Zeeshan, a computer science major from Haripur, was looking to apply the technical knowledge he has gained from his education, to build a stable future. In a country where the median age is 22.8 and 60% of the population is under the age of 30, he represents the biggest segment of Pakistani society— the youth of Pakistan. Unfortunately, 32% of the youth in Pakistan are living below the poverty line due to unemployment, structural inequities, lack of education or other mitigating circumstances.
Zeeshan came across the trainings offered by Hashoo Foundation under UNDP’s Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) and registered for the Digital Marketing modules. He was particularly inclined towards the training since he believed it was relevant to his academic qualifications and would kickstart his career.
During the training Zeeshan was introduced to digital strategies, that are a source of regular income to self-employed individuals. He also became acquainted with Fiverr–an online marketplace that connects freelancers with work opportunities This experience followed by the guidance provided by Hashoo Foundation’s internal Job Placement Cell enabled him to make an income using digital platforms.
UNDP Pakistan and Hashoo Foundation have provided vocational trainings to over 1,500 young women and men across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in one month. Initially planned to be implemented through an in-person training model, the program had to be re-designed in accordance with Covid-19 protocols. In lieu of the pandemic, training mediums were shifted to a mix of online and offline trainings for maximum outreach.
The entire project was re-designed, keeping in mind the unique pedagogical challenges that arise once training mediums are changed. To circumvent the issue of connectivity and access, internet dongles were also provided to all trainees to enable participation. Arranging digital devices and distributing them to 1,500 students from Buner, Chitral and Swat was a herculean challenge. However, thanks to the collaboration of universities including University of Swabi, Women University Swabi, University of Peshawar, Abdul Wali Khan University among others, support of UNDP, and the doubling of Hashoo’s project staff, the project was implemented successfully ensuring that all trainees who signed up had access to the trainings.
The trainings were initially developed just for the hospitality and ecotourism industries – two sectors that have shown tremendous growth in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The focus of the project was later shifted to include more market-based skills, including those that have become increasingly relevant due to the impacts of the pandemic such as digital marketing and supply chain management. These trades were identified by undertaking a trend analysis and desk study of the economic sectors that have remained afloat during Covid-19 and are expected to thrive afterwards as well. Provided with a challenging timeframe, an intense eight-day online training course was designed where vocational trainings were centered on technical and enterprise development, such as digital skills, supply-chain knowledge, and e-commerce expertise.
The project revealed gendered barriers that exist in the digital space, be it the vast digital divide or the reservations on part of women trainees to participate in an online co-ed space. It was thus very encouraging that 47% of the trainees were young women.
Young and ambitious individuals like Zeeshan are a testament to the potential and enterprising spirit of Pakistan’s youth. In order to empower this segment of the population, it is important to continue designing and implementing inclusive projects that encourage learning, development, and innovation.
 According to the UNDP National Human Development Report 2017
 Economic Growth Framework, Planning Commission of Pakistan
Head of Strategic Support Unit, Hashoo Foundation
Youth Economic Empowerment Officer, UNDP Pakistan