From cultural centre to major solar cell enterprise

Read the article

Led by Prosjekt Malawi, a young entrepreneur company at Flora upper secondary school, the school and Youth Code, an organisation for youth, have been exchanging employees and competencies for 15 years. The results are impressive: 800 students from Malawi have completed vocational training; a solar cell company has been founded that supplies power to 85,000 people; and in Florø, the percentage of students applying to take part in internationalisation projects is up from 50% to 92%.

The distance between Florø and Nkhotakota in Malawi is vast, both geographically and in terms of the standard of living. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and only around 10 percent of the population has power supply. On the other hand, Norway is one of the richest nations in the world, with a multitude of options for power supply. In 2012, Flora upper secondary school and Youth Code entered into a partnership for the exchange of employees and competencies. Together, they have contributed towards establishing power supply, sustainable development, internationalisation and entrepreneurship for young people in both countries.

“This cooperation is a great example of what can be achieved with social entrepreneurship, vocational training and business development. It involves forward-looking use of young resources in both countries,” says headmaster Knut Christian Clausen at the upper secondary school.

Initially a process relating to attitudes

Florø is a small town on the west coast of Norway, strongly reliant on the export of various products and services and where the main businesses are oil, fisheries and shipbuilding. Despite the town's strong links with many parts of the world, the teachers at the school realised that the students had little knowledge of the great wide world outside their small coastal town and beyond Norway's borders. When they received an offer to start an exchange project together with a local youth organisation in Malawi, the school saw this as a golden opportunity to make active changes to attitudes at the school.

“We wanted to better equip our students for the future. Internationalisation and cultural understanding are of increasing importance in working life and for individual competencies. The Malawi project is one of the approaches our school is using for this process,” explains Project Coordinator Vivian Nordstrand.

“The project is a clear indication that results can be achieved both nationally and internationally when you cooperate. It shows that an upper secondary school in West Norway can also help the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Youth in focus

When the organisations joined Norec as partners in 2012, they established a young entrepreneur company at Flora upper secondary school and named it Prosjekt Malawi. The company was founded so the students could take charge of organisation, with guidance from the teachers. The project generated both an interest in and knowledge about their partner in Malawi. They introduced an international action day, celebrating with dance, international food and music, and providing information on the results of the students’ contributions. They carry out a fund-raising event, constantly focusing on making sure the students recognised the impact of their contributions year after year. Once a year, students from the young entrepreneur company and teachers take the long journey to Malawi to follow up on developments. More recently, several former students from Flora upper secondary have also travelled to Malawi to work as volunteers for the organisation.

“Since we initiated the project and up to the current date, the number of students taking part in the international work has increased from 50% to 92%. Participation in the action day is voluntary,” Project Coordinator Vivian Nordstrand points out.

The results are self-evident

15 years have now passed since the school in Florø started exchanges with Youth Code. They have exchanged employees a total of eight times. The students are also involved via the young entrepreneur company, Prosjekt Malawi.

The results are self-evident: This educational initiative has developed into a pioneering project that has won wide acclaim and has strengthened the institutions in both countries. In Malawi, 800 students have completed vocational training and studied entrepreneurship.

The solar cell company, Kumudzi Kuwale, was founded by the very first participant to travel on exchange via Norec. At that time, only 2.7% of the citizens in the town of Nkhotakota had power supply. The company now has 121 employees and provides electricity to 85,000 people. The company has also developed a cultural centre, restaurant and a cultural festival in Nkhotakota. The main aim is to provide education and employment for young people.

“What matters to us here in Norway also matters for people in other countries. We have realised that two completely different local communities and cultures have exactly the same views on the value of education for all, vocational training, learning entrepreneurship and business development. It was not at all difficult to find common ground on which to start the project,” confirms headmaster Clausen, with agreement from the Director of Youth Code, Robert Mbaya:

“The main features in the project are mutual respect and a common goal to contribute. The exchanges have provided young people in Malawi, and particularly young women, with the opportunity to be independent by means of vocational training and work. We have continuously focused on ensuring equal opportunities and gender balance in the classes. We are delighted to be able to contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals with our cooperation,” he says.

Technical English now a part of vocational subjects

At Flora upper secondary school, more than 1,000 students have learned how to work with sustainable development in practice. 92% of the students are involved in the international work at the school. They achieve higher grades in English, are able to use English as a working language and have access to important vocational expertise from Malawi.

One example of the contribution made by teachers is evident in the subject of Technical and Industrial Production (TIP). Lacking advanced technical machinery, the teachers from Malawi are much more adept at taking care of materials and using simple tools. This is something the students have learned: Companies accepting the students on internships have reported that the students demonstrate increased competencies, and have knowledge that is of great value.

“This is important expertise for the teachers, and will be valuable in classes. We have gained so much more than we ever expected,” concludes headmaster Knut Christian Clausen.

About the project

  • The participants spend 12 months on exchange, from February to February. The participants from Malawi are most often teachers associated with the partner organisations. The participants from Norway are recruited on an annual basis and are, as a rule, young persons with higher education and experience from organisations or business.
  • The first Internet café in the district, and the organisation's own restaurant. The café and restaurantgenerateincomefor the organisation.
  • The only vocational training centre in the district, where 800 students – as of 2021 – have trained in five different vocational subjects: mechanics, electronics, ICT, tailoring and construction. All students also take entrepreneurship as an obligatory course.
  • A cultural centre providing recreational pursuits for young people. They take classes in music, drawing, dance and sports, and have assistance with homework, hold concerts and talent shows.
  • The organisation founded the Nkhotakota Music Festival, a major musical festival in Malawi.
  • KumudziKuwale, a company developing power supply from solar energy in the villages surrounding Nkhotakota, has 121 employees and supplies electricity to 85,000 people.
  • Higher English grades for vocational students and increased internationalisation, made evident by the 92% participation on intentional day.
  • The partners have entered into a parallel cooperation with the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (DIKU). This cooperation has resulted in the establishment of a careers centre, at which entrepreneurship classes have been formalised according to the Norwegian model – where the students are assisted in finding apprenticeships and receive follow-up while they are at work.
  • In 2015, Uganda Youth Skills Training Organization became involved in the project to further strengthen partners in Malawi. Since February 2020, Firda upper secondary school has started to send and receive participants, aiming to establish their own project together with the partner organisation in Uganda.
Rishi created a secret network for trans men during the pandemic