Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

The Grow Academy

How organizational partnerships help youth find employment

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Alignment between training for trades and work | 6 November, 2013 - 18:00


Project Description

The GROW Academy has a vision and objective to make a difference in South Africa by providing a stepping-stone for high school graduates and passionate unemployed youth to get into the job market, run businesses, and be leaders of our country. The GROW Academy provides these youngsters with the skills required to start their own businesses. It offers structured apprenticeships, and encourages young people to become socially conscious leaders who can transform their communities and industry sectors.


The uniqueness of the GROW programme is that it entails collaboration between different organisations from a wide range of sectors including business, community development, and academia.

Due to the diversity of the partners involved in this programme, the roles and responsibilities had to be clearly defined, and the operational process has to be laid out right from the start. We put in place a clear strategic plan to ensure that everyone involved understood what their respective contributions should be. We also had to overcome the challenge of arranging meetings between multiple stakeholders that were participating in the project part-time.

From the start, the team decided that one of the organizational partners would take the lead to manage the GROW Academy plan. This partner would host the GROW Programme in their offices and would take responsibility for ensuring its growth and sustainability. The responsibility fell to RLabs. The other partners assist in administrative and capacity support for the programme.

Based on our experience of formalizing a collaborative network we have the following lessons to share about organizational partnerships:

  1. Bring together partners from a variety of sectors.
  2. Clearly define the roles and responsibilities for each stakeholder in the partnership. The GROW team had to define and re-define roles early on during the programme in order to ensure that the programme was reaching its goals and achieving maximum impact.
  3. Partners’ contributions can change as the programme evolves due to a variety of factors such as time constraints, and strategic changes. Our team addressed such changes by hosting the programme within one of the partner organisations in order to ensure sustainability and continuity of the GROW Academy.


During the implementation of the GROW Academy, we had to adapt our programme to some of the needs of the young participants. For instance, some of the participants were interested in using their newly acquired specialised skills to start or grow their existing small business. They asked for support with this endeavour and requested more training on entrepreneurship and leadership. The GROW team immediately adapted the programme offering to provide support for these entrepreneurial small business owners and tailored the future course offerings to include business and leadership topics.

The GROW Academy was created to address a direct need in the market for better skilled youngsters and to provide alternative job opportunities for unemployed youth. Although we designed a rigorous and well-researched programme, we found out during the feedback sessions with the target groups that our programme lacked enough focus on leadership, entrepreneurship, and community development training. In order to address this challenge the GROW team provided initial support and training covering the additional areas of interest to the GROW recruits. One of the partners currently offers a training academy and all recruits have been able to access courses in the academy for FREE. By adapting the programme in this way, nine new businesses were started, and a social development organisation was launched in the UK.

GROW Academy has thus extended its current programme with the leadership, entrepreneurship and community development components. It also brought on board another team member who could facilitate the Leadership component of the programme.

Based on our experience we have the following lessons to share about programme adaption:

  1. Youth and Community programmes have to be flexible and sensitive to the needs of the primary target market. Although the founding organizational partners had a clear plan and objectives on how to implement and expand the programme, the GROW team had to be resourceful and adaptive in order to expand the programme.
  2. Make provision for programme learning and adaption by reaching out to new network partners. The additional expansion of the GROW project into leadership and entrepreneurship training was demand driven by the needs of the target group. The GROW team had to find new strategic partners to support this addition to the programme.


Although the GROW Academy has been running since 2011 one of the biggest challenges has been the future sustainability and scalability of the project. GROW initially aimed to equip and provide employment opportunities for 20 young people but the first intake group consisted of 44 young people. The issue of scalability and sustainability immediately challenged the team especially because we were dependent upon partner resources and erratic donor funding to fulfil our mission.

To tackle the sustainability and expansion challenge we decided to simultaneously find an additional funding partner for the programme, and request increased contributions from the current GROW partners. In order to cut down costs, we aimed to maximise our existing partner resources (venues, equipment etc.) and to adjust our programme timelines to better suit the use of these resources. We also secured further funding and additional support from Mxit (Business) and USAID (International funder).

Lessons to share about scalability and sustainability

  1. Sustainability and scalability plans should be made right at the start of the programme.
  2. Leverage and maximize your existing resources before approaching new donors for funds.
  3. Gathering success stories and measuring impact should not just be done for reporting purposes or for the funder.


In this learning brief we have pointed out that tackling youth unemployment means training them adequately and helping them find jobs or internships. But to do this successfully it is vital to build strategic partnerships and collaboration networks, to adapt the programme offering to suit the changing needs of the target market, and to make sure the programme is sustainable and scalable.



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In Short

In this learning brief the GROW Academy points out that youth training and job placement programmes are successful when they rely on strategic partnerships and collaboration networks, are able to adapt to the changing needs of the target market, and are sustainable and scalable.

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