Three Learnings from the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator’s Lean Impact Pilot

Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.

Although better solutions tend to come from iteration, it can often be a counter-intuitive way to work in large-scale development projects. Not because those who work in the sector don’t see or believe in its benefit, but because the processes and requirements (often imposed by donors) that shape how these projects are delivered, do not accommodate iteration easily.

Do, iterate, iterate again, and again.

Our own experiences have shown the power of iteration and how overcoming the fear to iterate can result in unexpected, better solutions. Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator works to place South African youth from poor households who are excluded from the labor market into a first job. When we were in the pilot phase, Harambee used the same assessments that employers were using (testing math and English) to determine the match of youth to different types of jobs. Unsurprisingly, the results were disappointing across the board as they reflected what was already known – young people with poor quality schooling would do badly on tests that only measured their math and English. We had to pivot, and quickly. Rather than test only for school-based knowledge, we shifted to measuring the ‘learning potential’ of a young person – their capacity to acquire new information and apply it to solve problems. The result of this shift was remarkable and completely changed our model. We found that nearly 75% of young people who had low numeracy scores actually demonstrated the learning potential needed to do an entry-level job. We shifted our processes to focus on assessments that include – not exclude – and worked with employers to change their practices as well. And we have not stopped iterating in this space – constantly adding, removing, and pivoting to include more young people.

In the early days, we kept trying different interventions to ensure that young people who had traveled to take the job assessments would do well. After a few different attempts, we discovered that when we simply provided a piece of fruit and a peanut butter sandwich, the test scores went up by a whopping 30%! It was a simple insight – none of us should take important tests if we can’t concentrate from being hungry. Harambee has made over 1.2 million peanut butter sandwiches (and counting!) as a result of this accidental iteration.

Read more about the improvements from Lean Startup principles at