With its dramatic, peaked mountains and palm-lined shores, Saint Lucia—a small island in the Caribbean—attracts more than 1 million tourists every year to vacation on its picture-perfect beaches. Despite the strength of its tourism sector, overall unemployment in Saint Lucia is high at around 17 percent in 2020, and youth unemployment stands at 36 percent, according to the World Bank. To address this challenge and better prepare youth for the modern-day workforce, the government of Saint Lucia teamed up with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); World Education, Inc.; and subawardees Sir Arthur Lewis Community College and Tuskegee University, a historically Black university based in Alabama, to ask youth how they should solve it.
“Youth engagement, youth participation, and particularly youth present in decision-making, run throughout the length and breadth of the project,” noted Education Manager Sacha Harris of World Education. “That is center stage.” And youth involvement started before the project was even awarded, at the co-creation stage.
Shaping Project Priorities through Co-Creation
Co-creation on the two-year ConnectEd project began with a series of pre-award workshops convened by USAID in January and February 2021. With USAID and the island’s Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations, and Sustainable Development providing a framework, representatives from World Education, the National Youth Council, Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, and the private sector were brought together to brainstorm education interventions. The organizations also engaged with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Commission, which is headquartered in Saint Lucia.
In the workshops, discussions among the stakeholders focused on key priorities, including capacity building for teachers in digital instruction, holistic preparation of youth for the workforce, and opportunities for youth leadership, including both civically and economically. The goal was to develop central areas of focus for the project that could enable Saint Lucia’s youth to receive a 21st century education and prepare them for a variety of jobs. Some of the areas identified for improvement were critical thinking, digital instruction, and leadership skills.
An important outcome of the co-creation process was the creation of Y-LAB, a standing youth-led advisory board that seeks to ensure that the project continues to prioritize young people in the design, implementation, and monitoring of the education project and that will help pave the way for sustainability when the ConnectEd project ends in 2023. Youth involvement further shaped the project through their suggestion to include opportunities to connect in-school youth with young professionals and entrepreneurs.
Overall, the co-creation workshops helped to define the most relevant approaches that the project could take to shift the paradigm for secondary education in Saint Lucia.
“There was a recognition that the digital field and emerging technologies are creating a playing field whereby young persons can really create opportunities for themselves if they have the requisite skills,” said Chris Roberts, World Education’s Chief of Party for the ConnectEd project.
Tapping the Research Capacity of a Historically Black University
The need to bring advanced research capabilities in the education field to the project made the partnership with Tuskegee University a natural fit. Tuskegee University, a private, historically Black land-grant university in Tuskegee, Alabama, was brought on board to collaborate with Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, the only institute of higher learning in Saint Lucia, and to support them with internationally recognized academic experts and low-cost tools that will enable project sustainability.
Tuskegee itself has a history as an institute for practical skills and was founded by Booker T. Washington, who once wrote, “We must incorporate into our public school system a larger recognition of the practical and industrial elements in educational training.” The digital skills being developed through the ConnectEd project provide youth with the “ability to make the connection of how to apply practical 21st century skills to their work and life,” noted Roberts.
Advice for Partners New to Co-Creation
When asked for advice for new partners who might be interested in participating in co-creation within their own national and sectoral context, Roberts recommended: “Do your due diligence in terms of researching the organizations to see what would be the areas for strategic fit. Make sure that you carve out the time to facilitate that discussion, because there's a wealth of information that is shared, but to be more narrow or strategic in terms of focus would be beneficial.”
Co-creation activities like the one that informed this project are an important way for new partners to come to the table to share their perspectives and expertise with USAID and with other partners who could be potential primes or sub-recipients.
For more information about forming partnerships, visit USAID’s training module on “Building Strong Sub-Partnerships.”
This article appears as part of our recognition of International Day of Education (January 24).