Vulnerable Populations and the Value Chain Approach: At-Risk Youth
Youth—defined by the United Nations as between 15 and 24 years old—play a critical demographic role in the world; there are an estimated 1.3 billion youth currently living in developing countries. There are significant differences in how youth are classified across contexts. In some countries (e.g., Kenya, Pakistan) persons as old as 35 are included. Definitions are also not always strictly tied to age. In West Africa, for instance, marital and employment status are also relevant.
Most youth are already economically active. Even those without formal employment, who may be officially classified as unemployed or in fulltime education, are typically engaged in a diverse set of livelihood activities including involvement in the informal sector or in family-operated businesses. Nevertheless, a large proportion of youth who reside in developing countries are presently ill-equipped to engage in profitable, rewarding livelihood strategies. Youth generally face significant barriers to entering the formal labor force, resulting in unemployment rates that are two to three times higher those of adults.
The consequence of these barriers is to constrain the potential 'demographic dividend' from which countries with large youth populations could benefit if there were adequate opportunities for productive activity. Research indicates that improvement of economic opportunities for youth is a strong driver of positive changes in other aspects of a youth’s life, such as health and education.
A number of factors contribute to youth vulnerability. Depending on the context, these may include weak connections to community protection systems (e.g., safety nets or kinship networks), social exclusion, low self worth, homelessness, dangerous or insecure work conditions or the lack of a secure livelihood. Practitioners are increasingly recognizing the diversity that exists within the 'youth' category, including age, gender, life stage, educational status, location and household wealth . There are substantial differences in the needs and capacities of single youth that are living at home and studying fulltime, for instance, and married youth with children and fulltime employment. Effective value chain programming recognizes these differences and tailors interventions to the characteristics of the target youth.