Federation Creates Industry & Employment in Jinja, Uganda

Jinja Materials Workshop

Plans for the Materials Workshop and Training Centre in Jinja, Uganda. 

By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

Major construction is underway in Uganda, a country where youth unemployment sits at roughly 80%.[1] Because of this, training young people in construction is a promising venture for the largest poor people’s movement in the country, the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU).

On an exchange visit to Uganda, federation members from India, Kenya, and South Africa as well as SDI coordinators began a discussion on the cost of building materials and the challenge this poses for the federation’s projects. When federations from the visiting countries shared their experiences around making materials themselves, the Ugandan federation knew it had the capacity to do this, thanks to the skills gained in Tanzania (making soil-stablised bricks and clay tiles) and in India (making prefabricated concrete mini slabs, know as laadis). They decided they could set up a workshop to teach others and bring down the cost of accessing building materials in Jinja.

As a result, NSDFU, in partnership with support NGO ACTogether Uganda, is in the early stages of constructing a production and training centre in Jinja. This will train community members in the production of a range of low-cost construction materials, and to be used in Federation projects and sold commercially for the local market. Youth unemployment is an issue of major concern in Uganda. This project will not only provide a scalable solution to slum upgrading, but will provide a path to employment that is so far lacking in the Uganda context.. 

Building on the needs and expertise of the Federation, these training and capacity-building activities will use the market to create a sustainable, income-generating project that can have impact at scale. 

The workshop will be launched as a joint venture between the Federation and the Jinja municipal council, demonstrating the Federation’s ability to solicit government support and render it as a potential partner of governments elsewhere, thus adding to the Federation’s credibility. The value of the Federation is its ability to be responsive to the real needs of people on the ground. Additionally, the materials produced will be useful for the projects the Federation undertakes. 

The workshop will operate as a social business, covering its costs through income from student fees, accommodation rent and the sale of building materials. Setting itself up from the beginning with a sustainability plan will allow the workshop to continue working and creating impact without requiring support from external donors. In addition, the training centre’s fees will be set far below those of similar vocational training institutes, making training accessible to low-income slum dwellers. In addition, scholarships and / or student loans will be available for those unable to pay. Low fees will be offset by labor provided as part of the students’ training course. 

The workshop proposes to introduce low-cost, ecological building materials to the market in Jinja and beyond. Training and capacity-building (as well as potential for income-generation) will be replicated as producers and contractors learn from the Federation and adopt these methods and, as graduates from the centre’s training put what they have learned into practice in Uganda’s informal settlements, these low-cost, ecological building materials will begin to have broader impact. Namely, the production of low-cost building materials will increase the urban poor’s access to such materials, thereby increasing the chances of building durable, safe shelters. Slum upgrading will become a less costly endeavor, and will be able to be more easily replicated at scale.  

[1] Mail & Guardian, “Uganda’s Museveni admits youth unemployment is out of control,” 10 October 2012, http://mg.co.za/article/2012-10-10-ugandas-museveni-admits-youth-unemployment-is-out-of-control