Executive Summary

The Global Youth Economic Opportunities (YEO)1 field seeks to grow evidence-based, sustainable, scalable, and cost-effective programs and policies that address the root causes of youth unemployment while increasing the opportunities young people have to obtain a decent job or start a successful business. Such a bold mandate cannot be achieved without collaboration, sharing, and peer-to-peer learning. For the past five years, Making Cents International has invited members of the YEO field to an annual learning event designed to build and strengthen the field. The 2011 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference (GYEOC) convened more than 400 stakeholders from over 50 countries who shared key findings and promising practices, discussed common challenges, and reflected on next steps for the field. This publication provides a synthesis of how conference participants—those who design, implement, monitor, evaluate, and fund programs and policies in this field—create safe and viable economic opportunities for young people. It also highlights the lessons they have learned along the way.

Rather than seeing young people as a challenge, members of the YEO field see youth as partners who contribute to socio-economic growth and development. The global demographic is substantial—over 1.8 billion adolescents and youth globally. At the end of 2010, over 75 million young people ages 15-24 were struggling to find work.2 In order to support young people to transform local economies, more banks must provide appropriate financial services to youth, more industries must train their workforce for today’s and tomorrow’s market demands, more schools must mainstream entrepreneurship and nurture potential entrepreneurs, and more governments must encourage young people’s innovation and engagement. And they need to do these things in an effective and inclusive way, prioritizing young people’s safety, considering their developmental needs, and including girls and other marginalized populations to ensure equity.

Look How Far We’ve Come

The 2011 Conference’s theme was “breakthroughs” in understanding and innovation. Through this lens, the conference focused on five learning tracks: workforce development (WFD); youth enterprise development (YED); adolescent girls and young women (AGYW); youth-inclusive financial services and capabilities (YFS); and monitoring, evaluation, and impact assessment (M&E). Each sector these tracks represent, as well as the field as a whole, has deepened substantially in the past five years. In order to create the breakthroughs necessary to advance the field, participants in the 2011 Conference exchanged on the following:

  • Expanding workforce development efforts to encompass both under-educated youth and university/vocational school graduates who lack skills relevant to current and future employment opportunities.
  • Advocating and assisting governments to grow YEO programming to scale; connecting more systematically with education systems to modernize curricula and promote skill-based education.
  • Refining approaches for growth-oriented entrepreneurs based on recent research and proven practices. Advocating on their behalf with governments and determining the right support“package”—including some combination of mentors, community involvement, business plan competitions, government support, and financing.
  • Developing new approaches, such as micro-consignment, which provides flexible entrepreneurial opportunities while distributing socially beneficial products to hard-to-reach markets.
  • Targeting marginalized populations and populations facing multiple forms of marginalization through YEO interventions that empower, raise awareness, provide concrete learning opportunities, and set a long-term course for greater equity.
  • Building and protecting girls’ assets, starting from a young age and intensifying at key life transition points when girls might experience increased vulnerability; identifying the social and legal barriers that prevent AGYW from moving into higher levels of economic participation.
  • Ensuring that YEO programs “do no harm” in humanitarian and conflict-affected situations by building protective mechanisms into programming and analyzing how interventions mitigate young people’s risk.
  • Replicating tools and program models between countries in order to maximize effectiveness, avoid duplication of efforts, provide a common base for comparison, and grow programs to scale.
  • Promoting financial inclusion through youth-inclusive financial services and capabilities. Changing policies and regulation—especially related to age and identity—that limit young people’s timely access to quality financial services is critical to scaling YFS programs.
  • Designing sophisticated monitoring, evaluation, and impact evaluation systems that include clear theories of change, precise indicators, effective tools, and more rigorous impact evaluations.

Despite the diversity of sectors, organizations, participants, and approaches represented at the 2011 Conference, several common takeaways for the field emerged. They include:

  • Results take time. Practitioners and evaluators agree: expectations for impact, especially for marginalized populations, need to be ambitious but attainable.
  • Invest resources wisely for maximum social and economic returns. Target the right populations at the right moments in order to disrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
  • Programs need to be translated into policy. Governments and the private sector must share the burden of work in order to reap long-term benefits.
  • Think globally, act regionally. The learning and earning nexus varies by context and country; nevertheless, regional similarities invite broader coalitions to maximize efforts.
  • Replicate proven program models in new countries and contexts. Adapting tools and program models, where possible, eliminates duplication of efforts and opens space for innovation.
  • Don’t just talk about partnering with youth, do it. YEO programs will continue to underperform if they fail to consult, involve, and empower their primary constituents.
  • Keep communication contemporary. Entertainment and technology, when employed effectively, can inspire young people to new types of economic participation and connectedness.
  • 1. Youth Economic Opportunities refers to young people’s access to decent, sustainable, and meaningful employment and entrepreneurship opportunities as well as appropriate financial services.
  • 2. International Labour Office. Global Employment Trends for Youth: 2011 Update. Geneva. August 2011.