Dennis Johnson Omalla is a very active youth leader working with Plan International Uganda. He is currently the Youth Engagement Coordinator working with many youth on different projects to better their lives. His docket includes facilitating young people to participate into the governance process by influencing management decisions on issues that do affect them.
He is also project team leader for a social innovation youth project called “The Smartup Factory” which is creating opportunity for young people to innovate and incubate ideas through an inspired youth friendly space in several areas. Chano8 talked to him in an exclusive interview about his roles in the programs and life in general.
Chano8: Nice to meet you please tell us about yourself.
Dennis Johnson Omalla works with Plan International Uganda as a country Youth Engagement coordinator responsible for facilitating young people to participate into the governance process by influencing management decisions on issues that do affect young people through enabling participation as members of Youth Advisory Panel whose role is to provide Plan International management with youth perspective on issues of governance and inclusion into strategic areas of decision making such as project development, management meetings and lobby for youth tailored programs such as graduate internship spaces for young Ugandans out of school.
Similarly, He is project team leader for a social innovation youth project “The smartup factory” which is creating opportunity for young people to innovate and incubate ideas through an inspired youth friendly space ( Factory) in the slums of Kawemepe where within the last 2 years, he has supported transformation of almost 300 young people into productive and engaged young people through support in skills development for both young people who dropped out of school as well as those who completed but had for long been grappling with unemployment issues.
Before joining Plan International, Dennis worked with War child Holland, food for the hungry International and AVSI foundation
Chano8: What is the smart up program and what is your role?
The Smartup Factory project emerged from the founding idea that, since the poor and marginalized youth experience the challenges in their community and society first hand, they are in a crucial position to identify those challenges and come up with innovative solutions to them. However, as the marginalized youth don’t have the same opportunities to pursue their ideas as their better educated and resourced peers, this potential is mostly left untapped and unleashed.
Vast majority of marginalized youth don’t have access to for example, innovation and incubation trainings & mentoring. Also, most development projects address only one aspect of their lives e.g. employment, health, security, entrepreneurship or life skills etc., but rarely have a holistic approach offering multiple routes to achieving success in their personal lives, in their communities and in the society.
Chano8: As a youth leader, how have you and the program helped the youths in overcoming common challenges faced?
The smart up project has been able to support about 300 young people through skills enhancement based on their needs and desires. The opportunity to engage young people in the remote areas of Bwaise and Kawemepe where population normally sees them as security threat, are violent, and non-productive and transform them into young people with skills that is marketable in most emerging markets is one of the key successes.
Smart Up believes in tapping opportunity available in the market and availing these skills to young people such as Film production (Uganda has very limited) skills for people to operate basic things like camera, script, editing, and the entire production, similarly, most innovators here are those who have afforded to reach further with education and they are the ones into software development, applications and so forth.
Here, we provide such skilled fellas to train these young people and then after that, they take it to another level. Watch the space (smartup youths are cooking a lot of innovations in both hubs in Kampala, Gulu, Tororo, Kamuli and Alebtong).
Chano8: What other youth programs are there in Plan international?
Plan international’s current running 5-year strategic plan has youths as one of the 5 core issues of concentration and thus, every effort is towards working with young people through economic empowerment, strengthening their involvement in decision making process both internal and external, supporting young people to gain skills through internship placements for both on going and graduate students, supporting empowerment of girls into leadership and decisions making, building champions of young transformation through the “Youth Advisory Panel”
Chano8: In your view, how can the youth in Uganda be more productive and focused in building the nation?
Young people in Uganda are productive and I should say resilient. They don’t have much of the opportunities but they have never given up. The youths have great ideas and innovations. We need to tap these ideas by supporting scaling up of their ideas, support them, market their products with less importation of what our young people can easily do and support them gain the 22nd century skills which is in technology and changed ways of how things are done.
Of course on the flipside, we must continue changing mindsets from can’t do, to can do it better. Education is just a process, we must be more creative and broaden the thinking then we shall have the country we want.
Chano8: Besides working with youths, what else do you do?
I am really immersed into coaching and supporting young people to become who they want to be, even outside work routine, I still find myself mobilizing young people across my village and community to talk to them but I am into small time writing on academic journals with few friends of mine, I am now into small scale commercial green chili Farming.
Chano8: You seem to be a very a busy man, how do you spend your free time?
Yes, I can be busy and I think I love it that way, I really love travelling, and part of my work with the youths has really helped me achieve this. I do part time rapping and I am recording few of my rap music soon just as part of leisure activity. And when I get time, I play some basketball and sometimes I like being around friends to catch with Kampala life.
Chano8: Finally, your message to the youth especially Chano8 readers?
Chano8 readers, the young people especially, there is no such thing that someone will come and find you seated in your parents sitting room and tell you I have a job for you. You must get out and make yourself useful, do this marketing what you have as a skill. Make sure you persist until you get it otherwise, nobody will do it for you. Keep reading chano8