What Martha Stewart Didn't Tell You

Making Cents International

Successful Ingredients for Increasing Economic Opportunities for Young People

I like to cook. In my experience, there are not a lot of recipes that can be successfully developed and served anywhere in the world. Depending on where I am, certain ingredients can be hard to find. Context matters (it’s hard to get water to boil at high altitudes!). However, there are some key ingredients that make any dish a success. Personally, I have never had anything wrapped in bacon that didn’t taste delicious!

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was one set of ingredients – or perhaps a secret sauce – that we could continually cook up and offer to young people so that ping! They have employment options, good education, positive choices, and the confidence and know-how to seize these opportunities.

We know that in reality there is not one recipe. Human beings are complex. Young people, ages 10 to 24, have different aspirations and attributes. They live in varying contexts. Their demands and needs vary. 

Nevertheless, we search out the ingredients that go into creating sustainable, scalable, high impact programs.

During Making Cents International’s  6th annual Global Youth Economic Opportunities  Conference , over 130 presenters from 54 countries were asked to break apart the success stories – and failures – to examine the key practices/ components and to identify the successful elements that lead to sustainable replication and scale, rather than simply passing on “prescribed recipes.”

So, what surfaced? Lots!  Here are just three of the successful ingredients I jotted down in my recipe book:

  1. When isolating the behavior we wish to change, delineate between whether the obstacle is related to a set of decisions youth need to make or a set of actions. For example, if our goal is to have a specific group of young people save more, is their current lack of savings because there is too much choice, e.g. “I can’t decide among of these ten banks to open a savings account with!” Or, is it related to a challenge such as “the banks require me to have an adult co-signer and there’s no adult I trust to do this?”
  2. Soft skills, soft skills, soft skills. The  research piling up from sources ranging from employer surveys to youth-client feedback on what makes a training program successful to them underlines that intentionally teaching transferable life skills within entrepreneurship development programming, vocational training, internships and the like is a “must do.” Not a positive by-product or an after-thought, but rather, it should be an intentional, informed and thoughtful goal.
  3. Incorporation of the results of recent evaluations by donors, such as the Citi Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, MasterCard Foundation, and USAID, who are taking a much more rigorous approach to evaluate their portfolios and finding out what are the key ingredients for success. A nice meaty example: USAID recently synthesized the findings of their evaluations and found that multi-component, multi-sector youth interventions demonstrated greater results than more narrowly focused initiatives.


Interested in identifying more “ingredients for success?” Making Cents will be synthesizing all of the learning outcomes in our “2013 State of the Field in Youth Economic Opportunities” online publication coming out later this year. In addition, all of the presentations and handouts from the 2012 Conference will shortly be posted on YouthEconomicOpportunities.org. You can sign up now to receive an announcement for when they are available. We invite you to share YOUR ingredients for success on this portal. 600 presentations, tools, publications and project descriptions are already available for you to download and use in your work today. Bon appetite!

Fiona M. Macaulay is the Founder and CEO of Making Cents International, an innovative DC-based social enterprise that develops global platforms for leaders to connect and exchange information on issues of youth employment to support the world’s young people realize their potential. Key activities include Making Cents’ Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference held in Washington DC each September and YouthEconomicOpportunities.org, the leading portal on this topic.