Investing in Youth for Project Effectiveness and Sustainability
One out of every six people on earth is between the ages of 15-24, says the UN. That is 1.2 billion youth. As one young leader says, “if the world’s problems are to be solved, it’s not going to happen without us.” Yet in 2015, the International Labor Organization said 73.3 million youth between 15 and 24 were unemployed. Not only do and an estimated 169 million young workers lived on less than $2 a day, 75 percent of youth workers are only informally employed. In Africa alone, the UN estimates 200 million are such youth; not only does Africa have the youngest population in the world, this figure will double by 2045, but the largest numbers remain in Asia (IMF 2015). The World Bank has striking African and Asian demographics:
How often do we fund projects that are designed and run by youth? How engaged are youth in sustaining the projects we have funded, designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated? What have we in global development, including corporate social responsibility and investing spheres done to ensure that youth are both engaged in our projects, but are in the leadership to direct how they are done now, and sustaining them beyond donor departure? Further, how well are we collaboratively developing technology with them for them to use to thrive in this sped-up, high-tech world?
Valuing Voices youth blogs covered the barriers to youth success in the ‘developing world’ which included a lack of access to sufficient numbers of jobs, compounded by a lack of job-appropriate skills, access to capital, decision-making etc. We heartily agree with the IMF that “youth have a huge stake in bringing about a political and economic system that heeds their aspirations, addresses their need for a decent standard of living, and offers them hope for the future…. [Also] that communities, cities, provinces, and countries can set up forums for the purpose of listening to the concerns and ideas of adolescents and young adults and stimulating change. Young people could be offered a voice in decision-making bodies…Inclusion can benefit all.”
Why should we make this happen? Taking inclusive steps fosters sustained impacts long after we grow old.
As CRS Niger’s otherwise very successful Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation of the food security project shows us, there is much room to grow in inclusion of ‘youth’ (up to age 35 in Niger), both by including youth:
- The exodus of youth diminished during and after the project [by] using the same land to train 100 new vegetable farmers and trainers. Youth seasonal outmigration decreased due to increased food production, especially due to vegetable gardening even during the dry season, and increased knowledge of practices such as rainfed agricultural [practices] which kept youth locally employed.“
- Youth, too, having learned [agricultural water-conservation] techniques, and generated income [even] while seasonally working outside the village.
Versus not engaging youth:
- Although most committees are still functioning, there are no processes in place to engage and train youth and new inhabitants of the villages [in project activities after close-out]… … there are serious questions about how well they will be engaged and train youth and new members of the communities and how much will be transferred cross-generationally. This is pivotal given that 50% of Nigeriens are under the age of 15;
- The [sustainability] problem was that [youth] were not elected or chosen for the [management] committees. This is another issue to flag in other projects interested in sustainability: the implications of selecting a limited number of elders to staff multiple committees than a broad array of young committee members that could grow into leadership positions. Given the youth’s overall dissatisfaction with group leadership, other projects need to be aware of “elite capture” and its potential threat to sustainability
Investing in youth is a terrific investment in sustainability. How often do we consider it?
A post-project example from Mercy Corps/ PCI’s early ex-post evaluation in Central Asia showed that such investments are not easy but can pay off after the project closed. “72% of youth report that they continue to use at least one skill they learned during the [infrastructure] program”… including teamwork and communication, sewing, construction, roofing, journalism and cooking.” This may have been in part due to the project’s youth summer camps, organized each year to promote youth leadership and participation in community decision-making, which were supported by [some of] the adult population. While the project “encouraged communities to elect young people as representatives…within the cultural context this was not met enthusiastically by the communities because young people were not felt to be ‘qualified’ as leaders.” Yet inter-generational collaboration was fostered by the project by establishing mentoring programs where older people with technical skills mentored [some] young people during the infrastructural construction activities.”
Raj Kumar, Founder of Devex and chair for the World Economic Forum said this about what to do post-Davos: “With a dozen years to go before the finish line of the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to get the underlying plumbing right in order to have a chance to reach those goals. That plumbing includes everything from having the country-level data to track progress against the goals to having the project-level data to know what’s working and what’s not…. Most importantly, it’s about the development leaders of today building out the best systems so the development leaders of tomorrow can focus on delivery.”
What we at Valuing Voices are most encouraged by is the prospect of overtly considering sustained impacts to inform the funding, designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating of projects today for the adult millennials of tomorrow. Regarding youth, we will need a mix of focused initiatives such as longstanding work by the International Youth Foundation, and new investments funds such as the Global Youth Empowerment Fund and integrating youth into projects at all stages of the projects and beyond, as we showed regarding CRS and Mercy Corps/PCI, above.
That is one way to get SusROI (Sustainable Return on Investment).
As mother who has worked in 26 countries, I feel the great urge to harness youths’ yearning to succeed through their love of technology. The growth of mobile money in Africa is one example of technology use in daily life. Who is supporting youth employment in technology? Mercy Corps’ 2017 Social Ventures Fund that supports “positive trends offered by technology. Trends in micro-work, micro-manufacturing, digital livelihoods and mobile-enabled agent networks are paving the way for the acceleration of a distributed and digitally enabled workforce and the reinvention of manufacturing, sales and distribution. Their investments related to youth employment are:
- NewLight Africa – network of rural sales and customer service agents
- Wobe – anyone with an Android phone in Indonesia can be a micro-entrepreneur
- Lynk – job-matching platform
- Sokowatch – network of urban sales and customer service agents
I dream of youth crowd-sourcing post-project sustained impact results. Feedback Labs has a lot of really interesting tools for… feedback from people on the ground in-country. I searched high and low and found only this crowdsourcing data collection overview of three aid research tools for ICT4D (information and communications technology for development), the best of which appears to be Findyr. (FYI here is feedback on the limitations of crowdsourcing in emergencies.)
Also, the ‘impact tracking’ platform by Makerble looked good but who among you have a wider perspective to advise us what’s best?
Finding technologies and funding to hear youth’s voices and feedback on what they could sustain or could not after our projects closed, and why is unbelievably valuable to inform funding, design, implementation, M&E, and of course foster youth empowerment. Good listening to participants comes first. As an impact evaluation in Uganda found that “when villagers and teachers, instead of school officials, are allowed to set their own priorities for improving schools and directly monitor performance, the results can be priceless. In Uganda, World Vision knew that community-based monitoring of school performance could help sustain improvements in education that building schools, supplying textbooks, and training teachers alone could not. They tried two approaches: the use of a standard scorecard with performance questions identified by education officials and development partners, and a participatory scorecard, where community members defined the issues they would monitor. A randomized controlled trial [RCT] revealed that the participatory scorecard delivered more than the standard scorecards. The participatory approach prompted higher efforts by teachers, as expected. But it also prompted higher efforts from villagers— local politicians learned more about their country’s education policies and what they could advocate for on behalf of their constituents, parents increased their support of schools by contributing to midday meals, and children found a forum to report teacher absenteeism and other factors that hurt their education. In the end, while the standard scorecard made little difference in school performance, the participatory approach improved attendance by teachers and students and helped raise student test scores.’”
By accessing mobile technology, ground-truthing project sustainability, given youth’s familiarity with technology and network-interconnected habits, I believe together we can cost-effectively democratize evaluations and help ‘development’ be ‘sustainable’. Collaborate with us!
The Name of the Game is “Sustainability” but Does the Last Player Count?
by John Lowrie, Reblog from https://www.scribd.com/document/11621086/The-Name-of-the-Game-is-Sustainability-but-Does-the-Last-Player-Count-by-John-Lowrie
Today, it is obligatory to answer the question “how will your proposed activities be sustainable after the project?” Most of us dutifully play the game and repeat various sentences that describe the measures that “should” bring sustainability about. Then it is usually left at that. We all move on to the next project and donor. Seldom does anyone look back over the passing of many years to check to see if promise has turned in to reality. At best there may be an end-project evaluation which will say that planned outcomes are achieved and “likely” to be sustained. It would be a very brave evaluator to be more committed beyond that.
My question is why do we play this game? (I should add: apart from the obvious answer we need the donors’ money!) Sustainability is much more than a ruse in a game. It goes to the very essence of what kind of organisation we belong to; plus all the others with us whether staff, supporters or beneficiaries; how we originated and what are our real long- term plans?
Many NGOs are artificially created groupings of people, unlike the first ones last century that emerged as people on a mission to address specific issues that they felt strongly about. Latterly, NGOs are now lumped in to “Civil Society” which is another recent fashionable label in development jargon. This is despite many officials and even NGO workers in Cambodia having no idea that it is supposed to encompass more than NGOs, to embrace other groups such as the press, trade unions, etc.
Many NGOs have actually been started by or for charismatic individuals, tapping in to somebody else’s cause or source of funding, rather than part of a collective if not mass movement in its own right towards a common end. Sometimes, international departing NGOs promote them, as part of “exit-strategies” to demonstrate that they leave something behind to show for their good work and all the money spent. They may have even included a plan for it in their sustainability proposal write-up. In Cambodia the “gravy train” that accompanied
UNTAC, the massive international effort to bring lasting peace and democracy in the early 90s, spawned many. Some of these NGOs have been good and stood the test of time. Many have fallen by the wayside. Others have been co-opted by political interests. Few have proper accountable self-governance structures.
◄“It’s the money that matters”, but will these NGO beneficiaries, the final players, get what they need to be sustainable?
So how can they be really sustainable? What is driving them – apart that is from the obvious – money? It is true that many do good work. They often do work that local authorities should be doing. But, I ask, towards what end? For example “poverty alleviation” is not an end in itself; for it to be sustained it needs much more than the usual 1-3 year time-frames that donors favour for their projects. Yet the usual pattern is –identify your target groups, go there, pass on whatever to them, then move on (to the next ones). There are exceptions. Lutheran World Federation (LWF) expect to work for 10 or more years in their target communities before they “graduate” and begin a systematic staged withdrawal. Mostly, however, the projects end on time or soon after, the files are closed, and that is that, at least until next time.
Meanwhile NGOs try to source repeat funding or new funding, and the game rules dictate where and how they proceed. It is only by luck rather than design that there will be a true match between what they want to do and what the donor is willing to give the money for. Usually there is accommodation, most likely on the part of the NGO; indeed some big donors explicitly rule out comments, queries, and changes to their guidelines which become grails of holiness. The most desperate NGOs have to re-invent themselves; depart from their original mission, suddenly acquire new skills in often far removed fields to stay in the game. I have seen an election-monitoring organisation become an agency to consult displaced families affected by a road-widening. I know of one local rural development NGO in one province become a pro-citizen governance campaigner in another. Adaptability and learning to diversify are good qualities, but when they cause such radical changes within an NGO, it cannot be re-assuring for sustainability.
The nature of what an NGO does and its underlying philosophy is therefore key to sustainability. Those NGOs created to work in the immediate post-conflict or disaster emergency relief periods are prone to short-term visions, and sometimes they leave legacies which handicap development such as “dependency” and even “easy-come-easy- go” attitudes when foreign money seems plentiful. Those NGOs born in the next phase, i.e., after emergency relief, the start of infrastructure reconstruction and restoring public services and the economy, can also be equally short-term in their vision. In fact they have an inherent flaw. If they succeed, they do themselves out of a job and few want that as it would mean no future jobs and income! Even the Cambodian Government, despite an addiction to foreign aid, now maintains that some have overstayed their welcome.
These NGOs tend to be “welfare” or “service-provision” providers. They are confident in their abilities “we know best” but are they committed to passing their best skills and knowledge on and to the right people to take progress forward without them?
Cambodia is not alone in that politics plays a big part. The ruling party now has a 73% majority in the National Assembly, holds 98% of the 1,629 Commune Council Chiefdoms and 70% of Councillors. As the national and commune members form the constituency for the Senate, Provincial, and District Authorities, the party is guaranteed monopoly control. The situation is not helped by the absence of a neutral civil service or public service – in fact it is mystifying that UNTAC and every international donor has not tried to cultivate one. So we are left with what we have; we are where we are. It means that sustainability will only follow if we accept that reality. We have to engage constructively with the powers-that-be; we have to find the best people we can to work with, and through them, reach out to others. If not, eventual opposition or just plan lack of good will and support will affect the final outcome. Authorities always outlast NGOs, at least in Cambodia they do!
Cambodia did not have a good start when NGOs first came on the scene. Many of the first NGOs were human rights activists needed at that time and to a certain extent now, to expose calamitous treatment meted out to victims. Unfortunately this profile, still high in perceptions, has made many in power believe that this is only or mainly what NGOs do and stand for1. The legalistic approach to human rights where abuses are reported, perpetrators identified, and “name, blame shame” attached, cannot be a development tool in the sustainability tool-kit. It must be separated out and equally important alternative human rights approaches such as “rights-based development” which arouse less hostility co-exist with similar enthusiasm and means. NGOs and civil society will never have sustainable activities while their undoubted overall positive contribution gets little or no recognition by the people that count most when it comes to change.
NGOs are agents of change, which if mishandled does lead to suspicion, so to achieve change, NGOs must be clear in their message to persuade all (or a majority) that their change is worthwhile. If a long-term, wide cross-section commitment towards that change is not implanted, it is not sustainable. Too many development initiatives in Cambodia have resulted in temporary change. The “status-quo” reverts soon afterwards. In some cases the change is only tacitly accepted “take their money”, “go along with them” but “once they have gone, we go back to how we were, OK?” This is the opposite of sustainability.
There have to be contextually appropriate solutions, which can only be country-by- country, culture-by-culture. We should not have to operate on the basis of big international donors with their “one-size-fits-all” development policies and calls for proposals that allow just one format (theirs) that automatically favours the big international NGOs. They have their professional fund-raisers, who can knock out proposals that score high marks in the assessment/evaluation boxes, without many of the authors and assessors concerned ever going near the intended target beneficiaries! Yet be under no doubt, the words they pen and peruse answer beautifully on how such beneficiaries were involved, but who ever checks?
I may not be a good team-player in the present development game, so what am I suggesting as an alternative? First of all I would like to see fewer NGOs, ones which are smaller, more self-contained, and manageable to operate country-by country, sector-by- sector, region-by-region. They need to have good links to others elsewhere for best practice to be shared, but their core mission needs to be focussed to bring about certain defined changes; with the right people and the resources they need, and in the fullness of time. Therefore 5 years is an absolute minimum and asking for “core costs” to be provided should not be regarded as a mortal sin, as it tends to be with most donors. It has to be allowed, to be seen as value for money, and though indirect, still an essential element in bringing about that change. If not, how can sustainability be served?
Ironically, it is only with core support or independent means, that NGOs can play the game, so again favouring the big players. How else does an NGO cover its costs in preparing bids to donors? For example after UK-DfiD released their worldwide Global Transparency Fund in 2008, 450 organisations applied, and just 38 succeeded. Even a recent in-country release by UNDP for environmental projects attracted no less than 67 applications, of which just 13 won out. This means that for 412 in the DfiD case and 54 in the UNDP case who had devoted considerable effort, on top of their normal work, the process ultimately proved to be a waste of time; to be disappointing and especially for local NGOs to be discouraging.
I have two (NGO) organisations in mind while writing this article. Neither conforms to the pattern I criticize. They are different and I am not the only one to think that they are better. Both have poor disabled people as their target beneficiaries. One is in sports. The other is in poverty alleviation/new livelihoods or careers and self-advocacy. Both are now purely local NGOs, with none of the trappings or spending power of the big international players that dominate the disability sector. In fact neither has anything like a long-term future, because of funding gaps, and so a lot of their work, despite excellent results so far, cannot be said to be sustainable. If they go out of business too soon, how will their beneficiaries stay involved, if sustainability is to be realised eventually?
Local NGO “Cambodia National Volleyball League Disabled2” is the sports one. Most interestingly, it is taking a route party by choice, partly by necessity, towards the private sector or “corporate social responsibility” funds in its hope to realise sustainability. CNVLD has earned a worldwide reputation for transforming the self-esteem of disabled athletes. They actually enjoy high standing on the world stage unlike their “able-bodied” compatriots. They play volley-ball, pursue wheel-chair racing and some athletes may well qualify for the 2012 London Paralympics, even if there may be no money to support them to go and compete there.
◄Disabled Sports Athletes of NGO CNVLD playing the game at its best – but do they have a future?
Now CNVLD’s quest is to raise such money and cover their modest (compared to INGO) costs. Yet this laudable aim is treated with derision by some in the sector. Pursuing private funding is viewed as an anathema to many who see it as contradictory to the “not- for-profit” concept. Does this make sense? Does such obstruction make for sustainability? Is it a sin not to want to depend solely on the usual institutional sources of funding? One critic is interesting. It has in its mission that all its services to beneficiaries must be provided free. No charges whatsoever must be levied even for those who can afford to pay! In Cambodia, everybody pays, even when services are supposed to be free3. Even if a direct charge is not levied, recipients expect and are expected to show their gratitude4, and do so especially the poorest who see it as an inescapable obligation. Surely sustainability means (a) people who can afford to pay should do so, and (b) NGOs who can attract funding and not depend on taxpayers’ money should be welcomed5?
The second organisation, New Horizons Society6, is not as lucky as CNVLD, as they cannot go down the route of sponsorship which is an accepted feature of sport. This is an NGO that did localise from an INGO but on their own terms. They voted against joining another national body created by and favoured by the big international disability NGOs. Over 200 of their Focus Persons (Group Leaders) voted in a secret ballot to form their own NGO in order to stay true to their close-knit grassroots upwards origins and growth. Now they have 3,175 members in 135 self-help groups federated up to provincial level and going on to the national stage. They have remarkable accomplishments in creating new livelihoods for their [once] ultra-poor members and have accumulated over $130,000 in revolving funds. Individual lives have been transformed. One boy has gone from beggar in the market to national singing celebrity. One young man went from lonely at home; never seen a computer; no English, to being one of today’s high-flying geeks. His class-mate, from a similar start, went on to become the Publicity Officer for CNLVD and to lead her own troupe of dancers in the NHS Child Advocacy Group performing at international conferences.
◄NGO Child Advocates demonstrate “We can do” but will donors let them?
The 135 groups went from fear of talking to officials to successful advocacy. They started with the right to education and health-care for disabled youngsters, and once they were confident went on to persuade ministers to take action to stop their meagre pension rights being denied to them. These people chose not to ask for pity, or welfare, or for service provisions to be given to them. Instead they ask simply for the chance to show that “they can do” and that they can be self-sufficient when given the opportunities and means.
Their problem is that they cannot do this for all members yet, let alone go on to include others in the same fate as they once were. Yet despite their accomplishments, right now they can only win project activity funds. Donors refuse to pay more than 20% for running costs. Some specify as little as 5%. That does not even cover the running costs of their multi-purpose centre where meetings, training, sports, dancing, computer classes etc., go on. It may stretch to pay modest salaries to 2 or 3 staff, but they have to depend on consultant/advisors like me to help them voluntarily. Their entire organisation is radically different from the familiar set-up to be seen in international disability, donor and development organisations. There is not an air-conditioner, land-cruiser, or voucher paying university fees of expatriate’s children, etc., in sight. Yet despite its low cost and high yield, it is not yet sustainable within the present rules of most donors. If it can get over its current shortfalls and continue to build the revolving funds in to a sizeable trust or investment fund, with many members whose incomes have grown sufficiently able to subscribe fees to run their organisation, then they may have an independent viable future. But is there a donor who can adopt such a long-term vision; who will give enough to meet the real needs they identify, and who will then stay the course even when inevitable setbacks happen on the way?
So finally sustainability should be expressed in one simple notion and by the last player. It should be a measure of the change made in individual lives and over life-times of beneficiaries and their families. They are the last players in the game – who else but them can make that assessment? The present game means that it is the other players that have most say. They arrive on the scene much earlier; play in their own compact time-frames, and to their own rules. Then as external entrants, they depart the scene as soon as they can. Sustainability?
1 The perception is not helped by the limitations of the Khmer language. When the word “advocacy” was first introduced “tasumateh” was used, literally “to struggle for” associated with confrontation, not partnership, and so it was viewed by many as an alien Western concept.
2 email@example.com or www.standupcambodia.net
3 Understanding pro-poor political change:the policy process Cambodia by Caroline Hughes and Tim Conway, Overseas Development Institute, 2003 – DfiD Publication.
4 It is this “tradition” that is at the heart of a current dispute within the UN-backed Khmer Rouge
Trials, where Cambodian staff are alleged to have paid a proportion of their salary to officials with a role in their appointment.
5 Subject of course to disclosure and transparency.
6 firstname.lastname@example.org or www.newhorizonsunlimited.org
Embodying the human approach: Umzi Wethu (Part 1)
Guest Post by Paul Longe of Umzi Wethu
In “Ideas we’re not ready for are the ones we need most,” posted here last December, Barbara Geary Truan highlighted the work of the South African Wilderness Foundation’s Umzi Wethu programme as “embodying the human approach” to development. As a core member of the Project Management Team at Umzi, I was struck by these words as they so aptly describe the heart of our approach. We’re often at a loss to describe ourselves as we find our focus locked on the daily realities of the “who” rather than the “what” and “how”.
Umzi Wethu fulfils the employability potential of resilient, motivated youth displaced by HIV/AIDS and poverty by using the power of the wilderness, promoting personal wellness in a nurturing home context, providing credible training, and securing sustainable job placements in hospitality and eco-tourism establishments while extending the program's social outreach to others.
I’m often asked how we go about ensuring the ongoing success of the programme. At the time of writing, Umzi Wethu continues to boast an 85% job placement rate for over 200 graduates and is currently on its 17th intakes of students. There is no short answer about how we do this, but in subsequent posts I will reflect on some key aspects of the work which go into the long term sustainability of what we do.
When Umzi Wethu began in 2007, it was ground-breaking for a number of reasons, not least of all in its intention to produce seriously life changing outcomes with a fairly small number of specially selected youth in a relatively short space of time. This highly concentrated approach is in contrast to what is usually expected in development work, where reaching as many people as possible through service delivery is often where the work is focused. If we think of this in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the classic development approach seeks to ensure the basic physiological and survival needs of food, water, shelter and primary health care which is much needed but often leaves individuals dependent on others to provide for themselves.
Umzi Wethu began as a bold leap to leverage opportunities for employment in the high status world of luxury game reserves and hotels for the benefit of disenfranchised young people who would not ordinarily be encouraged to aspire to these heights. Perhaps there is something unique in the organisation’s belief in young people’s ability to reach beyond their wildest dreams after only one year. We’ve subsequently heard stories from our students who shared how the experience of training and working in prestigious establishments provided a huge boost to their own personal sense of self-esteem and achievement which had previously been eroded by a perceived lack of access to even the most basic opportunities. One thing that we hold to is an unashamed belief in just how amazingly far young people can go in 12 months when given a caring, supportive home environment and opportunities to get hands on experience in the workplace.
With Umzi, the Wilderness Foundation creatively designed a fully holistic model – residential, vocational, emotional, environmental, etc. – which aimed to tackle almost every aspect of each individual student’s life over the course of one year. In doing so, the Foundation took on the challenge of touching on all levels of Maslow’s model in order to provide the foundation for a level of self-actualisation not usually associated with young people from such vulnerable backgrounds. You see what I just did there: they are not “vulnerable youth”. They are incredibly motivated and resilient youth who have been stuck in stories of vulnerability and despair – a conversation we have with our students from day one.
Such a perceptual turnaround is no mean feat, and while a well conceptualised project model together with carefully constructed monitoring, evaluation and learning processes was key, there is definitely something more to the Foundation’s approach than meets the eye. How we view the “who” aspect of our work has been a key factor in this success from the outset. It touches on the very intentional way in which we come together as partners to create stories of belonging and self-esteem that lead our students to a future of success and achievement which they’d not previously believed possible.
In the next piece I will unpack the “who” in more detail by focusing on a few key observations which have been made about the personal aspects of the work we do.
Paul Longe is a qualified Counselling Psychologist working in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He has been working with the Wilderness Foundation, a global conservation organisation, on the development and implementation of innovative and holistic socio-economic development projects for vulnerable youth in South Africa since 2008.
Youth Series Part III: The Role of ICT4D (Information and Communications Technology for Development) in Empowering Youth
Youth Series Part I here Factors Hindering Youth Participation in Development
Youth Series Part II here How Technology Enables Youth Participation
For international multilateral organizations that are funding billions of dollars annually for a wide range of initiatives aimed at improving the socioeconomic conditions in developing countries, the challenge these organizations should undertake is to ensure a youth-centric focus within their funding for programs. According to the Pan-African Youth Union, youth empowerment is defined as, “a structured process where young people gain the ability and authority to make real economic, social and political decisions. [They] believe this is the process that builds capacity to implement change, in young people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important.”
A key takeaway is that problems and solutions are best addressed when they are self-defined. The problem that has been most adamantly professed revolves around employment and educational opportunities for so many youth who feel that they are not adequately prepared for the demands of the modern labor market. As a result, we propose that international development organizations fill the institutional void that exists in many developing countries by focusing their programming on solving problems such as poverty, unemployment and education with what has also been identified as an empowering tool in the modern era: technology. The most comprehensive solution that involves all of these aspects is greater Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills training, listening, and using this medium as one method for combating the development challenges youth face in today’s world.
By orienting many youth development initiatives towards ICT skills, there is no doubt that developing youth with have much greater advantages to propel their capacity to be prosperous members of society. This is because, “equitable access to information, knowledge (or know-how) and education is one of the most vital principles in the emerging global knowledge economy. ICTs are practical tools in narrowing knowledge gaps between countries, regions and also people by providing new frontiers in the areas of information exchange, intellectual freedom and online education.” Additionally, “in the knowledge era continuous education and training is the only way for job security, especially if the education and training is in ICT-related skills.” The role of international development organizations should be to enable this type of progressive skills training both just for such access but also as a means for listening to our clients through mobile, Facebook, Yammer, Twitter and other applications. Also by improving access to ICT education programs to youth cohorts, they are more competitive in a global market that is increasingly demanding of workers with advanced ICT skills. These programs must tackle the “widening digital divide” between developed and developing countries to ensure a more sustainable and balanced development scheme.
To this point, the Executive Secretary of the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, gave a statement at the 2011 African Press Organization (APO) forum themed ‘Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development’, which highlighted the fact that human capital is key in facilitating growth, and with greater education and training the African youth can contribute more to development and growth for the continent. Nonetheless, he could not go without saying that, “several commitments, policies and programmes on youth education and employment have been prioritized at national, sub-regional and global levels to improve the livelihoods of young people in Africa. However, these initiatives have yet to translate into the desired outcomes. Thus, concerted and innovative efforts are still required especially at a time when the youth population continues to increase.” Again we see the trend that current policies have thus far failed to provide the circumstances necessary for youth empowerment to become realized in many African counties, which means development is happening too slowly for the millions of African youths who could be contributing invaluable skills to their societies – if they only had the means- and we were listening and funding their priorities!
An example of a good ICT4D training program is the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) in Nigeria, which was a two-year program implemented by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Microsoft, to “to improve the employability of disadvantaged African youth in Nigeria between ages 16 to 35. The program, with support from Microsoft, worked with LEAP Africa and local partners to provide demand-driven training in information and communications technology (ICT), life skills, entrepreneurship and employment services.” Over two years, the program addressed the inadequacy of technical skills and lack of labor market information in the Nigerian youth by providing training to “improve the employability prospects of 2,500 young people throughout the country,” in an aim to place 70% of the program participants in jobs, internships, self-employment or community service opportunities with greater capacity in education and training. Six months after project completion, the project was evaluated by interviewing a sample follow-up cohort of 69 participants:
· “All together, 55% of the respondents were employed, self-employed, participated in an internship or community service, or continued their studies after the training.” (This number is thought to be low, primarily because of the few employment opportunities in Bauchi, where the follow-up participants were from. This is typical in many cities where demand far outstrips employment opportunities)
· “Over 78% of the respondents in the sample follow-up cohort confirmed that the ICT training had improved their employment prospects.” They indicated that this was because ICT skills are important selection criteria in the job market,” and there was also a significant increase in the follow-up cohort’s use of computers.
Unfortunately there was no data on employment that was using these new ICT skills; more data is needed to compare those trained versus untrained regarding employment using these skills used, and how much more ‘development’ was fostered by such trainings. Yet given our dependence on technology, technical illiteracy seems a logical barrier. IYF has identified eight high-growth sectors for ICT-enabled youth employment, in fields such as, “Banking and Financial Services, Telecommunications, Information Technology, Oil and Gas, Education and Training, Media, Marketing and Advertising, Hospitality and Tourism, and Healthcare Services.”
The Arab Spring movements have proven that power in numbers and influence aided by the technological spread of ideas will not allow the youth cohort to be left behind in the push for development. Rather, they are demanding to be heard, and they are calling for greater capacity to be major contributors in their development goals. By funding ICT training programs that would allow youth to address the institutional weaknesses that hinder their demographic, international development organizations could find that the solution lies in shifting the goals of development towards sustainability – a sustainability that necessitates the empowerment of youth. By funding such training, youth can be heard, employed, and inform the development agendas for their countries.
We Value their Voices, and yours. What else is missing?
Youth Series Part II: How Technology Enables Youth Participation
See Youth Series Part I: Factors Hindering Youth Participation in Development
After discussing the various challenges youth face that inhibit their potential to be fully integrated, effective members of their societies, an analysis of some factors that enable their participation is also necessary to construct a complete picture. An International Monetary Fund (IMF) article, Youth in the Balance, elaborates on the specific challenges created by the economic crisis that spread around the world in 2008, and the subsequent responses by empowered youths – the Arab Spring. The article also notes the role of modern technology in the uprisings, stating that, “amid the turmoil and the uncertainty about their economic future, young people, more than any other group, have turned to new media for information and to communicate with their peers and beyond. Widespread access to the Internet has raised their aspirations, in part by making the young aware of the vast differences in standards of living within their countries and around the world. It has also made them more conscious of the extent of corruption and injustice and how that affects their lives” .
Thus, expanding access to technology has allowed for greater communication and awareness of issues, with a disproportionately higher percentage of youth using these technologies as compared to their older counterparts. As a result, there has been a surge of uprisings and political movements, spearheaded by disenfranchised youths, in response to the injustices they face, with technology being a key tool in the success of these movements in promoting change. “Whether it’s the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement in the United States or the mass rallies of the Arab world, young people have been jolted into action and are leading the response to diminished opportunities and unfulfilled aspirations,” a trend of empowered self-determination that has been facilitated immensely by access to technology . Modern technology also aids the infectious nature of these political movements.
In cases such as the Arab Spring, youth populations have made the loudest cry for sociopolitical change, and this should come as no surprise, since the high level of unemployment most heavily affected this group in particular. As the IMF states, “youth have a huge stake in bringing about a political and economic system that heeds their aspirations, addresses their need for a decent standard of living, and offers them hope for the future,” and furthermore, “the absence of such a system is a potent recipe for conflict—especially now, with the availability of cheap means of communication such as smartphones and social media” .
Despite the catastrophe of youth unemployment that the global economic crisis exacerbated, technology provides a great opportunity for youths to become empowered, enabling them to participate in finding new solutions to the socioeconomic problems that plague them. As Bloom claims in Youth in the Balance, “young people will inevitably play a key role in the recovery thanks to their dynamism and willingness to relocate from labor-surplus to labor-shortage areas, and from low-productivity agriculture to higher-productivity industry and services. Their up-to-date training and education is also often a plus—although too often the education system imparts skills that are out of date or unneeded. Insofar as the expectations that education typically creates are not satisfied, youth can also power a decisive impulse to change institutions and leadership” . With the heightened empowerment that access to the Internet allows, youth can take advantage of a wide variety of technological tools to achieve their own self-identified development solutions and to enable the spread of ideas.
Change is infectious, and the discontent from the ongoing Arab Spring movements is beginning to take root in other regions as well, namely Sub-Saharan Africa. In North Africa and the Middle East, “idealistic young protesters have toppled some of the most ruthless and well-resourced political strongmen on the planet,” and the conditions that led to this massive uprising are mirrored in Sub-Saharan Africa, where, “many of the underlying realities are the same. As food and fuel prices rise, inflation is driving millions of Africans below the poverty line…Radical and growing economic inequality animated much of what was at stake in the various Arab uprisings, and it will play a major role in shaping African politics for years to come” . With marginalized, impoverished youths demanding new forms of government and representation, better economic policies, and greater social justice, technology plays a key role in spreading these ideas globally. Regarding the youth bulge in Africa, “their resentment is only heightened by the tools of the information age, which remind them that they have been excluded from feeding at the trough enjoyed so blatantly by the nouveau riche – a lifestyle that is showcased by the newly minted wealthy on television, Twitter, Facebook and the Web in infuriating detail. Globalization has changed the aspirations of the poor, and their expectations will follow” .
The feeling of inequality, or at least a perception of inequality, is a recent development challenge that the world faces, and this is a direct result of the role technology has played in highlighting the existence of inherent societal inequalities. For instance, for informed youths, “resentment of the president’s son’s Ferrari, more than envy of Europe and America’s comparative wealth, is driving young Africans into the streets to challenge their kleptocratic governments… consequently, the struggle to mitigate inequality, rather than “making poverty history” through debt relief has become the most urgent task [of development]” . We live in a unique moment in development history wherein empowered youth suffrage movements were able to force the political change of the Arab Spring to a global movement. The root cause of this outrage is that, “the Arab Spring occurred at a moment when economic development had outpaced political development in much of the region; ossified political systems no longer satisfied a population yearning for modern freedoms. The explosive democratization in the Arab world, therefore, is a result of development’s success, not its failure. An authoritarian country cannot grow itself out of its fundamental underlying political contradictions. Eventually, a democratic deficit sets in” . For countries that are in the midst of drastic societal change, there must be a balance of economic growth while still addressing the deeper issues that will determine the ultimate success or failure of that economic growth; these determining factors include basic freedoms, mitigating inequalities, and addressing the youths’ demands .
Technology has the power to harness the collective desire for youth empowerment that can bring countries out of economic crisis and into a new, more prosperous era. Central to the success of technology in aiding development goals is the transparency that it evokes, allowing cell phone and internet users to hold institutions accountable in a previously unheard of way. The challenge that remains, however, is ensuring that equal access to technology proliferates throughout all developing nations, thereby enabling citizens to communicate their ideas freely and without government interference. After establishing this holistic understanding of the ‘youth picture’ as it exists today on an institutional level, what is the challenge to development organizations that hope to combat the factors that hinder and encourage the factors that enable?
What do you think will help this movement to spread?
 Bloom, D. E. (2012, March). Youth in the Balance. Retrieved from https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2012/03/bloom.htm
 Roos, J. (2011, July 30). Growing poverty may push Arab Spring into Africa. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20150225214042/https://roarmag.org/2011/07/growing-poverty-may-push-arab-spring-into-sub-saharan-africa/
Youth Series Part I: Factors Hindering Youth Participation in Development
My most recent research has been focused on global youth and their capacity (or incapacity) to be integrally involved in their own development process. With such huge youth cohorts in developing countries, collectively referred to under the term “youth bulge”, there is no doubt about whether the power of this demographic should be harnessed to achieve development goals, but rather how. This first installation of youth blogging will thus focus on the question: what are some of the key factors that hinder youth advancement and participation in their societies? In other words, what is holding youth in development back?
Here are some key facts:
- Roughly 85 percent of global youth live in developing countries, with half living in low-income countries.
- Around 238 million of these youth are living in positions of extreme poverty, surviving on less than one dollar a day . No where is poverty felt more extremely than in Africa, because despite a sharp reduction in global poverty over the past thirty years, this percentage has not significantly fallen in Africa, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where, “over 40% of people…[still] live in absolute poverty” .
- North Africa especially, has the highest (exceeding 25 per cent) youth unemployment in the world — significantly higher than the 17.3 per cent of the OECD area. Indeed, North Africa (with the Middle East) is the only region where youth unemployment exceeds 20 per cent globally, showing that unemployment is particularly acute among the youth (15–24 years) .
The overall absorptive capacity of African economies is weak, which has heavy costs for the increasingly desperate youth cohorts who are unable to find suitable work.
- In Tanzania, about 800,000 people enter the labor market each year,” yet the government is only able to absorb 40,000 or only about 5 percent of the newly available workforce.
- In places like Egypt, the majority of new jobs being created are either poor-quality or low productive waged jobs . This is very discouraging for the youth there who have the highest levels of educational attainment as compared to all the past generations.
- Even among some of the fasted growing economies in Africa, such as Ethiopia, which has annual growth averaging above 10% the youth demographic in particular faces formidable employment prospects especially in urban areas where it is estimated to be 20.6%.
Across the entire continent of Africa, “youth are faced with bleaker life prospects and are disenchanted with policies and established institutions for failing to provide them with opportunities to fully reach their potential and to live in dignity” . The result of this disenchantment has dismal repercussions, such as in Zimbabwe, where, “young people are losing interest in being educated because wages and salaries are low an unattractive” and jobs are so hard to find . The consequences of youth choosing not to receive an education, because even if they do they can’t even acquire a good job in today’s market, poses a threat to the ongoing social development and poverty reduction of nations.
Further, the scarcity of quality job opportunities for youth is credited to the lack of preparedness for youth transitioning from school into the workplace. “In Zambia and Tanzania, young people attributed the skills mismatch currently faced in the labor market to the poor flow of information regarding skills demanded by potential employers” . In other words, without a system in place to facilitate in-demand skills training that takes into account what employers are actually seeking, youth are unable to adequately prepare themselves for the realities of the job market they wish to enter by getting relevant skills training. This is due to the systematic lack of communication between the key institutions that youth interact with, including universities, vocational schools and skills development/training institutions, because “schools and universities [in Africa] provide mass education rather than quality service. There is a general deterioration of infrastructure, and a lack of collaboration between the educational system and potential employers, as well as poor accessibility of training services, in many countries in the region” . Without competitive, up-to-date skills training, these institutions are perpetuating the existing challenges that the un/underemployed youth face, making their levels of preparedness insufficient for the market and further contributing to the circumstances of poverty that keep youth disenfranchised and unable to participate to their fullest potential in the socioeconomic development of the region.
International development needs to align itself with the issues that developing youths most directly face – lack of skills and jobs, disempowerment and disillusionment. With this basis in understanding about the inhibiting factors that disempower youth in developing countries, stay tuned for Part II of this analysis to see which factors actually serve to enable youth participation, and what some potential solutions could be.
 Advocates for Youth. (2005). Youth and the State of the World. Retrieved from https://www.advocatesforyouth.org/wp-content/uploads/storage//advfy/documents/fsstateworld.pdf
 Our Africa. (n.d.). Poverty. Retrieved February 6, 2014, from https://web.archive.org/web/20140206110858/www.our-africa.org/poverty
 Anyanwu, J. C. (2013). Characteristics and Macroeconomic Determinants of Youth Employment in Africa. African Development Review, 25(2). Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-8268.2013.12019.x
 Barsoum, G., Ramadan, M., & Mostafa, M. (2014, June). Labour market transitions of young women and men in Egypt. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/employment/areas/youth-employment/work-for-youth/publications/national-reports/WCMS_247596
 International Labour Organization (ILO). (2012, June). Africa’s Response to the Youth Employment Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/africa/WCMS_184325/lang–en/index.htm