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Making the economy work for youth

August 6, 2013

As the world observed International Youth Day (August 12), IDRC asked researchers:

How do we make the economy more inclusive for youth?

The quotes below represent a variety of views on this important issue. The opinions expressed are those of the speaker, and not necessarily those of Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

  Flickr/Beyond Access Initiative

Combine theory and practice

For economies to be more inclusive for youth, it’s important to create training programs specifically tailored for young  entrepreneurs that are not only theoretical but also practical and experiential. Appropriate financial help and mentoring by experienced practitioners are also vital.

Mike Herrington
Global Entrepreneurship Research Association
South Africa
Herrington is Executive Director of the Global Entrepreneurship Research Association, an umbrella organization that hosts the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), the largest ongoing study of entrepreneurship worldwide. IDRC supports GEM initiatives in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Asia that explore the role of entrepreneurship in national economic growth, with a focus on youth unemployment.

  Flickr/D. Chavez/World Bank

Listen to them

Economies can become more inclusive by listening to youth, and by providing the necessary channels for young people to be connected and participate in community life. The expansion of information and communication technologies offers opportunities to promote inclusion and expand access to knowledge and participation of youth in public life. There is a universal desire on the part of youth for communication. Making it happen will foster opportunities, innovation, diversity, and economic inclusion.

Ronaldo Lemos
Centro de Tecnologia y Sociedade


Lemos is the director of the Center for Technology and Society at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) School of Law in Rio de Janeiro. With IDRC support, Lemos and his team have led projects that demonstrated the value of using open models to promote indigenous content rather than simply making foreign content more accessible. Read about open business models in Latin America and the Caribbean 

  Flickr/C. Doan/World Bank

Invest in youth

As much of the industrialized world has begun to “grey,” many developing countries are still anticipating large youth populations. About nine in 10 of the world’s young people live in the developing world. This could be either a golden opportunity for industrial catch-up and sustained growth, or a tremendous liability if young people are disenfranchised. Human capital investments and other social services provided to mothers and children in the developing world are critically important. These policies could spell the difference between successful and productive young entrepreneurs and workers for years to come, or a large future cohort struggling with the challenges of high inequality and lack of sustainability. Amid tight public budgets and timid global growth, this bold investment in future generations must not be overlooked.

Ronald U. Mendoza Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Policy Center Philippines
Mendoza leads the IDRC-funded Enterprise Performance in Asia project, which supports research on micro, small, and medium enterprises in middle-income Asian countries. The project covers cross-cutting issues such as the growth constraints of female-led enterprises and the persistence of the informal economy. Mendoza was recently named one of his country's 2012 Outstanding Young Scientists by the Philippine National Academy of Science and Technology.
    Flickr/M. Adel

Introduce family-friendly work policies

Female youth are doubly disadvantaged in Egypt’s labour market, both as women and as young people. Young women experience low labour force participation, high rates of unemployment, and low levels of engagement in the private sector. Family-friendly work policies are needed to encourage young women to enter the private sector. Support for female job seekers could also counter their restricted mobility and limited networking skills.

Rania Roushdy
Population Council, Poverty Gender and Youth Program
With IDRC support, the Population Council works to provide evidence that can inform ongoing reforms to the Government of Egypt's social protection system, which seeks to improve the welfare of informal workers.

  Flickr/N. Berger/World Bank

Provide training

While the school-to-work transition has never been easy for any generation, young people in Latin America are facing a more challenging situation than older workers did during their youth. This relative disadvantage is evident despite notable advances in educational levels and educational equity. Providing relevant training programs and job-seeking services are key to a more inclusive economy for youth, especially for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds who might lack the opportunities to connect to the world of formal employment.

Guillermo Cruces Centro de Estudios Distributivos, Laborales y Sociales (CEDLAS) Argentina Dedicated to the study of distributional, labour, and social issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, Cruces and the CEDLAS team are coordinating an IDRC-supported research project that is shedding light on how labour markets and social protection work in Latin America and their impact on growth and inclusion.
    Flickr/L. Qiang/World Bank

Pay attention to vulnerable groups

Economic growth is important, but does not necessarily lead to inclusive growth. We need to advance development activities that create more job opportunities for youth across different sectors. But there are no universally applicable or effective solutions. Sound policies should be based on in-depth understanding of specific contexts. Policymakers should also pay more attention to disadvantaged or potentially vulnerable groups: female, disabled, indigenous, minority ethnic, rural, or poor urban youth.

Yongjie Wang 2013 IDRC Research Awardee, Supporting Inclusive Growth Canada Wang is the 2013 Research Awardee in IDRC’s Supporting Inclusive Growth program. She is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Alberta. Her research focuses on globalization and low-income rural migrant women factory workers in export-processing zones in China.
    Flickr/J. Ernst/World Bank

Involve youth in policy design

Africa’s youth represents both an opportunity and a challenge for the continent. They are a potential human resource base for development if they are nurtured and productive, but can be a source of conflict and social tension if neglected. Providing youth with the education and skills they need to participate in the productive economy and involving them in policy design is key for their inclusion in national development.

William Baah-Boateng 
University of Ghana
Baah-Boateng is a labour economist and advisor to the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare in Ghana. He contributed to the IDRC book Globalization, Trade and Poverty in Ghana,which examines Ghana’s performance in creating productive and decent employment to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

  Flickr/K. Taylor

Create spaces for sports and play

India is facing crises of inadequate job creation and high youth unemployment, made more severe by the growing number of young job seekers. Youth bear the responsibility of building the next generation: they are the future and their opinion matters. Empowering them is critical — giving them a voice within households, in the workplace, within governments, and so on. Ensuring spaces are created for cultural interaction, entertainment, sports, and play is also critical to identify individual abilities, build capabilities, and help develop these for the mutual benefit of youth and the economy at large.

Preet Rustagi Institute for Human Development India Rustagi is a Professor and Joint Director at the Institute for Human Development, an IDRC-supported organization that strengthens the evidence base for policies and programs facilitating employment and inclusive growth in South Asia.