Economic Strengthening: Building Assets for Vulnerable Youth in Afghanistan
From 2008 to 2011, MEDA implemented the Afghan Secure Futures project (ASF) in Kabul. ASF focused on improving the lives of as many as 1,000 vulnerable boys, mainly between the ages of 14 and 18, who were living in Kabul and working as apprentices in the construction sector.
Why take an indirect approach?
Many economic strengthening (ES) projects use indirect approaches. Some seek to benefit youth through one of the social units to which they belong, such as their family1. Family-focused projects typically focus on increasing the earnings of children's parents with the assumption that this will be partly spent to benefit children. Seeking to benefit children and younger youth through their workplaces is less common among ES programming.
During the ASF design phase, MEDA considered both direct and indirect strategies for improving the economic conditions of vulnerable youth in Afghanistan. Several challenges were identified with an approach that worked directly with these young people:
Apprentices in Kabul are often out of school
They are employed mainly in informal businesses, lacking legal registration or even a fixed address2
The main consistent characteristic among the youth was their engagement with the workplace.
There were few entry points to directly reach these youth. For these reasons, ASF decided to use an indirect approach to benefiting vulnerable children.
Learning from our experience
In designing ASF, MEDA drew on our previous experience. From 2002 to 2011, we implemented the CIDA-funded PPIC Work project in Egypt, engaging with economically active children and their workplaces. Employers were eligible for loans and received support in improving occupational safety in the workplaces. Direct interventions helped targeted children to stay in school.3
Making workplaces safer
In Kabul, we also worked with small businesses employing young people. As shown in the diagram below, most of the ASF interventions focused on workshop owners and other stakeholders, providing indirect benefit to youth. The only direct intervention was supplementary literacy and numeracy classes.4
We emphasized workplace safety, adapting our materials and learning from Egypt. We saw huge improvements in this area: 98.9% of workshop owners reported improved workplace safety at the end of ASF programming. In surveys conducted in 2011, 100% of the apprentices surveyed reported feeling 'somewhat safe' or 'very safe' in their workplaces.
Improved quality of life for young workers
As a result of project activities, apprentices reported a wide range of positive impacts on their lives:
On average, incomes increased from USD $9 per month in 2009 to USD $20 in 2011,
Many apprentices emphasized the importance of receiving regular wages – in some cases, theirs was the only dependable income the family received
Food security increased and apprentices reported increased consumption of meat and fresh vegetables
Many apprentices stated that they felt more employable, possibly even able to start their own business in the long-term, which was seen as an important avenue for escaping poverty
Apprentices frequently stated that learning more skills and bringing in an income increased their confidence and status in household.
Unfortunately, MEDA no longer has a presence in Afghanistan and cannot verify the post-project impacts of Afghan Secure Futures. However, the team sincerely hopes that the project design, including the indirect interventions targeting vulnerable youth, have resulted in sustainable positive change for the apprentices, their employers and their households.
For more information on the project, please visit MEDA's ASF publications page.
The main expectations of the ASF project were to improve the income and future employability of the youth. What additional impacts can such programming have on overall youth well-being?
What have been your experiences using indirect strategies as an approach to reaching clients?
What are some examples of direct approaches to economic strengthening (ES) projects that you have come across? In which contexts do you find direct or indirect approaches to be more successful?
 MEDA is one of four projects in the STRIVE program. Examples of indirect economic strengthening programs that benefit youth through their family units include the three other projects in the STRIVE program: ACDI/VOCA's Agriculture for Children's Empowerment in Liberia, Action for Enterprise's STRIVE Philippines Project and Save the Children's Savings Group and Ajuda Mútua project in Mozambique. STRIVE was funded by the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund / USAID, and managed by FHI360.
 See for example, Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013: A generation at risk / International Labour Office – Geneva: ILO, 2013, which points to the global trend for informal, unpredictable work for young people.
 See http://www.ppicwork.org/ for publications, manuals and video documentation of the project. The project was active in Egypt from 2002 to 2011.
 For more information on this initiative, please see STRIVE for Learning's Report Incorporating Supplementary Literacy and Numeracy Classes: Findings from STRIVE's Afghan Secure Futures Program, available at: http://www.meda.org/publications/afghan-secure-futures/31-afghan-secure-futures-asf-supplementary-literacy-and-numeracy-for-apprentices/file
Afghan Secure Futures was one of four field projects of the STRIVE program, managed by FHI 360 in partnership with Action for Enterprise (AFE), ACDI/VOCA, MEDA, Save the Children, the IRIS Center at the University of Maryland and USAID/DCOF. STRIVE implemented four field projects in Africa and Asia between 2008 and 2013. Each project pursued a unique economic strengthening approach, ranging from savings-led finance to workforce development to value chain interventions. Funding for this program was provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).