Rumbani Mkandawire, 24, a Blantyre-based University of Malawi graduate in agricultural economics has broken the jinx to have his own institution after gaining skills working as a volunteer when he completed his studies in 2010.
His story is different and spoken about in many job recruitment symposiums organised by various colleges.
While some people do voluntary work or internship with hopes that they will eventually be employed, Mkandawire has never had a formal job to mould him into a manager or employer, save for his stint as a volunteer at Annpcan Malawi in Lilongwe, which he has been involved in since 2010.
But now, the tables have turned. Mkandawire is now the proud owner of Global Relief Interventions to Threats of Life (GRIT-Life), a non-governmental organisation that deals with child and drug abuse.
During his volunteer time, he gained proposal writing, leadership, management and capacity building skills. The NGO employs five people who would probably be staying idle in towns and cities. Mkandawire attributes his successes to volunteerism.
“I have never worked anywhere in my life. I formed GRIT-Life to contribute towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals by the Malawi Government,” says Mkandawire, adding that graduates should always embrace the volunteer opportunity as a key to achieving their dreams.
The concept is also being advocated by other youth-related organisations as a means of dealing with unemployment.
Usually, people get educated with the hope that they will secure a job, but this does not always happen. According to a 2012 survey by the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), job creation has since 2011 been affected by fuel and forex shortages, which scares potential investors and has also led to some companies laying off their staff.
While MCTU says Malawi’s ailing economy cost more than 4 000 jobs between 2011 and 2012 due to job cuts as a result of the economic crisis, on average less than 1 000 Malawians got decent jobs last year. Furthermore, MCTU adds that contractual jobs were estimated to have gone slightly above 7 000 despite its target to create 20 000 jobs.
This is surely not good news to thousands of students that graduate from several colleges annually. The University of Malawi alone graduates over 1 200 students annually.
Although Malawi has not yet produced a Labour Force Survey report, the 2009 labour force participation rate was at 85 percent rate. The national employment rate for age group 15-34 years was recorded as 99 percent against an unemployment rate of one percent in 2009, which is exactly the same for the non-educated.
The most affected were new graduates.
“Most students think of being employed after studies, not becoming job creators,” observes Lewis Chiwalo, a Blantyre-based businessperson.
This is why government is looking into introducing a participatory and volunteerism approach to ensure that the youth have more skills to be independent and contribute to the social-economic development of the country.
With lessons from the likes of Mkandawire, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, through the Department of Youth Leadership Participation has developed the volunteerism concept for government to adopt. Suffice to say that there are some who will still be left out of the job market, regardless of their qualifications.
But, those left out still need to be skilled enough or educated to get a job, understand issues and probably write fundable proposals to potential donors so that they execute larger and sustainable development projects in communities and become potential employers.
But how can this be achieved strategically?
At a Youth and Volunteerism Conference in Yaoundé, Cameroon in November last year, delegates from Francophone and Anglophone countries felt that by preparing and training youths in volunteerism, they can become a caring, mutually supportive society of active volunteer citizens.
This was in view of the fact that the concept advocates the adoption of a Handbook on Volunteerism that will sensitise primary, secondary school and university students and graduates to prepare their minds towards free-will service delivery towards their communities, given that employment after graduation is not automatic.
Delegates alluded that such a concept of engaging educated yet unemployed youths in the volunteerism sector will improve dwindling economies as areas of concentration, such as the agriculture sector, would yield impressive results.
“As the youth are groomed to be volunteers, they can act as advocates of their communities, future policy makers and implementers by understanding of community dynamics and socio-cultural diversity,” says Brenda Sulamoyo, principal youth officer responsible for youth participation and leadership in the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Social and education campaigners say volunteerism enhances the spirit of self-reliance among the youth volunteers, both educated and uneducated, by unleashing skills and potentials in providing for primary social services in communities for ultimate nation building.
This concurs with what former secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, once said that Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can be achieved through volunteerism. The UN General Assembly also intends to enhance the importance of voluntary work and the value it adds into the economy of a country.
According to Sulamoyo, government needs to borrow a leaf from volunteers who come to Malawi under organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas-VSO (UK); American Peace Corps (USA); Japanese International Cooperation Agency-JICA (Japan); volunteers through World University Service Council-WUSC (Canada); and United Nations (UN) volunteers for the concept to succeed in the country.