Chapter 15: Conclusion

Voices: Key Ingredients that Will Increase Economic Opportunities for Youth and Move the Field Forward

“When youth, from a very young age, have access to quality and relevant workforce development, employment, enterprise development and financial services programs, they are more likely to have economic opportunities, avoid risky behavior, adopt new technologies, inject new talent into the marketplace, find solutions to social problems, engage with others, and increase their earning potential over their lifetimes. This creates a positive ripple effect through families, communities, and local economies. To reach this ideal, we need to achieve more breakthroughs. We need to develop more targeted programming that is intentionally designed to serve specific populations. We need to be able to better identify, through the use of robust M&E, models

that hold merit for scaling. We need to partner more to fill current gaps in the field and increase the reach of our initiatives. And, we need to maximize the potential technology holds, both for use in our programming and as a growth-oriented sector that can offer young people decent jobs and successful business prospects. When we make these breakthroughs, we will stop seeing headlines of frustration, desperation, and hopelessness. Instead, we’ll see headlines about social progress, economic growth, and improved quality of life that breaks inter-generational poverty.”

– Fiona Macaulay, Founder and CEO, Making Cents International

The 2011 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference highlighted major advances in the Youth Economic Opportunities field and remaining steps needed to move the field forward. The following conclusions and takeaways emerged from the diverse sectors and stakeholders represented at the Conference and reflect general consensus about how YEO programs can contribute to equitable socio-economic development.

  • Apply what we know about youth economic programming, and continue to focus on results: Now, more than ever, programs incorporate research components and M&E strategies that bring us far beyond the anecdotal evidence and ad hoc learning we had previously. We know more about subtle nuances between heterogeneous groups of youth, general tendencies in young people’s participation in YEO programs, youth saving and spending habits, and new ways to engage members of the private and public sectors, to name a few. Sharing and applying that learning, as well as incorporating more M&E and youth-focused research into new programs, must form a part of new program design.
  • Empower marginalized populations: Following major advancements in programming for AGYW, the field has developed new models for reaching at-risk or other marginalized youth populations, including populations that experience multiple forms of marginalization. The field moves closer to the dictum, “do no harm,” as practitioners become savvier about prioritizing protection and preventing unintended consequences of new forms of economic participation. Negotiating the tension between scale-up and serving high-needs populations will continue to challenge the field. Stakeholders, and especially donors and governments, must come to a common understanding about when and where deeper, more intense investments in marginalized populations should be prioritized over programming and policies that impact a broader audience.
  • Take programs to scale through policy change: Scale continues to be the magic, and often elusive, word. The field has made real strides in understanding how to achieve scale through creative approaches that complement existing resources and leverage government investment. In all sectors, practitioners now largely have the knowledge and experience necessary to pinpoint and navigate around specific legal and policy barriers, as well as socio-cultural mechanisms that block youth from enjoying new economic opportunities. Next steps for advocacy include knowing how to dismantle those barriers at the national level. Promising experiences collaborating with municipal and national governments, national curriculum change, and regional and international youth coalitions should pave the way for country-level policy change and growth at scale.
  • Replicate, experiment, innovate: Experimentation and innovation keep the field relevant to young people and current to global trends. Innovation may happen by “borrowing” and then adapting adult-centered strategies to youth; replicating and tweaking proven youth program models in new operational contexts; or utilizing technology, media, edutainment, or social mobilizing to impact more young people in new ways. All experimentation should be grounded in what we already know about youth economic programming, and build on past experiences to avoid duplication of efforts.
  • Measure impact: The growth of the field depends on its ability to generate evidence of both its efficiency and effectiveness. Investment in scientific and rigorous impact evaluation, while not possible for all YEO programs, nets benefits for the entire field by illuminating ineffective strategies or proving success. Cross-sectoral programs in particular benefit from impact evaluation that details how YEO programs connect to numerous other global challenges (HIV/AIDs, trafficking and exploitation, nutrition, etc.) that impact youth. As the field matures scale-up and policy change initiatives, impact measurement must follow suit.
  • Seize the moment: Global concern over rising youth unemployment as well as regional developments associated with the Arab Spring, has led to significant reflection and dialogue about youth, their economic opportunities, and global development. While high rates of youth employment in developed countries may reduce overall investment in bilateral aid, it also presents a unique opportunity to dialogue about youth in a variety of contexts.

To keep current on the field and its exciting developments, join us for the 2012 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference. The conference will take place September 11-13, 2012 at the Inter-American Development Bank’s conference center (1330 New York Ave., NW) in Washington, DC. Approximately 400 participants from more than 50 countries will convene to share their lessons learned, promising practices, and innovative ideas through 2.5 days of technical workshops, engaging plenary sessions, and interactive networking. The 2012 learning agenda will contain a Spotlight on Technology. Participants will be able to share how they are using technology in their programming, and how they are supporting young people in their efforts to start a business or get a job in growth-oriented ICT sectors. For information on how you can engage, please visit:

Making Cents remains committed to building and strengthening the field of Youth Economic Opportunities in a collaborative fashion through our knowledge exchange and partnership building initiatives. Over the past five years, Making Cents has been contributing to building the evidence base and supporting the informed development of higher impact programs that have a greater likelihood of achieving scale and sustainability through the annual Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference, this annual publication, the Youth-Inclusive Financial Services (YFS) portal (, and a learning series. We look forward to continuing to work with you.