and health challenges arising from an uncertain transition into the labour market. These economic and health issues are obviously interlinked: teen pregnancy and early motherhood are likely to have a decisive impact on the ability of young girls to accumulate human capital in adolescence, and limit their future occupational choices. At the same time, a lack of future labour market opportunities can reduce the incentives for young girls to invest in their human capital, and be subject to other more risky behaviors.

Implementation of programme/ initiative: The Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) programme is designed to improve the cognitive and non-cognitive skills of adolescent girls. The programme was started in mid-2008 and is implemented by Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Uganda.  The BRAC is a non-governmental organization rooted in Bangladesh. The programme is designed to empower adolescent girls against both health and economic challenges through the simultaneous provision of life skills to build knowledge, enable girls make informed choices about sex, reproduction and marriage, and reduce risky behaviour; and vocational training enabling girls to establish small-scale income generating activities. The programme targets in-school and out-of-school adolescent girls aged between 14 and 20. Given the difficulties of verifying ages in the African setting and the demand for club activities arising from other girls, some girls outside the 14-20 age range also attend the clubs in practice. The programme covers all the regions in Uganda. The ELA programme operates through ‘adolescent development clubs’, a fixed meeting place within each community. These clubs are often housed in a single dedicated room, which is either donated by the community or rented by BRAC. The club is open five afternoons per week and timed so that girls enrolled full-time in school can attend. Club activities are led by a female mentor. The mentor is selected by programme staff from within the community, tends to be slightly older than the target population of adolescent girls, and is prepared for her supervisory role during a week-long initiation programme, as well as bi-monthly refresher courses. Mentors obtain a small lump-sum payment for their work. Club participation is voluntary and unrelated to engagement with other BRAC activities. The two forms of skills training provided in the ELA programme are life skills training, and vocational skills training, both of which take place within the clubs. In addition, the clubs also host popular recreational activities such as reading, staging dramas, singing, dancing and playing games. The clubs, therefore, serve as a local space in which adolescent girls can meet, socialize, privately further discuss issues of concern and to continue to develop their non-cognitive skills.

Main challenges: The main challenge faced by the programme is inadequate funding, and the high cost of providing the life skills and vocational training to the adolescent girls.

Results achieved: The programme has started 1,200 clubs in Uganda and these have reached 50,000 girls. A randomized control trials involving 4,888 adolescents revealed that 84.7 per cent of the adolescent girls in the treatment group participated in life skills training, 52.7 per cent in vocational skills training and 50.9 per cent participated in both forms of training. The intervention raised the likelihood of girls being engaged in income generating activities by 35 per cent. In terms of economic empowerment, intention-to-treat estimates show that adolescent girls in treated communities are 7 percentage points more likely to engage in income generating activities relative to adolescent girls in control communities. This corresponds to a 72 per cent increase in engagement in such activities over the baseline. This was almost entirely driven by additional engagement in self-employment activities. These labour market changes were also accompanied by a 41 per cent increase in monthly consumption expenditure, and reduction in self-reported anxieties about finding a good job in adulthood. The programme also facilitated increase in the earning of the beneficiaries by US$26.7, which more than offsets the per girl programme cost of US$ 17.9. Also, girls who had previously dropped out of school were found to be 8 per cent more likely to want to re-enrol in school. There was also a 26 per cent reduction in rates of early childbearing, 58 per cent reduction in rates of marriage/cohabitation, and a 28 per cent increase in self-reported condom usage over the baseline.

Moving Forward: Successful implementation of the ELA initiative requires strong community participation, a large and committed pool of mentors, favourable environment for entrepreneurial growth and development, and  dedicated group of partners particularly private sector employers to further facilitate smoothening of the school-to-work transition for the adolescent girls. It also requires strong collaboration and partnership with the government.

Replicability: A major success factor of the ELA is its integrated interventions that provide life skills and vocational training. The findings show that women’s economic and social empowerment can be jump-started through the combined provision of vocational and life skills training, and is not necessarily held back by insurmountable constraints arising from binding social norms. This means that combined interventions are more effective among adolescent girls than single pronged interventions aiming to change risky behavior solely through related education programmes, or to improve labour market outcomes purely through vocational training. The twin-pronged approach is also novel in that it is not classroom based and so targets both girls in school and those who have dropped out of school, who are often thought to be most vulnerable. It also offers a low cost and scalable intervention that enables adolescent girls to improve their life outcomes. Based on its success, BRAC has started a similar programme in Tanzania, South Africa and Sierra Leone. Other non-governmental organizations are also replicating the model in other countries within Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. To enhance sustainability, the BRAC framework may need to have a strong inbuilt mechanism for promoting participation of government, private sector and beneficiary communities in the programme.


ILO (2015). “Women’s Economic Empowerment in Action: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial in Africa”, Employment Working Paper No. 187, Geneva: Employment Policy Department

Project Details

Date: July 24, 2017

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