Youth: Part of the Poverty Solution

Microcredit Summit Campaign

Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending the 2012 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference organized by Making Cents. This year’s conference, held in Washington, DC from September 11-13, had a special spotlight on technology and focused on five learning tracks:

  • Workforce Development
  • Adolescent Girls and Young Women
  • Financial Services and Financial Capabilities
  • Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact Assessment
  • Youth Enterprise Development

 Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Beyond Technology

At the plenary “Use of Technology for Linking Youth to Markets: Elixir or Achilles’ Heel?” the panel pointed out that the younger population is leading the way in adopting the new technologies available. Providing information and communication technology (ICT) skills not only opens a new range of opportunities to youth, but also unleashes innovative ideas and capabilities that allow them to transform their local economies and social environments.

Still, although the ICT sector plays an essential role in providing education and financial services to youth that can help them obtain employment or start their own businesses, in order to really empower youth more than just technology is needed. The combination of ICT skills with life and entrepreneurial skills is what will help them become self-reliant and be part of the solution for problems their communities are facing. The panelists agreed that more partnerships (between governments, educational entities, the private sector and more) are critical to the success of alternative channels for service delivery and to the challenge of linking communities with existing technologies.

  • Demographic Changes and Financial Services

The study Looking Through the Demographic Window: Implications for Financial Inclusion, co-authored by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director of the Center for Financial Inclusion, and Peter Kasprowicz of Credit Suisse was the point of discussion during a very thought-provoking session on global demographic trends and the implications for financial inclusion.

The study highlights the economic opportunities that derive from demographic changes in most developing countries but also warns that potential economic growth depends on policies that allow the working-age population to obtain employment and increase labor productivity. Countries that have entered the “demographic window” – i.e. the period of time when the proportion of the working-age adults is high, birth rates have fallen, and the dependency ratio is low, have a favorable scenario for encouraging savings and investment. Though this is the case for many middle income countries, the benefits of this economic opportunity can only be maximized if the working-age population is supported with education, employment, and financial products that meet their needs.

Recognizing the diverse needs of the distinct population segments and differentiating the products and services according to age, gender, and urban-rural differences is crucial to the financial inclusion process. Researchers, service providers, and policymakers need to consider that the financial needs during the life cycles of the much studied middle-class in developed countries differ significantly, for example, from the patterns of poor populations in developing and least developed countries. In this sense, demographic data and country profiles from the World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion (Global Findex) database can help can help with the design of the right financial products for each country depending on the immediate needs of each segment of the population and the growing demands that will arise with demographic transition.

  •  The SEEP Youth and Financial Services Working Group

The SEEP Youth and Financial Services Working Group presented on the development of its first learning product: a tool that will synthesize the findings of relevant market research publications and of the informal industry survey that was carried out with youth financial services practitioners during fall of 2011. The tool is intended to be useful for both practitioners and policy makers who could use it as a reference to recognize what is taking place in the field and how the interventions are working.

The product will have an interactive website and will be translated into Spanish and French. To learn more about this working group and how you can contribute to it, visit the Youth and Financial Services Working Group website.

A synthesis of the of the lessons learned, promising practices, and recommended next steps from the Making Cents International’s 5th Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference can be found in the interactive 2012 publication “State of the Field.” The results of this year’s conference will be available in the next edition of the “State of the Field.”

The Microcredit Summit Campaign recognizes the importance of prioritizing youth-inclusive financial services. We see youth as part of the solution to poverty. Savings accounts, start-up loans, financial education and mentoring are some of the services that have been recognized as promising for supporting young people. However, there is still much to learn and to do to empower youth and convert them into one of the leading sources for socio-economic growth and development in their countries. At the Campaign we are committed to promoting youth-inclusive financial services, and we do so by highlighting the issue at our Summits and through the research papers we commission.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Making Cents International and particularly Lara Storm for inviting us to the conference and for her continuous collaboration with the Campaign. Last year, she co-authored a workshop paper with Fiona Macaulay, President and Founder of Making Cents, for the 2011 Global Microcredit Summit titled Growing Potential: Microfinance-Plus Approaches for Cultivating the New Generation of Young Clients. We encourage you to read this great paper on the business and social case for providing young people with appropriate financial services.

You can also purchase a copy of the audio recordings of the 2011 Global Microcredit Summit, including the session Growing Potential: Microfinance-Plus Approaches to Cultivating the New Generation of Young Clients. To order the CD, please contact us at [email protected].

Lastly, the Campaign congratulates Making Cents for organizing the leading global conference on increasing economic opportunities for youth. We encourage our readers to attend the 2013 Global Youth Conference and to visit the new Youth Economic Opportunities website to learn more about this topic.