Programmes for sustainable development and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Uganda were the topics of discussion during a meeting between the Japan United Nations Forum (Kokuren Forum in Japanese) and the UNDP Uganda Country Office.

The pandemic comes at a time when societies are already facing many challenges, including deepening inequality, a rise in unemployment, and an increasing lack of access to basic amenities.

The UNDP report, Integrated Solutions For Sustainable Development, shows that the global health crisis has indeed stalled progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. The report also calls for greater partnerships and urgent action due to the negative impacts of Covid-19 on development gains.

Encouraged by this call to action, the Japanese-based Kokuren Forum is looking to deepen its understanding of sustainable development in Uganda. The Forum intends to disseminate the learning outcomes through its platform of 8,500 professionals and students across Japan and beyond.

Kicking off the discussion, Partnerships, Innovation and Development Solutions Specialist at UNDP Uganda’s Accelerator Lab, Innocent Fred Ejolu, said priority target areas for intervention included the northern and eastern regions, two of the poorest regions in the country.

“With the country listed as least developed and with the current poverty line making up 21.4 of the more than 40 million population, the question of taking the nation from low to middle income status remains top of the agenda,” he said.

“Tackling issues of structural change, inequality, strengthening governance systems and human resources also feature prominently in the framework of the country’s development planning,” he added.

To date, women (51 percent of the population) have limited economic assets, while the youth (18.4 percent of the population) experience high unemployment. Other areas of concern include the elderly, HIV/AIDS, female-headed households, refugees and internally displaced persons, border communities, and communities affected by conflict.

The UN Socioeconomic Impact Report of Covid-19 in Uganda shows that momentum on SDG 1: no poverty, 8: decent work and economic growth, and 10: reducing inequalities, have slowed down. The report estimates the following:

  • 60 percent of informal MSMEs are expected to go out of business.
  • Over 46 percent of workers have been pushed below the poverty line. The informal sector, hospitality industry, trading and services (women and youth are most affected).
  • 1.9 million have fallen into poverty from the first eight weeks of the national lockdown (May-June 2020).
  • Poverty is expected to increase between 2-8 percent.
  • Tourism to lose USD5 billion over the next 5 years.

On what UNDP is doing to address the issue of unemployment among Ugandan youth, Private Sector Specialist Stefan Engels said challenges remained as unemployment was not just a livelihood issue but could also turn into a political one if not resolved.

“The country is facing crucial systemic barriers that limit job creation, mainly limited access to start-up or scale-up capital. Collaborative action is required by the government and development partners working with the private sector,” said Engels.

This, he noted, was necessary to stimulate transformative growth, improve and increase access to affordable financing for innovative and commercially viable businesses, and linking firm growth to creation of jobs for the youth. 

“To engage the private sector to come up with innovative ideas not only to create jobs for youth but also to help them find a path into entrepreneurship is at the heart of the flagship project called the Youth4Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Facility,” he said.

Officially launched by Uganda’s President Museveni in August 2020, Youth4Biz was developed by UNDP in partnership with Stanbic Bank Uganda and Stanbic Business Incubator with the aim of promoting impact-driven entrepreneurship, foster innovation, and leverage business solutions to address the youth unemployment challenge.

“At the core of the Youth4Business Facility is the plan to create 20,000 new decent jobs for youth and to retool and skill an additional 50,000 youth, so that they can fit the demand of the private sector,” said Engels.

Addressing the question of growth versus environmental concerns raised by participants from the Kokuren Forum, Engels said, “This is clearly one of the directions that the business community needs to move in to do their part when it comes to climate change and nature-based solutions.”

“UNDP continues to play an important role within the UN system in advancing the development agenda in Uganda, but greater multisectoral partnerships and interventions are needed to ensure that the SDGs are achieved,” concluded UNDP Accelerator Lab’s Innocent Fred Ejolu.

And for all of this to be sustainable, UNDP’s Integrated Solutions For Sustainable Development report says greater efforts are needed to rebalance the relationship between nature, climate and the economy.

The session provided UNDP an opportunity to deepen the understanding of issues critical for achieving the SDGs in Uganda among a leading youth group in Japan.

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