We connect young people with the tools, knowledge and networks they need to graduate high school and thrive in the job market.
Promoting Higher Education and Health in Africa
Quality education is hard to come by in many of Africa’s impoverished neighborhoods. That’s especially true for disadvantaged youth who lack access to schooling and opportunities to learn sought-after skills in fields like information technology (IT) and computer science. United Way South Africa is collaborating with IBM, a longtime supporter of United Way around the world, through the delivery of its Digital Nation Africa, an initiative designed to help address the digital skills shortage specifically among Africa’s millennial population. Through a freely accessible online-learning environment delivered on the IBM Cloud platform, Digital Nation Africa provides young people with a vast range of enablement resources, ranging from basic IT literacy to advanced IT skills.
Through this technology initiative, beginners can learn about social communities, digital privacy and cyber protection, while advanced users can explore career-oriented IT topics like programming, cybersecurity, data science, innovation and entrepreneurship. Digital Nation Africa aims to empower African citizens, entrepreneurs and communities with the knowledge and tools to design, develop and launch their own digital solutions. IBM’s efforts align with United Way’s commitment to upskill unemployed youth through employment-bridging programs and entrepreneurship development, while creating sustainable economic opportunities for young people. United Way is contributing to Digital Nation Africa by identifying and vetting disadvantaged, unemployed youth.
This collaboration with IBM is just one of the many ways United Way is helping the next generation succeed. Its efforts also extend to health and wellness. For example, on Mandela Day in July, United Way supported young people by working with Childline Gauteng, an organization preventing child abuse and neglect throughout the Gauteng province. Offering 67 minutes of support in honor of Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of service to humanity, United Way and its partners, including Eli Lilly and Company, donated school supplies and sanitary products for HIV-positive orphans and other children in need. In all, 40 volunteers collected, packed and donated sanitary products for 40 girls, as well as more than $5,000 worth of stationery supplies to 100 students in need.
“The gifts for our children were so incredible, and will motivate them to continue to be the best they can be in school and out,” said Lynne Cawood, director of Childline Gauteng. “This was truly a magical Madiba Day. Thank you, United Way, for sharing in the South African miracle!”
An Education in Entrepreneurship
In Boston, high school students are sharpening their business skills with the help of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. Through Youth Venture, a civic engagement and entrepreneurship program, United Way is helping young people envision, create and see the impact of their own entrepreneurial skills. The program is designed to inspire young people to come up with business ideas to improve their community, and then help them turn those ideas into reality. Companies in the area are also stepping up to help. Thanks to a grant from the Citi Foundation and America’s Promise, United Way expanded the program to equip more students for jobs through communication, project management, leadership and teamwork.
Not only is United Way providing local youth with ongoing training, mentoring and financial support to realize their business ideas, but they are helping the teams develop, launch, manage and sustain their community-benefiting projects. This year, 32 teams received seed funding to launch their own businesses. One such company was Quality Kicks 4 Kids, a Youth Venture team from the Boston Centers for Youth & Families Mildred Avenue community center that started a shoe and sneaker restoration business. Their profits were used to open a thrift store for kids, which also promotes community service hours. By investing in today’s youth, United Way is investing in their future—and ours.
Creating Pathways to Quality Careers
America is experiencing a record high when it comes to high school graduation rates, a testament to the great work of many—including United Way—who are preparing youth for higher education and careers. Take United Way for Southeastern Michigan, for example. Through its High School Turnaround Initiative, United Way created a strategy and targeted investments around a set of historically low-performing schools, with the goal of increasing high school graduation rates to at least 80 percent. This year, with support from the General Motors (GM) Foundation, the network of schools achieved an average on-time graduation rate above 80 percent, up more than 15 percentage points since the Initiative’s launch. The work impacted 7,819 students enrolled in 15 schools.
United Way is also helping high schools organize around college and career pathways so that students can get connected with real opportunities after graduation. To help high school students jumpstart their futures, United Way is supporting GM Student Corps, a skills-building program with General Motors. The nine-week summer program helps youth in underserved school districts transform their communities, while giving them valuable life-skills training, college-preparation assistance and career support through paid internships. Each year, GM Student Corps matches teams comprising 10 high school interns with retired GM executives to plan and execute community-service projects, like building bikes for children in need, painting school buildings and landscaping.