To Remind our leaders what we need today: Youth Employment -Follow The Youth Self Employment Program of Bangladesh.(1982 till today)
Posted on October 30th, 2021

Garvin Karunaratne

The Ministry of Youth Development where I was working as the Commonwealth Fund Advisor in Youth Development was attending to traditional youth work and providing skills training to 40,000 youths annually. The Military Government that took over in 1982 expressed dissatisfaction with the programmes and at an evaluation, presided over by Air Vice Marshall Aminul Islam, the Minister for Labour and Manpower,  I was questioned as to what contribution I could make for Bangladesh. It was delivered in the form of a military command

I replied that it would be ideal to have a Self Employment Program which will guide and train the annual intake of 40,000 youths  undertaking skills programs to become self employed.  Bereft of any such programme to guide them to venture into employment most of the trained youths remained unemployed. I was told blankly that this was something that can never be achieved because The ILO had miserably failed to establish a self employment program in Tangail in the earlier three years. The Secretaries of the Finance and other Ministries strongly objected, stating that it would end up in a waste of funds and also that the Youth Ministry should not be entrusted with the task of creating employment opportunities. I argued that though the ILO failed, I had the ability to  succeed because I had established many employment projects in my work in Sri Lanka. I also argued that youth work should concentrate on skills training and guiding the trained to establish enterprises. The Hon Minister listened carefully to an easy two hours’ arguments between me and the Secretaries of some Line Ministries. Finally he ordered all of us to shut up and asked the Secretaries for the number of drop outs of the education system in any one year, those who would be searching for employment without any qualification. The answer was in the millions. Then he asked for the number of youths who would be guided to become self-employed through Government Programs. The answer was none. He immediately ruled that I should be allowed to establish a youth self employment program. The Secretary to the Treasury immediately vetoed it by stating that there were no funds. I immediately said that I needed no funds, but authority should be granted for the Ministry to re deploy officers, redraft their work remits and to find savings within the skills training budgets for expenses on holding workshops to train and guide youths to become self employed. The Hon Minister granted that request.

The Youth Development Department under my direction  got cracking the very next day, identifying key areas where the work will commence, drafting training schedules to train the staff who attended to skills training on how to guide the youths to make their own assessment of how they can be self employed in their habitat. The Ministry took over elements of national planning, in identifying areas where there was a potential for youths to become self employed. I with a core of officials addressed the 40,000 youths in training on identifying areas where they could generate incomes,  and how they should draft plans to be self employed. It was to be a family basis where the parents and elders of the youths were also consulted. All skills training institutes were activated till late at night to enable youths to utilize the machinery to make something that  could be sold. What they made was evaluated at the next days training and this took on a process of training to make marketable products. The three Livestock and Poultry Training Institutes of the Ministry established  an extension service to help youths who commence farms in their homes. The Deputy Directors of Youth Development in charge of Districts took on the mantle of guiding the youths to establish income generation activities and guiding them on a day to day basis. In short the Ministry of Youth Development  became in facto a Ministry creating employment.

In 1982 I commenced training the staff in economics and techniques of community development and non formal education where the thrust was to enable youths to make their own decisions  and develop their abilities to make them become successful entrepreneurs. I was training 2000 youths and also training the staff to continue the program when I leave.

The design of the program and what was achieved in eighteen months is recorded by the two Secretaries with whom I worked.

Mr Ayubur Rahaman, The Secretary to the Ministry wrote on 5/10/1983:

His contribution towards successful launching of a number of skills  development training programs to promote employment of youths deserves special appreciation. His role as formulator of the self employment project has been particularly commendable. Dr Karunaratne  applied his initiative, skills, expertise and energy on training of youth officers, preparation of business profiles for encouraging self employment and guding youths to formulate small projects. It was mainly through his dedication and hard work  that the pilot program  for self employment  has now been formally accepted as one of the most important development projects to be implemented  by the Youth Development Department.”

Mr Md. Asafuddowlah, Joint Secretary on 28/8/1983:

Dr Karunaratne’s significant contribution has been in the field of self employment to the drop out youths. This Programme was not only designed by him but also guided by him. This activity which was initially launched  as a pilot experimental project has been a great success and has now been  adopted as a full fledged programme of the Youth Development Department. This is a non subsidy programme  in which the youths are subjected to non formal education inputs while they are engaged in viable bur small scale commercial ventures. The Government  has been successful in providing  meaningful employment  to a large number of youths on this programme.

Mr Md Asafuddowlah,  Secretary to the Ministry, on 20/2005, again wrote to me:

You will be happy to learn that the Self Employment Program of the Youth Development Department  has expanded across the country and attained great success. I have not forgotten your valuable contribution to the success of this programme.”

The Programme has been expanded apace, run by the administrators trained by me. . On 19/2/2011, the Government of Bangladesh,  in its Report to the 34 th Session of the IFAD(FAO) stated that two million youths have found self employment on this Programme.

Today this is the largest employment creation program the world has known. The Programme currently guides  160,000 youths to become self employed. The Ministry has taken over the task of national planning to create employment. Ninety five percent of the work of the Youth Development   is to create employment for the youth. In the first four years this Programme was not provided any funds. It was entirely worked on savings found in other approved training budgets. Later it was  provided ample funds. The Fifth Five Year Plan of the Planning Commission of Bangladesh details an  eight page assessment of this great programme. 

The Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh, now in its third decade, having guided as much as three million youths to become viably self employed stands out as a success that can be repeated in many a Third World country.

Garvin Karunaratne,

 October 30, 2021

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