The Challenge

Youth face unique challenges as they navigate school-to-work transitions. In much of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), high youth unemployment, significant proportions of working poor in vulnerable employment, and economic disengagement run the risk of creating disaffection, driving migration, inciting social unrest, and slowing progress towards development goals.

As youth transition from childhood to adulthood, they are faced with several constraints that limit their potential for finding their own pathways to productive economic opportunities: skills gap, limited access to finance, and lack of youth friendly policies and programmes, are only a few. This is particularly grave for young women and girls, often subject to violence and exploitation, with limited rights and opportunities to build personal assets that can help them improve their social and economic standing.

In order to overcome these challenges, governments are increasingly looking for practical approaches to help young people realize their full economic potential. In this context, access to financial assets and resources is gaining attention as a key contributing factor of youth’s economic empowerment. There is an urgent need for a sustainable model to build youth resilience, in particular for young women, to successfully navigate school-to-work transitions, while adopting a capabilities approach to broaden youth employment opportunities. These approaches need to enhance youth engagement with their local economies and support their access to opportunities within their immediate financial ecosystem. Key capabilities and factors that support transitions include financial capability and other social services that support youth economic inclusion.

How are we helping?

YouthStart aims to increase access to financial services for low-income youth in sub-Saharan Africa, by developing approaches to offer youth tailored financial and non-financial services.

YouthStart more than tripled the pilot’s original target of providing access to finance to 200,000 youth. This innovative programme has reached 822,000 youth (43% female) by providing support to ten financial service providers across eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to design and develop financial and non-financial services for youth. These young clients have accumulated over US$22 million in savings while the outstanding loan portfolio to young entrepreneurs is US$29 million.

What we will do next?

Based on the recommendations of the evaluation of the regional pilot, UNCDF is now bringing its expertise in empowering youth through financial inclusion to other LDC’s and deepening its intervention in the countries of the regional pilot across the following programmatic options:

  • As part of coordinated efforts where the youth financial inclusion expertise of UNCDF can be integrated within broader youth employment programmes in partnership with other development partners, international NGOs, etc.
  • As part of coordinated efforts where a youth-focus financial inclusion programme responds to the needs of the government and complements the financial inclusion efforts of other funders/key actors

Use UNCDF tools to increase access to finance for youth

At the providers level

We provide technical assistance to FSPs to develop:

  • Youth centric financial services.
  • Strategies to expand their outlets to places where youth are.
  • Strategies and services to reach the most vulnerable youth (ie. young women and girls, out of school youth, potential migrants).

We provide grants to support FSPs and youth serving organizations (YSOs) to develop complementary non-financial services for youth

We provide grants, loans and guarantees to support financial institutions to take risks to better support young entrepreneurs and SMEs with a big potential to employ large numbers of young people

Supporting the development of the financial ecosystem

We capture new data, especially customer centric data on youth and adolescents to boost youth financial inclusion

We stimulate private-public dialogue to inform policy changes, test new approaches and forge new partnerships between FSP, YSO and the government

Build the capacity of market actors to test new approaches to serve youth

At the policy level

Facilitate the participation of the regulator in peer to peer learning opportunities

Support the regulator and the ministry of finance to coordinate with other ministries working to increase economic opportunities for youth

Support the regulator to develop specific strategies and policies that increase access to finance for youth and SMEs with the potential to employ large numbers of young people

YouthStart by the Numbers


New young beneficiaries


Saved at FSPs


Loaned to young entrepreneurs


Youth trained through financial education programmes

Stories from the Field

Our Team

Dakar, Senegal

Maria Perdomo
Youth Finance Global Specialist

Ata Cisse
Youth Finance Regional Specialist

Arianna Gasparri
Youth Finance Advisor