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 [1]. 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” [2].
  • 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) [3].

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 [4]. 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” [5]. 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 [5]. 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” [5].  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 withincluding 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” [5]. 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.



[1] Advocates for Youth. (2005). Youth and the State of the World. Retrieved from

[2] Our Africa. (n.d.). Poverty. Retrieved February 6, 2014, from

[3] Anyanwu, J. C. (2013). Characteristics and Macroeconomic Determinants of Youth Employment in Africa. African Development Review, 25(2). Retrieved from

[4] Barsoum, G., Ramadan, M., & Mostafa, M. (2014, June). Labour market transitions of young women and men in Egypt. Retrieved from

[5] International Labour Organization (ILO). (2012, June). Africa’s Response to the Youth Employment Crisis. Retrieved from–en/index.htm