Two decades of insurgency, instability, and conflict led to high rates of poverty in northern Uganda. By 2005, a measure of peace and stability had returned to the region, allowing for the demobilization and reintegration of former combatants and other war-affected populations. In 2006, the government launched the Youth Opportunities Program to stimulate income generation and employment growth among young adults ages 16 to 35. The program provided cash grants for vocational training and business materials to groups of participants with successful grant proposals. Groups had an average of 22 members, and most expressed interest in tailoring, carpentry, metal works, mechanics, or hairdressing.
An evaluation two years after the intervention found increased investments in skills, participation in skilled work, greater incomes, and higher savings. Grantees were 4 percent more likely to attend community meetings and 9 percent more likely to be community mobilizers. Participants also reported receiving more social support from their family and the community. Furthermore, men who received grants reported a 31 percent decline in aggressive behavior relative to the control group. This finding is consistent with theories that link aggression to stress levels, low social standing, and perceived injustice.
Sri Lanka’s Northern Province
In Sri Lanka, a cash-for-work program initially established to resettle 100,000 returnees following internal conflict actually assisted more than 250,000 returnees and quickly evolved into one of the largest sources of employment in the Northern Province.
Participants noted that in many cases the program meetings were the first community-level gathering that they had attended after having arrived from camps for internally displaced populations. By many accounts, community meetings, shared meals, team work, and the involvement of elders and children as indirect beneficiaries of the program promoted a sense of belonging among the newly resettled families.
Thirty-six-year-old Sachchithananthan Subodhini, from the Northern Province, said that she was “very happy. As a result of cash for work, the whole village is working as one.” Reflecting on her life journey since being displaced in 1995, she said that the program “had helped to bring the community together… [T]he village seemed abandoned but the shramadana [volunteer work] helped to get the community back to its original state.”
Sources: Blattman, Fiala, and Martinez 2011 (Northern Uganda); Andrews and Kryeziu 2012 for the World Development Report 2013 (Sri Lanka).