Youth employment & citizenship: problematising theories of change

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In recent years, funding for youth employment interventions has rapidly increased. However, there is limited to no evidence that interventions that build skills and knowledge lead to sustained employment and increased earnings. There is also no evidence that youth employment interventions have positive impact on peace and stability, or can lead to youth empowerment in a broader sense. This calls for revisiting the dominant assumptions and theories of change that underpin existing interventions. This Emerging Issues report is based on a review of existing meta-analysis studies on the impact of youth employment interventions as well as qualitative research on the experiences of youth. It argues for more clarity of purpose of different youth interventions and to diversify theories of change to be responsive to different political and economic contexts. Existing theories of change can be enhanced by adopting ideas and approaches for strengthening youth active citizenship.

The current world population is the youngest it has ever been with 1.8 billion people in the 10–24 age group. The figures have spurred enthusiasm about the potential demographic dividend that will possibly accelerate economic growth. However, almost 43% of the global youth labour workforce is either unemployed or working but still living in poverty, which means there may not be a demographic dividend. This realisation has driven interventions that seek to get large numbers of youth into formal employment or become productive citizens in other ways. At the same time, large youth populations are presented as a ‘ticking time bomb’. Un/underemployed youth are considered a major security risk, especially in urban areas, and more recently, unemployed and disaffected youth have become associated with youth recruitment to extremist groups. It is thus not surprising that youth employment interventions have gained immense popularity in the last two decades and that they are needed to serve economic as well as security
purposes, such as countering violent extremism.

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