6.2.3 Addressing the Evidence Gap

Recognizing the diversity of this population and of rural situations, the big question is: “What kinds of strategies work to create what kinds of economic opportunities for what kinds of young people in what kinds of rural areas?”[1]

The diverse characteristics of rural young people call for tailored programming and, urgently, more evidence about rural youth and what programs “work.”  In the face of significant and well-intended investment in rural YEO, policy and practice have gotten quickly ahead of the evidence base. We need to know more about, “what kinds of strategies work to create what kinds of economic opportunities for what kinds of young people in what kinds of rural areas?”[2]  Over time, gathering and sharing evidence around this question, can provide a menu of alternatives that policy makers and practitioners can use – in combination with a good understanding of their target population and situation – to select effective strategies that achieve high impact.

A. What Kinds of Evidence and Resources Do We Have?

Before addressing the evidence “gap,” it is useful to highlight the information and resources we have. While “youth development” work, even in rural areas, has occurred for decades, global attention on young people and their challenges in realizing their economic potential has increased over the last 15 years, with exponential intensity in the last five years including the United Nations International Year of Youth (2011). This focus is accompanied by an increase in publications and learning communities on the topic. In addition, relevant information, tools and other resources can be found by consulting more general key sources. The following list provides a snapshot of the types of resources related to rural YEO:

  • Special issues of key development journals and overview papers: These are rich in analysis and cases.
  • Policy or strategy documents: These originate mostly from the United Nations, multi-lateral funding and technical agencies, bi-lateral funding agencies, national governments, and private (NGO or funder) organizations that either focus on or contain sections on economic opportunities in rural areas.
  • Guidance, Manuals: There are few specifically focused on rural YEO, but many that are relevant in specific sub-fields like value chain development, monitoring and evaluation for youth livelihood programs (although not rural), youth employment programs, youth inclusion in development, etc.   
  • Case studies: There are many relevant case studies, in the above-mentioned documents, separately published, and/or self-published, although there is no standard for what information is included. These exist in written form as well as videos. 
  • Websites, On-Line Communities: Although there are no on-line communities specifically focused on rural YEO, a number are very pertinent. For example, four websites have sections focused on youth and agriculture. There are two on-line communities focused on YEO and several focused on youth employment, although none contain a specific rural page. There are upwards of a dozen websites on agricultural and rural development without rural sections, and there are numerous private sector development pages, without rural or youth content highlighted.
  • Regional, national, and institutional resources: There are numerous analytical studies, cases, and practical tools that have been developed but are not widely disseminated. These often focus on particular regional, country or institutional contexts, but are relevant elsewhere.
  • Conferences and training events:  In 2013 there were two international events, one in Ghana with a focus on young people and agriculture in Africa, and the “Spotlight on Rural Youth” that was part of the Making Cents International 2013 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference. Otherwise, there are international, regional, national and on-line conferences and training events focused on relating topics, primarily youth entrepreneurship, youth employment, agricultural development, and a range of private sector development topics. 
  • Published training curricula: There are no known publicly available training curricula and few that are directly relevant to this population group. Training curricula – such as Making Cents International’s “Agricultural Enterprise Curricula” - are generally available in partnership with organizations that provide curricula and tools and train trainers.

The picture that emerges is of a good analytical and policy foundation, accompanied by some documentation of experiences, and some established global platforms for dissemination. As the next two sections demonstrate, the gaps are quite significant.

Key Resources Related to Economic Opportunities for Youth in Rural Areas

Special Issues of Journals and Key Overview Papers:

  • IDS Bulletin: Special Issue Young People and Agriculture in Africa 2013
  • Innovations Journal’s special issue on Youth and Economic Opportunities, 2013
  • “Small-Scale Farming and Youth in and Era of Rapid Rural Change,” published by the Knowledge Program on Small Producer Agency in the Globalized Market, 2013.
  • “Investing in the Future: Creating Jobs for Rural Young people,” International Fund for Agriculture and Development, 2013.
  • “Youth Think Tank Initiative,” The MasterCard Foundation, 2013.

Policy and Strategy Documents:

  • “Improving Young Rural Women’s And Men’s Livelihoods – The Most Sustainable Means Of Moving To A Brighter Future.” International Foundation for Agricultural Development (IFAD), 2012.
  • USAID Youth in Development Policy, 2012.

Guidance, Manuals:

  • “Youth: A Guidance Note: Designing Programs that Improve Young Rural People’s Livelihoods,” IFAD, 2013.
  • Campbell, Valenda, “Connecting the World’s Poorest People to the Global Economy.” CARE International UK. UK: February 2013
  • Restless Development, “Youth Participation in Development: A Guide for Development Agencies and Policy Makers.” DFID CSO Youth Working Group: 2010.
  • “Integrating Very Poor Producers into Value Chains Field Guide,” World Vision, 2012.
  • Value Chain Wiki, USAID updated regularly. www.microlinks.org/good-practice-center/value-chain-wiki

Websites, On-Line Communities:

Making Cents International’s learning portal on Economic Opportunities for Youth: http://www.YouthEconomicOpportunities.org/

The SEEP Network’s, Children Youth and Economic Strengthening learning portal:http://www.seepnetwork.org/children--youth-and-economic-strengthening-pages-20202.php

Future Agricultures Consortium, Young People and Agri-food:http://www.future-agricultures.org/research/youth-n-agriculture#.Ui5gJuDyu0s

Youth Employment Network:www.yenmarketplace.org

Conferences, Training Events:

Making Cents’ Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference: www.YouthEconomicOpportunities.org/conference

Making Cents’ Webinar Series on Economic Opportunities for Youth in Rural Areas: http://www.youtheconomicopportunities.org/ApplyIt%21%20Webinar%20Series%...

On-Line Certificate in Social Enterprise: https://www.ashoka.org/story/bringing-you-certificate-social-entrepreneurship-ashoka-youth-venture-straighterline

Young Professionals in Agricultural Development: http://ypard.net/

USAID, MPEP Seminar Series on Inclusive Market Development: http://microlinks.kdid.org/events/mpep-seminars

Training Curricula:

Making Cents International’s “Agricultural Enterprise” Curriculum: www.makingcents.com/products_services/curriculum.php

International Labor Organization’s “Start and Improve Your Business” Curriculum: www.ilo.org/siyb

See also “Tools for Schools” list of school-based enterprise development curricula, Section 6.5.1.

If your organization has additional tools, resources, and/or events related to increasing economic opportunities for youth in rural areas, please upload them to the Resource Library on Economic Opportunities for Youth so others may benefit from them:



B. What Kinds of Evidence Do We Need?

Because the interest and support of rural YEO has jumped so far ahead of the evidence base, there is a long list of evidence gaps:

  • Big picture, aggregate data: In most developing countries, improvements in quantitative data on small-scale farming, rural labor markets, and the contribution of family farms to food systems would significantly advance understanding of rural YEO, particularly if the data is broken down by both gender and age. Most agricultural data is focused on production, but is weak in reporting the numbers and sizes of farms, farm labor, and related income (wages).  In turn, labor market data is typically not disaggregated by age or by rural-urban location. The World Bank, Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and International Labor Organization (ILO) are among the institutions investing in this kind of improved, big picture data.[1]
  • Empirically-based, longitudinal case studies:The several case studies in the IDS Bulletin: Special Issue Young People and Agriculture in Africa illustrate the rich insights that can be gained from gathering data about particular instances in which young people have struggled with rural challenges and/or found paths to prosperity in rural areas. These cases can include situations in which specific policies or programs are at work, or market situations without purposeful intervention. More consistent data gathering and analysis across a range of contexts would produce significantly more rigorous findings that could guide policy and practice.[2]  Often, universities are best placed to conduct this kind of longitudinal, empirical research.
  • Practitioner-based learning initiatives: Making Cents International’s 2013 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference brought forward leading examples of initiatives promoting rural YEO. These tend to be presented as “success stories” with challenges being limited to the ones those practitioners were able to overcome. These cases are very helpful and should continue to be shared. In addition, more formal practitioner learning initiatives – funded research in which practitioners are funded and guided through a research process – can both produce more rigorous and consistent data and unearth challenges and shortcomings of some approaches. Also, at this point in the field, practitioners are trying new strategies; practitioner learning initiatives can bring innovating practitioners together to access best practices and provide feedback and peer guidance to enhance the effectiveness of innovation, and promote good documentation and dissemination of effective models.
  • Youth perspectives: The call for better understanding of youth perspectives is universal, and rural voices tend to be under-represented. Efforts such as The MasterCard Foundation’s Youth Think Tank and several articles in the IDS Bulletin illustrate the diversity of youth perspectives, and the insight gained from hearing and incorporating a “youth” perspective. Effectively gathering these views often requires that young people be engaged in the research process, from the beginning stages of identifying the purpose of the research and what questions to ask, through to the end analysis and dissemination.
  • Diverse disciplines: Rural YEO practice is carried out by a range of specialists, and evidence from these diverse disciplines should be brought to bear on the challenges the opportunities facing rural youth. These disciplines include rural development, agricultural development and food security, a range of private sector development specialists (value chain development, public-private partnerships, entrepreneurship, financial systems development, microfinance, etc.), social enterprise, employment and workforce development, youth mobilization and social services, and education, for example. Because of the current attention to issues facing young people, specialists in these disciplines are interested in learning about how to include or better serve youth.  This interest also presents an opportunity for specialists to share general evidence and lessons across disciplines. The challenge, as with all inter-disciplinary research, is how to facilitate this research process, and how to share the information so that it is used to change policy and practice.

C. How is Evidence Being Shared?

Without strong dissemination strategies, evidence is of limited use. As one researcher put it, “I lose my motivation to gather good evidence when I see that policy makers are not using it. They come to conferences, make a nice opening speech and then leave.  We researchers are too often talking to each other.”  There are, of course, many platforms and strategies in place that support good information dissemination to policy makers and practitioners engaged in rural YEO. For each of these existing platforms, there are also opportunities to expand outreach:

  1. Global level: Making Cents International’s 2013 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference and this State of the Field in Youth Economic Opportunities publication provide a global hub for the emerging field of youth economic opportunities. Dissemination of evidence gathered and published is supplemented through the www.YouthEconomicOpportunities.org learning portal and “Apply-It!” webinar series.  Researchers and practitioners can contribute to global learning through these mechanisms as well. Some areas Making Cents is considering for the evolution of its Collaborative Learning & Action Institute’s (Co-Lab’s) focus on improving economic opportunities for rural youth include:
    • Regional and National Focal Points: For conferences, the portal and/or webinars.
    • Maintaining a Rural Focal Point: As a track in the conference, and/or as a hub within the portal, and/or as a webinar series.
    • Joint Conferences/Portal Hosting:  Because there are so many conferences and portals, and because this field crosses disciplines, Making Cents welcomes co-hosting events with organizations similarly committed to improving understanding and practice in this area (e.g., microfinance associations, food security or agricultural development hubs, and more cross-sectoral groups or events focusing on youth).
  2. Policy and programmatic levels: At the policy level within governments, in multi-lateral and bi-lateral aid agencies, and within international development organizations, Youth Strategies are being developed and implemented. In addition, many countries are elaborating their Food Security strategies, and, at the UN, the new Millennium Development Goals are being established. Researchers, advocates, and youth leaders are seeking opportunities to inform and influence these big picture policy strategies, and to guide and monitor their implementation. Independent funders who seek to make significant, game-changing impact could consider creating paths for evidence to be more consistently available and used, and for young people to have a stronger voice as policies are made and implemented.
  3. Advocacy skills and strategies: Advocates, researchers and practitioners are starting to share strategies and develop guidance and tools to support their work in influencing policy – whether at the international, national, institutional or programmatic level.  Independent funders who seek to make significant, game-change impact could consider supporting efforts to strengthen the advocacy skills of researchers and other organizations that gather and use evidence.
  4. Walk the talk: Leaders and practitioners are pioneering, documenting and sharing how they gather and use evidence to guide their program design and implementation. The learning track on Monitoring and Evaluation at Making Cents International’s annual Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference consistently raises this issue, and gathers and disseminates knowledge to advance practice. Funders could support and demand good evidence gathering from rural YEO programs and the development of standards for data collection and reporting. As a field, we need to continuously “up our game” when it comes to gathering, using, and sharing evidence in our work.
Fundacion Paraguaya Walks the Talk in Data Collection, Reporting and Use

Fundacion Paraguaya’s innovative Poverty Spotlight is a participatory, simple and scalable tool to help people and institutions assess multi-dimensional poverty. The Poverty Spotlight visual consists of 50 pictorial questions and takes about 20 minutes for an individual (usually the head of household) to complete. The information on 50 poverty indicators has several action-oriented applications. It provides:

  • Individuals and families with a reflection of their situation, upon which the program motivates them to act and change. Participants use the colors red, yellow and green to depict their strengths and most serious challenges. Over time, the tool provides a reflection of changes in their circumstances that can help them see what is working, and what is not.
  • Community groups with knowledge of which families have which high priority issues that need to be addressed. Over time, groups can see progress, stagnation or erosion of circumstances, that help the group see what is working for whom, and what is not.  Groups can use the information to change strategy or shift priorities.
  • Institutions with data on the portion of their population that are poor, so that they can measure, report and improve their poverty outreach. Over time, the institutions can assess and report progress out of poverty for their client population. This information can be used to understand what is working for whom, to improve strategy and services, and to shift priorities. 

The tool was developed based on the work of other practitioners and researchers 1 and is being adopted – and adapted – by others as far away as Mexico, Nigeria, and Uganda. For more information, please visit: www.fundacionparaguaya.org.py.

[1] Proctor and Lucchesi, 2012.

[2] Proctor and Luchesi, 2012, Sumberg and Anyidoho, 2012.

[1] Sumberg, Jim, private correspondence, 2013.

[2] Sumberg, Jim, private correspondence, 2013.


  • 1. Burt, 2013.