Next week, more than 300 people will convene at the Global Youth Enterprise & Livelihoods Development Conference in Washington, DC. I will be joining several of our partners, other funders, international NGOs, and youth innovators to discuss tough questions and promising solutions related to employment and entrepreneurship for young people. 

Approximately 1.3 billion young people between the ages of 12 and 24 live in developing countries. The pace of economic growth in many of these countries will be insufficient to create the 1 billion jobs needed over the next decade as youth transition into the workforce. And while there is an increase in basic education levels, millions of young people in developing countries still face bleak employment opportunities. Young women have even higher rates of unemployment and face additional systemic, social and cultural barriers.

Thus, there is an urgent need for new approaches to create economic opportunities for young people.  If successful, the effects of youth employment and productivity will have inter-generational impact with multiplier effects from wealth creation and growth to social stability and new leadership.

This requires a continuum of interventions that equip young people to change their own lives. Access to education, knowledge, skills, social networks and capital are the building blocks of this change.  How do we enable young people to stay in school and complete their secondary education?  Is micro-franchising a potential solution to entrepreneurship and job creation? How do we expand technology applications to equip young people with employability skills and connect them to ideas, mentors and resources? What’s required to encourage financial institutions to sustainably offer youth-inclusive financial education and services to enable young people to save money, build assets and manage financial resources for their education or to start a business?

We need to spur fresh thinking in this field even as we test and evaluate diverse approaches that promote youth economic empowerment in developing countries, particularly in Africa. We have much work ahead of us to generate approaches that work at scale.

We believe that the most compelling ideas will come from those with the greatest stake in finding solutions—young people themselves.  We’ve already seen an explosion of activities by young people around the world to tackle questions facing them, and we would like to tap into this innovation.  As funders and practitioners, we need ways to engage young people in identifying needs, developing solutions and delivering them in ways that are trusted and accessible by youth and their families. 

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