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Preparing Youth for Employment

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.

Women in Mali using "Stepping Stone." Photo credit: EDC

Women in Mali improve literacy and numeracy skills through “Stepping Stone.” Photo credit: EDC

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

FrontLines Releases Special Issue on USAID Results

Swaziland mother Zanele is thankful that 2-month-old son Nkosingphile was born HIV-free. Between 2004 and 2010, the USAID-supported Call to Action Project made dramatic progress in preventing new HIV infections in children in the country. Photo credit: Jon Hrusa, EPA

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines for a special issue reviewing 20 projects the Agency counts among its most successful. Start with these five:

  • Result: In 2011, U.S. efforts to promote resilience ahead of natural disasters helped prevent 7 million Ethiopians and 4 million Kenyans from needing emergency aid or becoming refugees.
  • Result: In the 1970s, immunization coverage of basic childhood vaccines was below 10 percent. Today it is estimated at around 79 percent thanks in large part to global efforts by USAID and others to bring the power of life saving vaccines to millions of the world’s poor.
  • Result: Decades ago, Brazil was facing rapid population growth and a food crisis. Today, it is the third largest agricultural producer in the world.
  • Result: Fifteen years ago USAID launched a program to make financial services available to microentrepreneurs in the Philippines. Today, these banks have disbursed over 3 million loans worth $1 billion and engaged more than 1 million new borrowers.
  • Result: Ten years ago, Afghanistan had one of the world’s worst health care systems. With U.S. Government support, the country has experienced the largest increase in life expectancy and largest decreases in maternal and child mortality of any country in the world.
If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, subscribe here.


Local Development Solutions: A Destination, Not A Doctrine

“Localizing aid is not the only way to strengthen state systems, but it is a crucial tool in donor toolboxes,” says Jonathan Glennie, research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute and the lead author of ODI’s March 2013 research study, “Localising Aid: Key Findings” (PDF).

On June 24, Glennie presented highlights of the study’s findings to development professionals in the policy group at United States Agency for International Development headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Click on image to view the report. Photo credit: ODI

Click on image to view the report. Photo credit: ODI

“The timing of this study is fantastic,” said USAID Assistant Administrator Alex Thier, “because of our efforts to think through what we mean by procurement reform. This has been a driving force for the last few years for our agency. Having some outside perspectives, testing of assumptions, and reaffirmation of the purpose of our work is tremendously valuable.”

Glennie, a regular contributor to the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog (see his June 21 post on the study), was joined by several colleagues including co-researcher Alastair McKechnie and Susan Nicolai.

The aim of the study, explained Glennie, was to analyze objectively the value of localizing aid for strengthening country systems, to guide donors broadly regarding the most effective ways to localize aid, and to evaluate obstacles blocking its implementation.

ODI’s approach mirrored earlier guidance issued by USAID Agency Counselor Dave Eckerson to field staff in January 2013, cautioning that “there is no ‘one-size-fits-all-approach'” to increasing local ownership of development business. Added Eckerson, “What is important is that each mission understands that the overall development objective is to strengthen local capacity write large in order to improve and sustain development outcomes.”

The comprehensive research study included a broad review of previous studies along with three country visits to areas where USAID has a strong presence – Guatemala, Liberia, and Uganda – to interview experts and practitioners regarding the effectiveness of local aid.

Among the study’s intriguing findings reported by Glennie:

  • While localized aid is not a panacea, due to complex country conditions on the ground, “it is a crucial tool in donor toolboxes.”
  • Most donors should localize more aid, because in many situations it is most appropriate and the amount of local aid right now is so low.
  • The fact that a country is “fragile” does not in and of itself mean local aid won’t work — concerns about corruption and waste may be true, but they are not enough to defer localizing it.
  • There is more than one way to achieve effective aid, depending on whether the emphasis is short-term results or long-term change.
  • In the end, non-local aid and local aid are equally risky. Despite the fact that there are greater financial risks associated with local aid, the programmatic risks may be much lower.
  • Aid objectives may be stated, but not “radically internalized” and this should be done. Donors often focus on “short-term results or technical fixes without getting into detail, politics and the complexity of the situation.”
  • Donor organizations should invest more in human capital to achieve “wise interpretation of principles” and “less emphasis on rules.” There was no literature available evaluating aid effectiveness from the perspective of the ability of staff to make good decisions.
  • Communication between donors, with governments and with the public is relatively poor: “There is an amazing mental block about sharing information.”

The talk was received thoughtfully by attendees. Some pointed out that ODI’s research highlighted the need for more rigorous analyses of local aid effectiveness, and for more innovative empirical approaches to this.

Others discussed the need to explore how progress can best be made in local environments where aid funds cannot be reliably tracked, and where governance systems are unstable.

“We don’t want politics (meaning the desire to implement a donor program) to be an excuse for not recognizing the development reality on the ground,” said Glennie.

Yet the critical need for assistance remains. USAID is committed to delivering it, while recognizing and communicating the complexity of the issues on the ground.

Photo of the Week: Market Linkages in Bangladesh


USAID creates market linkages to sustain traditional weaving of indigenous women. USAID’s environment activity, the Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods (CREL), improves diversified livelihoods that are environmentally sustainable and resilient to climate change. USAID has worked with the Government of Bangladesh and local communities to better manage and conserve Bangladesh’s natural resources and biodiversity since 1998. More resilient livelihoods and ecosystems will help Bangladesh meet development goals and move along the path to becoming a healthy, prosperous country. CREL is implemented by Winrock International.

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: USAID Bangladesh.

Like USAID Bangladesh on Facebook and follow @USAID_BD and #MissionofMonth on Twitter for ongoing updates!

International Youth Day: Young People Are Key to Solving Global Challenges

This originally appeared on Dipnote

Today, and every August, the world celebrates International Youth Day.

Young people are key drivers to solving some of the world’s most pressing strategic challenges, from rebuilding the global economy to peace building and creating sustainable democracies, and will play a prominent role in shaping the 21st century world. Around the world, we’ve seen young people use their voice to demand opportunity and respect, utilizing technology to connect to one another in ways that no generation has ever been able to before.

Throughout my travels, I’ve heard from young people what is important to them–opportunities for effective political engagement, access to education, the hope for meaningful employment, and the desire for a safe and healthy future for themselves and their families.

Special Adviser Rahman at the Global Young Leaders Conference. Photo credit: State Department

Special Adviser Rahman at the Global Young Leaders Conference. Photo credit: State Department

All of these issues are equally, if not more, important to young people who have been uprooted from their homelands and forced, or have chosen, to migrate to a new country for economic or political reasons.

This year, the focus on International Youth Day is youth migration. Every year, millions of young people enter crowded cities, looking for economic opportunity or fleeing political persecution. Migration affects all countries and presents both opportunities and challenges. It can be an opportunity for a more stable life or a chance for prosperity but it can also hamper young people’s access to education or leave them marginalized and vulnerable. It is imperative that we pay attention to the special challenges of these young migrants.

Addressing the challenges that youth face around the world — in education, employment, healthcare — is smart foreign policy. But it is also an opportunity; young people represent a pool of human capital whose potential has yet to be tapped. I am inspired by the energy and passion of this generation and am committed to working in partnership with them to solve some of our biggest global challenges.

Follow and join the conversation on Twitter using #IYD2013. 

Srebrenica Smiles

David Barth serves as Mission Director to Bosnia and Herzegovina

David Barth serves as Mission Director to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Srebrenica. For years, the name has been synonymous with tragedy. The massacre in Srebrenica marked the darkest moment in the blackest of wars.  During the second week of July, 1995, 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were slaughtered by paramilitaries of the Army of the Republika Srpska and 30,000 women and children were forcibly deported in an act called the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War. Eighteen years later, the wounds have barely begun to heal, if at all.

The town remains wracked by ethnic tensions. It remains the most economically depressed municipality in the country, with unemployment approaching 50%. The obstacles to economic growth are legion. Infrastructure, workforce skills, isolation, poor governance. And a major casualty of that is hope. One resident told me that because she’s from Srebrenica, it is expected by society that she never allow herself to be happy. Imagine the impact that has on children.

With that in mind the staff of USAID/Bosnia and Herzegovina set out to create one special day for the children of this remote town. NBA basketball player and star of the Bosnian national team Mirza Teletovic joined the mission at the Srebrenica International Peace Camp to spend quality time with the children of Srebrenica; to talk about sports, ecology, human rights, and most importantly, hope.

In addition to a basketball clinic featuring Mostar native Teletovic, USAID-grantee Eko Sports Group taught courses in water sports, including scuba and boating. Eko Sports Group is a marvel as well. Made up of disabled athletes, including landmine victims, the Eko Sports Group has made itself the country’s most prominent aquatic sports trainers. They provide a valuable service and are also tremendous role models on the power of perseverance.

The principal responsibility of our Mission is to administer precious foreign assistance resources in the most efficient manner to achieve tangible results. This is our core objective. But we are also in a position to promote our American values. So I was enormously proud to watch our team working with their hands to build a camp worthy of these kids. I think that you will see from this video that in this case, their smiles represent an overwhelming tangible result.

Learn more about our work in Bosnia and Herzegovina and like us on Facebook for ongoing stories and photos from the field.  

Video of the Week: Youth Initiatives in West Bank/Gaza

Yesterday was International Youth Day and this year focused on Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward. Created in 2000, the day brings attention to the challenges facing young people as well as their contributions to their communities, nations and the world. USAID is celebrating International Youth Day by reflecting on the linkages between youth migration and development, exploring the positive aspects of youth migration, and accounting for the risks and challenges young people frequently face when they migrate.

This week’s “Video of the Week” was produced by youth as part of the Ruwwad Youth Empowerment Project about USAID’s youth programming in the West Bank and Gaza. Ruwwad is implemented by the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and funded by USAID.

Learn more about youth programming at USAID. Join the conversation on Twitter using #IYD2013. 

A Day to Celebrate Youth’s Contribution to Development

Today is International Youth Day, a day to celebrate youth and their numerous contributions to their communities, nations and the world.

The theme for 2013 is Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward. Many of you are familiar with the global statistics on youth–of the seven billion people on the planet, at least half are under the age of 30, and that youth and children comprise up to 70 percent of the population of many developing countries. But, are you aware of the statistics on migration?

Young people in the village of Bunyakiri, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). By helping young people to develop positive beliefs and attitudes, a USAID project can prevent future acts of violence, and can ultimately contribute to a more peaceful and equitable future for DRC. Photo credit: J. Harris, International Medical Corps

Young people in the village of Bunyakiri, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). By helping young people to develop positive beliefs and attitudes, a USAID project can prevent future acts of violence, and can ultimately contribute to a more peaceful and equitable future for DRC. Photo credit: J. Harris, International Medical Corps

Today, more people are on the move than at any time in history. As of 2010, 214 million people, or three percent of the world’s population, were living outside their countries of origin. Twenty-seven million of the international migrants are between the ages of ten and 24. The vast majority of these young migrants live in the developing world.

Many USAID programs support young migrants or potential migrants. This includes our anti-trafficking and human rights programs, which help mitigate the risks associated with migration. However, I would like to draw attention to our broader youth development programs, which aim to provide youth with the support structures, skills, knowledge and opportunities they need to navigate the challenges they face while growing up. These programs help youth develop the resilience and self-confidence they need to overcome obstacles and become agents of change. While this is important for all youth, it is critical for youth at risk, including young migrants, who have additional hurdles and stress factors.

Below are highlights of some of our successful programs in this area.

In Kenya, the Yes Youth Can! (YYC) program is owned, led, and managed by youth. It was created to engage young people impacted by the post-election violence of 2007 and 2008 in improving their own lives and the lives of people in their communities. Youth organize themselves in democratically elected bunges, or parliaments. These bunges, now active in 20,000 villages, provide a structure through which youth can engage. The program bore fruit during the 2013 elections. YYC youth organized a national campaign which resulted in 400,000 young people applying for their national ID card, which is required to vote. Youth also supported a peace caravan that culminated in messages in the national media that included peace pledges from the major presidential candidates.  The messages touched hundreds of thousands of youth immediately before the election and played a role at keeping violence to the lowest level in years.

USAID has planted the seeds of youth self-empowerment elsewhere. In Bosnia, Peacing the Future Together supports youth conflict resolution and leadership in ethnically mixed communities through “youth banks” that provide young people opportunities to develop skills while working together on youth-led initiatives, thereby boosting their confidence as agents of social change. A Ganar targets at-risk youth in fifteen countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, using soccer as a tool for teaching life and employability skills. Finally, in Jordan, Youth: Work Jordan strengthens the life, employability, and entrepreneurship skills of the most vulnerable youth in disadvantaged urban communities through training, job placement, mentorship, and civic engagement programs.

For more information on these and other USAID programs, visit our Youth Impact website. Also stay tuned for updates related to the implementation of our Youth in Development Policy. Finally, join the conversation on Twitter using #IYD2013.

Let’s Talk About HIV: The Importance of Dialogue and Information in Adolescent HIV Care

In recognition of International Youth Day, AIDSTAR-One Senior Treatment Officer discusses the importance of dialogue and information in adolescent HIV care. 

Imagine you are 15. It is your first year at a new school. You have to make new friends, meet all new teachers, struggle through your classes, and find a date for weekend parties. You want freedom and independence from your parents and caregivers. You want to be like everyone else. You worry about having cool clothes and fitting in.  You want to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. You want your friends to like you. You worry about getting in to university and what your future will be like.

Now, imagine you are 15 and you are HIV-positive. You have the same thoughts and concerns that your peers have, but you also have to worry about your health. HIV only makes being an adolescent harder. You wonder if you will still fit in if you have HIV, so you hide this information from your friends. When you start dating someone, you wonder if your boyfriend or girlfriend will still like you if you tell him or her your status. The pressure of getting good grades and planning a successful future is heightened by having to miss school for medical appointments or not feeling well.

Teen Talk, a new tool from AIDSTAR-One and BIPAI, is a resource for young adults living with HIV. Photo credit: AIDSTAR-One

Teen Talk, a new tool from AIDSTAR-One and BIPAI, is a resource for young adults living with HIV. Photo credit: AIDSTAR-One

Through advances in antiretroviral therapy (ART), children born with HIV are growing up, living, and thriving. In addition, UNAIDS reports that youth between the ages of 15-24 account for almost half of all new HIV infections. These youth are in need of comprehensive, youth-specific education to empower them to make responsible and informed decisions regarding disclosure of their HIV status, sexual behavior, and their health.

So, how do we help youth living with HIV adjust to the growing pains of adolescence, while also maintaining their health? We talk to them. Just as with any teenager, it is important for youth living with HIV to learn how to be responsible young adults, realize how their actions affect those around them, and know who they can talk to when they need help. For teenagers who are HIV-positive, it is also important to help them manage their health. They need to know how to remain healthy by eating well and remembering to take their medicine, how and when to talk to peers and teachers about their status, and why drinking or taking drugs could be particularly harmful to them.

It is hard for youth living with HIV and those who care for them to know the answers to all of these questions. AIDSTAR-One in partnership with Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) created Teen Talk: A Guide for Positive Living, a resource written for teens to use on their own, or for use in consultation with medical providers or caregivers. Covering issues such as adherence, nutrition, and safe sex, Teen Talk helps youth living with HIV think through their concerns and make healthy decisions. Teen Talk offers specific tools such as a calendar to help adolescents remember to take their medicine, a list of common medication side effects and possible solutions, and a question and answer guide about sex and sexual health.

With such a large population of youth living with HIV, it is increasingly important to help adolescents address their HIV status, manage their own medical care, and live a healthy life.  Living with HIV will always be a challenge. However, with tools such as Teen Talk, youth living with HIV can thrive and remain healthy in their adolescent years, bringing us one step closer to reaching the global goal of an AIDS-free generation.

AIDSTAR-One is funded by PEPFAR through USAID’s Office of HIV/AIDS. The project provides technical assistance to USAID and U.S. Government country teams to build effective, well-managed, and sustainable HIV and AIDS programs.

Learn more about youth programming at USAID. Join the conversation on Twitter using #IYD2013. 

International Youth Day: My Experience as a “Youthful” USAID Intern

In celebration of International Youth Day, an intern recounts her experience at USAID. 

When I first found out that I was going to be an intern for the federal government at USAID, I had no idea what to expect. The notions that had been swirling around in my head were a confused mix of expectations, most likely attributed to watching too many episodes of Parks and Recreation and The West Wing. Coming out of two previous internships, I expected to spend my summer in a dimly lit office cubicle filled with people in suits, much older than I am, sticking out like a sore thumb as a younger-looking Korean-American female. Knowing that I was the first undergraduate intern in the office, I felt daunted by the experience to come.

Youth Bunges (swahili word for parliament) are helping improve their community through a variety of charitable and economically empowering activities. The Bunge is a part of USAID’s Yes Youth Can, a nationwide program that empowers Kenyan youth to improve their lives and communities. Photo credit: Nichole Sobecki, USAID

Youth Bunges (swahili word for parliament) are helping improve their community through a variety of charitable and economically empowering activities. The Bunge is a part of USAID’s Yes Youth Can, a nationwide program that empowers Kenyan youth to improve their lives and communities. Photo credit: Nichole Sobecki, USAID

Working on policy in the Policy, Planning, and Learning Bureau however, was the exact opposite of what I thought I was walking into. On my first day, I was given my own desk at a nice “touchdown” space unconfined by the limitations of a cubicle. Not only was I greeted by a plethora of fluorescent lighting, but there was even a sky window by my desk- no dim lighting here. Not everyone around me wore formal attire in just black and white. I was not the only Asian-American. I certainly was not the only female, and, to my greatest surprise, I was not much younger than most of the people there.

The last of these observations was the most eye-opening. Upon initial office introductions, I gathered that at least four of my co-workers are or once were Presidential Management Fellows, meaning that they are fresh out of graduate school or in continuing education. Among these individuals were the Office Director and the Acting Deputy Director. I was actually surrounded by people just a few years older than me.

It took me just a few days to realize that I was in the company of some very intelligent and qualified individuals. The defining characteristic uniting these people however was not just their age, but their brilliance and hard work. Although they were young and still working to evolve in their career paths, all of them consistently demonstrated their competence and ability to take development issues head-on.

In addition, because they too could freshly sympathize with my experience as an intern, I was shown incredible hospitality and patience. I asked as many questions as I wanted without being shown a hint of annoyance. I asked to attend important meetings and was never denied attendance. I even asked for high-priority work and was entrusted as an equal to complete my given tasks.

What I realized over my summer internship at USAID is that the future for young professionals in government is as bright as it is because young professionals are willing to help each other. I saw first-hand that when people are able to actively engage, encourage and support each other through new endeavors and experiences, productivity soars through the roof. For the kind of impactful work that USAID conducts, this is great news.

The UN estimates that 85% of the world’s youth live in developing countries. It is becoming lucidly apparent that the need for youth voices in policy is not only fair but fundamental in creating a sustainable future for the developing world. In the same way that I personally witnessed a group of talented and compassionate young professionals willing to go out of their way to help each other, I believe that empowering youth globally in developing countries to do the same for their peers will create a better world for everyone.

Inclusive development is at the very core of democracy and can move us toward a world that, by its very nature, facilitates and critically engages the next generation.

Learn more about youth programming at USAID. Join the conversation on Twitter using #IYD2013. 

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