Working towards a triple win situation in four cities in Mali: jobs, health and a circular economy.

By Piet Vroeg, programme manager EJOM at WASTE

The unemployment rate in Mali is almost 10%, and youth employment is reaching 25%. At the same time, the water & sanitation situation in Mali is characterised by serious challenges, causing major health issues, from unhealthy living circumstances, diseases and decreased productivity.



Since 2017 we have been working on systemic employment challenges in the four cities (regions) of Kayes, Koulikoro, Gao and the district of Bamako in the project EJOM (“Creating Jobs for Young People in Mali”). In this project we combine Mali’s employment challenge with the need for better waste management and safe sanitation, and turn these into a triple-win situation – for the governments of the four cities and for its people: employment creation, increased health and the development of a circular economy.

The waste sector may provide interesting employment opportunities for these youth. Although it is not the silver bullet for unemployment, recycling and adding value to waste can provide decent jobs for these young people. This is the case for solid waste with the recycling of commodities like plastic, organic material or metal but also for the sanitation sector. Just think about the building of toilets or the treatment of human waste into fertilizer biogas or briquettes.


Untapped potential

Whereas much emphasis is already being put on solid waste management in these cities, we see that more impact can be made by also working on circular sanitation systems. The economy of building toilets, pit emptying, faecal sludge management and reuse is still underexposed, while holding an untapped potential for both job creation and increased health for the Malian people.


Public private collaboration

In the project we therefore advise cities to broaden their horizon from solid waste to human waste, and increase their collaboration with private sector in waste management – both solid and human waste. By promoting the development of SMEs in sanitation and waste management; training young people how to become active in the solid waste collection and plastic recycling businessand improving existing ones to help them to grow and create employment, we were able to contribute to the employment of young men and women.


Stimulating existing waste & sanitation businesses

In working with multiple stakeholders, including businesses and governments, we found that the biggest challenge in employment programs is how to increase the “pull” force of the private sector in a responsible and sustainable manner. Existing companies need to be stimulated and supported to develop their business and create sustainable wealth using the principles of a circular economy. This should stimulate the creation of decent and responsible jobs. The big question is how to organize the effort, how to align the roles of NGO’s, government, financial institutes, business and consumers towards more sustainable wealth.


Lessons from the EJOM project

If you are working on the cutting edge of waste management, sanitation and job creation, please bear in mind these three lessons we’ve learnt over the last three years in the EJOM project:

  1. If you want to set up an effective youth employment programme, you need to pay much attention to the private sector and the demand for certain types of jobs. Classic employment programmes put a lot of effort in the “push” factor, meaning training youth and giving them the knowledge and skills that hopefully will increase their employment chances or possibilities of self-employment. More emphasis should lie on the “pull” factor. Helping existing enterprises with their business development and HR policies to create more opportunities for youth.
  2. Not everybody is an entrepreneur: this requires a special mindset. You cannot take random youth and train them to become an entrepreneur or to create some sort of self-employment. If you do, most of them will not succeed. Better to focus on those youth that are already trying to make a living with entrepreneurial activities, successful or not, and help them to become better and successful. This will have consequences for the set up of a youth employment program and the selection of the youth that participate.
  3. Providing a financial instrument in an employment program like a start up grant after a skills training is always a dilemma. The presence of a financial incentive can negatively influence the selection of your young participants as they can be more motivated by the short term financial incentive they than the long term incentive to succeed in business. On the other hand the lack of access to finance is one of the main constraints that youth encounter when starting a business especially in adverse conditions like in Mali. This dilemma should absolutely be taken into consideration in a youth employment project.

Note: The project was funded by the EU Trust Fund to contribute to the development of economic opportunities in horticulture and organic farming, agribusiness, handicrafts, solid waste management and food chains in urban agriculture. This project is being carried out in a consortium with SNV, ICCO and APEJ.


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