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2009 In Focus Archive: December 18, 2009

Transforming the "Youth Bulge" into a "Worker Bulge"
USDOL ILAB - Panel Discussion — December 18, 2009: Summary


The emergence of new economic tigers by 2025 could occur where youth bulges mature into "worker bulges." Experts argue that this demographic bonus is most advantageous when the country provides an educated work force and a business-friendly environment for investment. Potential beneficiaries: Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Morocco, Algeria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Meanwhile, current youth bulge states of Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Yemen are on the verge of further destabilization if the situation does not improve. What can be done to help countries cash in on this demographic dividend? On December 18th USG officials from the Departments of Education, Agriculture, State (including USAID), and Labor came together to hear from academic and program experts to help answer this question.

Panelists included:

  • Marc Sommers of the U.S. Institute of Peace, a leading researcher on Youth & Conflict
  • Samantha Constant, Associate Director of the Brookings Institution's Middle East Youth Initiative
  • Tim Cross, President of YouthBuild International
  • Adaku Uche, Junior Achievement Worldwide / INJAZ
  • Pamela Young, Senior Basic Education Advisor for Plan International

Key recommendations:

  1. Find common ground between youths' priorities and those of the governments or donors. Youth in some contexts may view education as a viable pathway to adulthood, while others place more emphasis on housing, marriage, informal work experience, and access to land. Carry out studies that identify ways to help youth transition to adulthood that align with their priorities and realities.
  2. This can be achieved by basketing donor resources and leveraging public/private partnerships to invest in programs that benefit youth and the broader community on a range of issues. For example, a program for youth can build infrastructure (e.g. housing and schools) and also reduce crime, combat child labor, promote women's empowerment and train workers in market-driven trades.
  3. Avoid programs and policies that further marginalize youth through targeting exclusive groups. Geographically-focused programs can avoid the potential consequences of only targeting certain groups.
  4. Advocate for policy reform (based on effective U.S. models) with respect to university admissions, public and private sector hiring practices, and social protection schemes. University admissions policies and employer hiring practices that value non-classroom experience and demonstrated skills can create incentives for youth to develop competencies through alternative pathways, including volunteerism and service learning. Similarly, expanding access to social protections for all workers will reduce the risk of failure for young entrepreneurs and decrease vulnerability of many working youth (particularly those in the informal sector).
  5. Create workforce development systems that are driven by real and emerging market needs and ensure that all youth are able to access these opportunities. In particular, programs that begin as business-to-community models tend to be more market-driven, more flexible and dynamic than government sponsored programs. These social models can later be scaled up and replicated by government actors and mainstreamed into formal curricula and programs.

The following is a summary of each panelist's remarks. (Copies of the panelists' presentations and recent publications are available upon request from

Marc Sommers
Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the US Institute of Peace and Associate Research Professor of Humanitarian Studies in the Institute of Human Security at The Fletcher School, Tufts University (

Lack of Efficacy in Addressing Problems Associated with Youth Bulge

  • Governments and agencies are not addressing the needs of their large youth populations, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.
  • A learning curve is needed for donors and implementing organizations.
  • While the population demographic is youth-centered, policies are not youth-centered, which creates inherent dysfunction.

Youth Alienation and Violence

  • Programs aimed at helping youth can actually alienate them if the programs are exclusionary, only allowing a portion of the youth population in a particular area to participate.
  • The relationship between the youth bulge and insecurity/political violence is not causal, it is correlational. Even so, the threat of violence from youth exclusion may be overblown:
    • In the last 25 years, African civil wars have typically been rural-based uprisings and most of them are over despite the persisting youth bulge.
    • Only a very small percentage of the urban youth population ever instigate violence, more often they are drawn in once war has already started. The reality is that most youth resist engaging in violence.

Education and Future Goals

  • When asked "Do you have a plan for improving your situation?", the majority of youth interviewed in Burundi mentioned education in their future plans, while youth in Rwanda did not.
    • This result is surprising because of the comparative government focus and spending on education and the assumption of most donors that what youth need is education and jobs.
    • These responses are not, however, related to the number of schools available to youth, but rather are related to what young men and women need in order to become adults. In Rwanda, males cannot transition to adulthood because "they can't even build a house."
    • In Rwanda, the pressures of becoming a man are paramount — including securing land, building a house, getting married, and providing for your household.
  • The priorities of youth and Governments are at cross-purposes. The government is pushing education, employment in the formal sector and farming, while youth believe that the informal sector offers better livelihood opportunities and are not interested in remaining in rural areas working in subsistence agriculture.
  • Ignoring the priorities of young people can engender a population of "hopeless youth" — a label that has become commonplace in Rwanda.

Policy & Program Recommendations

  • Geographic choice for programs (i.e., including all youth in a small geographic area) can reduce exclusion ("if you live here, you"re in").
  • Most organizations have a tendency to work with well-adjusted youth (i.e., those already engaged in a program or receiving services) because they are easier to reach and retain. Ensuring that all youth (especially the most marginalized) have opportunities to access programs may be more difficult.
  • Understanding the context is key to designing and implementing appropriate policies and programs. For example, it is important to understand that in Rwanda the housing crisis, not lack of education, is preventing the transition to adulthood for the majority of male youth. In West Africa, you are called a "youth-man" if you don't have access to land.
  • Advocacy is under-valued as a tool for youth development. How else can governments and donors be made aware that land and housing are huge issues that need to be reflected in policies and programs?
  • Donors, governments and implementing organizations should change the starting point. Instead of starting with assumptions about what "youth SHOULD" be doing, find out whether youth are able to become adults in these countries, and if not, why not and what happens?

Samantha Constant
Associate Director of the Brookings Institution's Middle East Youth Initiative (

The Youth Bulge and Educational Attainment in the Middle East

  • Samantha presented findings from the Middle East Youth Initiative's new book, "Generation in Waiting: The Unfulfilled Promise of Young People in the Middle East," edited by Navtej Dhillon and Tarik Yousef (Brookings Press, 2009). The book highlights the challenges and opportunities facing the over 100 million young people in the region.
  • The youth bulge has already peaked for some countries (like Egypt), while it has yet to peak in others (such as Yemen).
  • Neither the MENA region nor the youth in it are homogenous — thus programs need to be contextualized.
  • Education enrollment and completion rates are high compared to other regions, yet there are high rates of unemployment and under-employment for both males and females, and although women often exceed men in educational attainment, they experience higher unemployment and lower labor market participation rates.
  • The Middle East region has invested more money in education per pupil than any other regions; however, it is not seeing the results. Why? Education systems are of poor quality and do not meet the needs of the changing global economy, leading to disappointment and unmet expectations for many students with education credentials. Education focuses on rote learning instead of critical thinking.
  • There is a need for a new social contract. The old social contract was that of a state-led, patriarchal education and training system that prepared workers (male) for public sector employment.

The Middle Eastern Workforce, Prospects for Youth

  • Due to the lack of market-driven education, the school to work transition is poor.
  • Since workers' first jobs typically define their entire careers, young people tend not to enter the workforce until a good job (usually a public sector job) is available for them and instead start out in informal employment. Culturally, there is a perception that social security, housing, respect, and even marriage are benefits that come only from employment in the public sector.
  • Recent graduates are often unemployed for 2 ½-3 years before finding a suitable job, and the higher the level of education, the longer the wait. This is why the book chose to highlight what they call "waithood" among youth in the region. Samantha likened this period to sitting at a bus stop and watching the world pass you by as you wait for a bus (perfect opportunity) that never comes, without a schedule or any knowledge of when it will arrive.
  • 72% of Egyptians never obtain "good jobs." Similar challenges arise for youth with respect to housing and marriage.
  • Societal protections for older workers have a negative labor market impact on the youth population.
  • University admission policies undermine the value of vocational training & volunteerism.

Policy & Program Recommendations

  • Possible solutions: find a way for young people to get training; set up volunteer programs to allow recent graduates to gain on-the-job experience and enter the field of their choice.
  • Promote improved quality and relevance of education versus enrollment.
  • The U.S. can be a model for addressing these challenges — e.g. through youth-friendly housing rental policies, reforming university admission policies to recognize volunteer experience, establishing merit-based pay and hiring practices, raising the value of informal work and promoting entrepreneurship, and designing social protection schemes that cater to both existing workers and new labor market entrants.
  • There is a huge evaluation gap in MENA in terms of identifying programs and policies that effectively address these issues.

Pamela Young
Senior Basic Education Advisor, Plan USA (

Program Description

  • REACH (formerly known as LABS — Livelihoods Advancement Business School) is now a locally run program spearheaded by a Vietnamese NGO.
  • The program was started in 2004 by Plan USA as an effort to promote employment for street kids by replicating the Ek Mouka program in India (Note: Ek Mouka or "one opportunity" is a workforce development initiative originally funded by USAID, but is now a self-sustaining nationwide program. For more information, visit or
  • The REACH (LABS) and Ek Mouka models follow a similar 8 step model (see graphic below)

  • Target: job training and employment for disadvantaged youth aged 18-25.
  • The program provides 4-month courses (3 months of technical classroom-based training, followed by 1 month of on-the-job training) plus job placement and career counseling through community facilitators as well as post-placement follow-ups. The training package includes functional literacy short courses that are tied directly to the requirements of the job.
  • The budget per trainee is $200-$250.
  • REACH works in partnership with businesses and local governments and uses a "dual beneficiary" approach, consulting youth and businesses at all stages of the program.
  • Targets 4 sectors: 1) hospitality, 2) IT, 3) relationship management (sales), 4) customer service.
  • Results: 87% employment rate and significant increase in monthly income.

Future Prospects

  • The program is operated by a Vietnamese NGO so as to increase prospects for sustainability.
  • REACH has active alumni participation, which it hopes will lead to future alumni career development courses and loans.
  • REACH plans to expand into rural areas in the near future.
  • REACH is carrying out cost recovery model trials and exploring the prospects of the private sector absorbing the costs of sustaining the program.

Adaku Uche Ekpo
Junior Achievement (JA) Worldwide / INJAZ

Program Description

  • JA Worldwide™ (Junior Achievement) provides entrepreneurship training and workforce development to youth around the world In 2009, JA reached 9.7 million youth in 123 countries. JA curricula are implemented primarily with in-school youth.
  • The program is demand-driven and aims to respond to the needs of the private sector, primarily by bringing private sector business mentors into the classroom.
  • This model has proven to be an effective tool to address the relevance and quality gap seen in most education systems in the region.
  • JA started in 1999 in Jordan as a partnership with Save the Children, and is known as INJAZ (which is Arabic for achievement).
  • INJAZ operates in 12 Middle Eastern countries, including Yemen.
  • JA's entrepreneurship program — known as "Company Program" is a hands on program that gets young people excited about business and entrepreneurship. They start their own businesses.
  • Main challenges faced by INJAZ initially: lack of viable private sector in some places, quality of education, lack of entrepreneurial culture, lack of corporate social responsibility culture. INJAZ overcame these challenges by engaging champions in both the private and public sector.

Future Prospects (Scale, Replication, Sustainability, Partnerships)

  • INJAZ is leveraging existing partnerships with the private sector, International NGOs, USAID and the State Department in order to expand INJAZ"s reach in existing countries and start up in new countries.

Tim Cross
President and COO Youth Build International

Program Description

  • YouthBuild International (YBI) provides training to youth across the globe in an effort to increase workforce participation and outcomes.
  • YBI mission: Unleash the intelligence and positive energy of marginalized youth to rebuild their communities and their lives. Create tangible, permanent community assets to strengthen local communities. Build viable livelihood pathways for all young people.
  • Training is split between an educational setting and a job setting.
  • YouthBuild receives an annual $100 million appropriation from the U.S. government for its domestic work through U.S. Department of Labor and receives dedicated funding from 7 other federal agencies: HUD;HHS; OJJDP; USDA; Treasury; CNCS, and USAID
  • The YB model has 5 components: (see graphic below)

  • Basically youth spend about half the time getting the basic academic credential and the other half building stuff (community assets).
  • YouthBuild's impact is seen in 3 key dimensions: 1) student and graduate success, 2) economically strong, cohesive local communities, and 3) multiplication of public and private partnerships focused on the challenge of youth unemployment and livelihoods.
  • International growth is demand-driven — international partners must reach out to YBI.
    • Adaptation and Replication of the YouthBuild Model is taking place in Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua,Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Jamaica, South Africa, Philippines, Bosnia, Serbia, Poland, Scotland, UK.
    • Systems Design Consulting on the creation of Effective, Comprehensive Youth Employment Systems is taking place in Timor-Leste, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Zambia, South Africa.

5 Keys to Success for the YouthBuild Program

  1. Good Market Data
    • Align training areas with high growth industries; market data first, program design second.
    • Problem: lack of capacity to collect reliable market / value chain data in developing countries.
  2. Equally addressing supply and demand sides of the workforce.
    • Adapted YouthBuild programs are designed with the direct input of young people, community leaders, representatives of in-country training and educational institutions, and public and private sector employers.
  3. Holistic Programming
    • YBI has been contracted by both the ImagineNations Group and Plan International to review large scale youth employment systems in eight countries and develop recommendations for high leverage interventions that would expand the strengths of these systems and address key weaknesses.
  4. Placement and Follow Up
    • Donors, governments and implementing organizations need to invest more fully in good follow-up.
    • YouthBuild has 85,000 graduates domestically. The most useful information on how to improve the design of the YouthBuild program has come from follow-up interviews with graduates. Follow-up has also generated useful data on job retention and business success/failure.
  5. Policy/Advocacy are integrally linked to Programs
    • YBI makes an effort to directly shape and inform the policy and advocacy agenda as they view this as equally (if not more important) to achieving systems level change and impact as implementing a good program .
    • YBI positions the experience and outcomes of on the ground program activities as the best, most "informated" vehicle for driving policy initiatives focused on the livelihood prospects of marginalized young people. This program experience, coupled with the testimony of YouthBuild students and graduates has led to all of YouthBuild's significant advocacy successes over the last 30 years.

Future Prospects (Scale, Replication, Sustainability,Partnerships)
YouthBuild program replication is taking place in 10 countries, with an additional 5 countries in the early phases of planning for YouthBuild. Additionally, YBI has entered into partnership agreements with global NGOs that have identified YouthBuild as a viable, scalable response to youth livelihoods interventions across their development portfolios. YBI is working in collaboration with Plan International, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, Education Development Center, and the ImagineNations Group, among others to address the challenge of youth unemployment.

USAID, the World Bank, the Inter American Development Bank have all approached YouthBuild to coordinate in efforts to address the regional and global causes and responses to youth unemployment. The Gates, Skoll, Ford and Mott Foundations have invested in the process of taking the YouthBuild model to scale and positioning it for international application in multiple country settings. Finally, YBI has commissioned detailed country based analyses of value chain opportunities for employment and self employment in the construction industry. Many opportunities for investment have been identified and YBI is studying how best to capitalize on these opportunities as a means of generating direct support for local implementing partners and core support for building the global YB infrastructure.