In Mali, young people escape poverty through entrepreneurship
Thousands of low-skilled and vulnerable youth complete training in high demand trades.
Ibrahima Coulibaly skilfully blends dyes and caustic soda in hot water before dipping in a length of cloth. “The first 15 minutes of preparation are crucial. It must be well mixed to get vibrant and uniform colours,” he says.
At age twenty-five, for the first time in his life, Ibrahima has a stable job. Unemployed and unskilled — he left school at the age of nine— he got the opportunity to train as a bazin dyer through a project for socio-economic reintegration of youth led by UNDP and funded by Norway.
Bazin, a white cotton fabric dyed in traditional patterns, has a ritual value in Mali and is used as a formal dress. Trained to create simple patterns, Ibrahima has been developing new models based on his imagination and his clients’ demand.
“To obtain two colours, we soak the cloth a first time in tepid water, then we use a candle to bring out the pattern. After that, we soak it a second time,” explains Ibrahima.
Ibrahima participated in the first phase of the project, which consisted mainly in the creation of 1,000 “emergency jobs” for young people in a post-crisis context.
“It’s a mixed programme — 30 to 40 percent of participants are girls — giving vulnerable youth a taste for work. We protect them from violent extremism, banditry and migration by providing them with rewarding employment opportunities,” explains Baber Abdou Dicko, UNDP National Coordinator of the project.
The three-month training requires strong commitment from the selected youth and provides a start-up kit with basic equipment to set up their businesses.
In addition to his theoretical training, Ibrahima received bazin fabrics, dyes, dyeing pans, seals, protective gear, etc.
UNDP follows up with the young entrepreneurs over several months to assess the impact and sustainability of their activities, and to help them improve with a view towards becoming independent.
“Most of them succeed in inserting themselves into the industry, thanks to their commitment and the technical support of the project team. There are difficulties, but many are doing well,” adds Baber Abdou Dicko.
“This project helps divert thousands of young people from jihadism, in a context where armed groups and militias are quite active.”
The path to empowerment
Customers come to see Ibrahima with their traditional fabric and choose the type of pattern they want, and Ibrahima gets to work. He has even been approached recently by wholesalers from Senegal and Guinea.
His work now allows him to save money and he plans to build a large, permanent workshop. He would like to set up a working capital fund to buy dyes and cloth, in order to produce more models and expand his clientele.
“I would like to train other young people to dye. Here, young people tend to leave because they have no hope,” Ibrahima says.
Financed by the kingdom of Norway at US$2.1 million, this project focuses on out-of-school and non-schooled youth from northern regions (Timbuktu, Gao) and the centre (Mopti) of Mali. It provides professional training to low-skilled young people, for trades in high demand in their regions.
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