MEDA's Youth team are learning from their past work and applying it to MEDA's new youth projects. Director of Youth Economic Opportunities, Jennifer Denomy, and senior project manager, Farah Chandani, presented at MEDA's annual convention, held Nov 6-9 in Winnipeg, MB.
The term "youth" can encompass many different ages depending on who's defining it, though MEDA typically works with those 15-24 years old. Youth are also labelled the "demographic dividend" – so many are coming of age simultaneously and with this increase of youth entering the workforce, access to employment becomes a problem.
Over 1.3B youth in developing countries are struggling to find a job and build a career. With limited opportunities, youth are vulnerable to exploitation, have no confidence in themselves or their future, and are unable to contribute to society. The many social, physiological and psychological changes happening during adolescence only complicate matters.
Youth also struggle to receive relevant and affordable training, entrepreneurship support and access to basic financial services such as savings, bank accounts and loans. Three-quarters of the world's poor have no bank account, and youth are 33% less likely to have an account. Only 16.8% of youth in Sub-Saharan Africa and 12.3% in the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region have a bank account, the lowest in the world.
It should be no surprise that youth unemployment is significantly higher than that of adults – 14.3% of youth compared to 6% of adults in 2012. This is magnified in situations of political instability, such as the Arab Spring, as a country's instability negatively influences youth employment and vice versa. Underemployment and vulnerable employment are also causes for concern.
While these statistics may look a bit grim, the youth team shared inspiring stories of how MEDA unleashes entrepreneurship and builds the skills of youth around the world.
E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation) aims to reduce exploitative child labor and improve working conditions by concentrating on families and youth at risk in the textile value chain. By the end of the project in 2015, 3,250 young workers will have received workplace safety training, 750 business owners will have created codes of conduct for their workplaces and 250 youth (ages 14-17) will have bridged the gap between small farmers and suppliers as agriculture sales agents.
MEDA's YouthInvest project in Morocco and Egypt (2008-2014) trained 43,300 youth in life skills, business preparation and financial education. As a result, 22,000 youth opened a savings account and 2,500 youth accessed a loan to start a business.
Leaning forward, MEDA and Cuso International's YouLead (Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development) project in Nigeria will reach 5,000 young entrepreneurs and 2,000 youth employed in natural resources. By drawing on the lessons learned from YouthInvest, MEDA will provide technical support to local financial service providers to increase financial inclusion for youth in Cross River State.
By learning from past projects, we can ensure that MEDA is learning and using the best approach for today's youth and tomorrow's leaders to grow and thrive in a world full of opportunity.