When it comes to preparing youth for employment, what strategies work best? As USAID’s recently-released State of the Field papers conclude, there is a need for more research and evidence on what types of interventions make a difference in strengthening youth livelihoods and employment. In Mali, Education Development Center’s (EDC) youth program – PAJE-Nièta (Projet d’Appui aux Jeunes Entrepreneurs or Support to Youth Entrepreneurs Project) – is tracking several factors that affect youth livelihoods while highlighting issues and challenges that need to be better understood.
PAJE-Nièta has shown that young people are most eager for the business technical skills training and less for literacy and numeracy, so program delivery was adjusted to offer more business training earlier on. We also hope to learn which literacy and numeracy skills are most important for young people to have successful businesses in places where there is very little written local language.
The PAJE-Nièta Project aims to increase access to local value chains by offering agro-enterprise development for 12,000 out-of-school rural youth. The project works in rural, often remote and difficult-to-access villages in Mali, where more than half of enrolled project youth have never been to school, while 80 percent are illiterate. Because of the major literacy gap, the project is offering literacy and numeracy training integrated with agri-business support services, business training, and audio instruction using a mobile phone platform created by EDC called “Stepping Stone.”
Results to date from the PAJE-Nièta Project show that 56 percent of youth who completed technical training have gone on to successfully start a micro-enterprise, with the proportion expected to rise as more data is received. Women outnumber male youth by 2 to 1 as participants, and in starting agriculture-based income generation activities. Young women, however, report lower profits with their businesses. Existing research on gender and agriculture suggests that results vary based on the resources available to men vs. women and inputs used. We are now studying these factors to learn more about gender differences within youth livelihoods, since this topic is not consistently analyzed under youth programs.
Another issue that has emerged in this youth work in Mali and elsewhere is the role of youth in family structures and how it may impact the benefits they gain. Our programs generally target youth with trainings and support based on the assumption that they are autonomous individuals and make decisions for themselves about what activities they engage in, or on whether they spend or save money. And yet, young people are a part of large and small family structures that influence their decisions (particularly young women) about what work they do and when, as well as what they do with their earnings. This is important to consider when evaluating results from livelihood programs with youth; it is central to shaping the questions we ask and what we are measuring.
EDC is also tracking improvements in technical competence with respect to production techniques and business management; input costs; products sold; commencement, duration, and increase in the volume of both production and sales. We track literacy and math skills through exit interviews and performance tests and data on sales, production, and business management indicators. We are also assessing the use of mobile phones to increase literacy and numeracy.
The project seeks to prove the hypothesis that longer-term self-employment requires not just technical competence, but a commitment to entrepreneurial culture nurtured through mentoring. Toward that end, we conduct appraisals of youth microenterprises that are successfully managed for at least six months to determine the benefits realized by out-of-school youth and their families in the long term.
EDC’s work in Mali and around the world is contributing to a broader evidence base on youth livelihoods and employment with the goal of expanding opportunities for young people to support themselves and their families.
Nancy Taggart is a youth development specialist at Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC). She has worked in the field for 20 years, and is currently the Team Leader for EDC’s Youth Technical Team. EDC manages more than 200 projects in 30 countries. Visit www.edc.org.