A recent economic forecast for Central Asia from the IMF wasn’t exactly optimistic: “Gloomy, with a Chance of Pain” read the headline.
This makes the issues of youth unemployment and ballooning labour migration figures in South Kyrgyzstan all the more pressing.
It is in this context that we decided to experiment with micronarratives – a methodology used to explore the underlying causes of persistent problems, and help come up with some unexpected solutions.
We wanted to go where young people spend their free time, so we opted for the youth centres. We went there to ask teenagers this question:
How do young people perceive opportunities for getting jobs in Kyrgyzstan?
Their micronarratives told us a lot.
Initial analyses revealed that Kyrgyzstan is where the majority of respondents (39 percent) would like to be employed. Due to the difficult economic situation however, many men become labour migrants supporting the families they leave behind.
However, 69 percent stated that what made the difference in their experiences was taking action.
Take the story of a young man who worked as a volunteer writing project proposals. Eventually, this lead him to opening his own business.
The analysis is helping us discover groups of young people with whom we can pursue next steps – and to jointly explore the employment strategies they are devising.
Interestingly, the question on the reasons for unemployment was the only one that nearly half of the respondents chose not to respond to; while, the majority who did (48 percent) stated that family or friends helped them secure a job.
It may be that we didn’t design the question properly, or due to some other underlying reasons why young people didn’t feel comfortable responding.We will be looking into this.
The narratives meanwhile were quite straightforward:
“I am an economist currently looking for a job. Studied well – both at school and the institute – though for some reason they are not recruiting me. Probably I should offer a bribe”.
Our first instinct here is to try and partner with private sector companies and work on addressing this perception of corruption.
Imagine recruiting one or two private sector companies who commit to having young people part of selection panels as observers?
The stories told by women – who constituted 59 percent of all the respondents – indicated that family reasons played a primary role in their unemployment.
In some stories, women said they stopped working after getting married and having children.
What type of opportunities might we create jointly with girls that could help them gain the skills they need to enter the workforce despite the ‘family reasons’ cited?
The issues of difficult economic conditions and lack of skills for women were also highlighted, as the respondents wrote about taking up low-paid jobs, as they could not afford higher or post-secondary education when they were younger.
Hence, it did not surprise us to see that nearly half of all men and women (48 percent) confirmed that people in their stories acted in line with the way they were brought up.
How might we get more stories where people adopted to the circumstances, where they reacted to the changes in their communities?
Would these stories indicated more flexibility and openness?
Sometimes statistics and narratives tell different stories, as it was in case of the question on who finds it easier to get a job.
While the majority of all the respondents said that gender makes no difference – according to one ninth-grade girl’s account, finding work is extremely difficult expressly because she is “underage and a girl.”
Where do we go from here?
We turned to micronarratives to try and discover the hidden (and not-so-hidden) barriers that young people face when looking for work and the strategies they may use to address them.
Some of these findings confirmed what we knew before and some have opened new opportunities for us to push.
Our intention now is to go back to youth centres and jointly develop solutions to address some of the findings we are seeing.
In the future, we’d like to be seeing far more stories of young people taking action and creating opportunities for themselves and young women and girls being able to grow their skills.
We will keep you updated with our progress.