Janet Longmore takes practical steps to address youth unemployment through peer-led training, an interconnected global network and strategic cross-sector partnerships. Through modern technology and management training, Janet equips youth from around the world to become leaders of economic and social growth within their communities.
The New Idea
Janet is harnessing the abundant talent of young people throughout the developing world by supporting and empowering them as agents of economic and social change within their own communities. To address youth unemployment rates in emerging economies, Janet is bridging the gap between formal education systems and employment opportunities in two ways; by developing the life, business and technological skills of young university and college graduates and by connecting them to valuable networks of peers, entrepreneurs and potential employers locally, nationally, and internationally. With this strategy Janet is securing youth involvement in the local workforces of today’s global economy.
Janet demonstrates the passion and enthusiasm of young people to take active leadership positions within their communities by putting the entrepreneurial and technological growth of their communities directly into their hands. She deploys young people and their newly developed skill sets (which she provides through training) into their home communities to fill contracted internship placements with local citizen organizations (COs). The internships are specifically designed to transfer the skill sets and knowledge base from the youth to the community stakeholders in a “train the trainers” model. Promoting society’s recognition and respect for the potential of youth at the community level, Janet is transforming the role of young people in national economic development—to one that is critical and necessary for growth.
Driven by the very individuals it seeks to empower, Janet’s model is a proven blueprint for countries to create high-impact and highly tailored training for new graduates, which translates into tangible, positive solutions that address youth unemployment.
Developing economies and employers are struggling to unlock the human potential that is abundant in youth. Unable to accommodate the influx of young graduates in the local workforce, an economic strain exists that is not being met by current educational systems. Unfortunately, at the same time young men and women from developing regions are under increasing stress as they complete levels of higher education with an abundance of knowledge but a lack of practical skills, networks, or opportunities to gain employment in the global economy.
A 2011 UN World Youth Report found that youth participation in the global workforce fell from 54.7 percent to 50.8 percent between 1998 and 2008. In 2009, the youth unemployment rate was more than double the total global unemployment rate, peaking at 75.8 million unemployed young people. The impact of this trend is hardest felt in developing economies, where the “youth bulge” phenomenon—with a large portion of a country’s demographic being comprised of youth and young adults—means that a significant portion of a country’s population is unable to contribute to the growth of its economy.
Additionally, the problem of youth unemployment is further compounded for young women who are faced with social and inequity barriers. Despite gains in education among young women, unemployment rates are reported as being substantially higher, especially in regions like South Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. In instances where young women are able to find employment,
they are usually in underemployed and vulnerable positions that are not in the managerial, technological, or entrepreneurial sectors.
Youth unemployment trends are not necessarily a symptom of a lack of access to education. In fact, a separate UN report on the state of the world’s young people commented that the bulk of unemployed youth, especially in developing economies, tends to reside among the more educated populations. The causes appear to lay more in the current education systems’ failure to provide the skills needed for youth to compete in today’s rapidly changing global economy because of an over emphasis on enrollment numbers rather than on practical skills development relevant to the current labor markets. UNESCO echoed this theory by stating that “an expansion of the scope of the education systems needs to include: entrepreneurial skills, training opportunities and intergenerational partnerships…in non-traditional fields such as e-learning.”
Youth unemployment is not simply a symptom of a sluggish global economy. Current formal education systems are under-preparing young people for today’s labor market trends, making the transition from new graduate to employed individual increasingly challenging. The necessary practical skills development coupled with the broad-based partnerships with potential employers, communities and peers are key pieces essential to ensuring youth inclusion in today’s developing economies.
Founded in 2001, Janet’s organization, Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) challenges the recognized barriers to employment of youth in developing and emerging economies through technological and entrepreneurial skills training, placing young people in the role of both trainee and trainer within their home communities. A pioneer in bridging the digital divide between formal education and entry into the laborforce, DOT focuses on a gender-balanced youth empowerment strategy that establishes young people as local agents of economic change.
Through DOT, Janet recruits and employs postsecondary graduates known as “DOT interns” (aged 21 to 29) and provides them with two weeks of intensive training in: information, communication and business skills; teamwork and networking; modern learning, facilitation, and coaching methods; and entrepreneurship and self-reliance. DOT interns are given a course manual that is available both online and in hard copy. The manual includes curriculum in the three DOT training program streams: ReachUp, StartUp, and TeachUp. In ReachUp, DOT interns are equipped with the knowledge and skills to train community stakeholders in economic stress or transition in business, technology, and workforce readiness. In StartUp, DOT interns learn how to provide entrepreneurial training to small business owners and new ventures. In TeachUp, DOT interns are trained specifically to be deployed into schools and assist teachers and educators to integrate technology and computer training into their classrooms. All interns are paid a small, sustainable stipend that begins on the first day of their two week training and ends on completion of their 9-month placement. After finishing their placements in their home communities, DOT interns have had the opportunity to build personal and professional networks, while establishing themselves as leaders in local economies. Each year, DOT receives thousands of applications for internships than it has the capacity to accommodate. However, for those not selected, DOT provides digital content for and access to an online community, thus equipping both DOT and non-DOT interns with sources of training in entrepreneurial, technological, and business skills development.
Janet’s well-organized strategy for success of the DOT program and its interns is rooted in four requirements. The first is to ensure community ownership and contextually relevant training by identifying local champions to adopt and implement the DOT program as local social enterprises. In every community around the world that DOT works in, it is essential that there is a strong local force building relationships with industry, recruiting interns, designing the training, and establishing and maintaining the
networks that are utilized by DOT interns. To date, Janet has identified local champions and set up DOT offices and programing in Kenya, Uganda, Mexico, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Jordon, Tanzania, and the US.
Janet’s second requirement is that DOT programing supports the balanced inclusion of women in the workforces of emerging economies. DOT directly addresses the challenges women face in entering the workforce by a commitment to ensure that 50 percent of all DOT participants in any country administering the DOT program, are women. This creates direct opportunities in which women are placed at the forefront of their communities as role models. It also addresses outdated mindsets that discard the role that women can play in building local economies. Over 60 percent of female DOT participants report greater confidence to operate a business and use technology, while 40 percent of female DOT participants report being able to increase their financial contributions to household incomes. Overall, 90 percent of all DOT interns (male and female) find employment or start their own businesses upon completion of the DOT program.
The third requirement is to create and leverage a strong international network of institutional and corporate partnerships that not only support the financial sustainability of DOT programing, but also maintains the relevance of job-skills training within a global context. International partnerships with private institutions like IBM, CISCO and the MasterCard Foundation provide critical business and industry knowledge transfer through corporate volunteer exchanges. In 2011, Janet secured a $6.9 million multiyear partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency to implement DOT’s Youth-Led Enterprise and Development program in five countries in East Africa. As such, DOT’s financing is diversified between public and private sources with approximately 60 percent deriving from the private sector and 40 percent from public sector entities. Janet is also looking to further expand her model to new countries while fortifying financial sustainability, by exploring franchising options fueled by interested organizations in larger developing economies like Brazil.
Lastly, Janet ensures that the DOT programs are not just established to fill the gap that formal education systems fail to provide, but that they definitively add to the education systems to include the necessary skills training in technology and innovation that graduates need to succeed in the evolving workforce. This is no more evident than in 2011, when Janet developed a partnership between DOT and the government of Mexico in the state of Aguascalientes, to modify and integrate the DOT TeachUp curriculum, into the formal training of all state educators.
DOT creates meaningful, gender balanced, employment opportunities for youth, as well as greater social change in communities by expanding local economies through the introduction of innovative technology training that is adopted and applied to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. Since beginning in Jordan in 2002, DOT programing has demonstrated its effectiveness in several regions around the world, proving that it is a model that is both adaptable and relevant to different regional and cultural contexts. DOT is currently expanding to additional countries in the Middle East, including Egypt and Turkey, as well as to Aboriginal communities across Canada. More than 4,000 interns have completed DOT programing to-date.
Despite the finite time of each internship, Janet ensures all participants and stakeholders of the DOT program are kept engaged through digital networks that include DOT alumni, community partners, COs, and perspective interns. This allows everyone to establish and grow their personal networks of potential employers, collaborators, community members, and potential business partners. Janet also uses these online networks and platforms as opportunities to collect data and conduct surveys to assess the continued impact and progress of DOT interns after completing their program. Janet has found that throughout the duration of their internship, each DOT intern is estimated to impact the lives of up to 200 community members. Within their lifetime, DOT interns are believed to directly impact up to 400 beneficiaries, translating to more than 800,000 individuals worldwide; positively influenced by DOT programing.
Janet grew up in a socially aware household in which her father was a general practitioner and her mother was one of a few university educated woman in her rural community. During high school, Janet worked to improve the educational experience of her fellow classmates by successfully pursing a government grant that helped recruit youth leaders from her school to design strategies for a better school life experience.
After completing high school, Janet attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario to obtain a degree in business, spending her summers working at an outdoors camp for at-risk youth. In her third year at the camp, Janet was a director and created a winter component for the program, to improve its quality for youth throughout the school year.
When she graduated, Janet sought practical skills development opportunities and joined a Canadian organization that facilitated the integration of new graduates into the Canadian labor force. Moving to northern British Columbia, Janet pursed legal action against the organization after being denied the right to work in an open pit mine due to gender. When her legal challenge was successful, Janet donated the funds from her settlement to a local women’s shelter.
Janet quickly built her career and expertise in the citizen sector, acting as executive director for several Toronto and Washington-based youth organizations. During this time she acted as an advisor to the UN on a strategy to engage more volunteers in development work. Janet realized the lack of inclusion of local youth in development strategies and recognized the opportunity to harness the power of young people as catalysts for change in their own communities. This led to her conceptual design of what would eventually become Digital Opportunity Trust. Janet was recently recognized by the Schwab Foundation as a Social Entrepreneur of the Year (2013).