The question around improving the economic opportunities for youth has garnered several responses from the development community. The most common of these responses focuses on skills training/retraining, employment, and entrepreneurship programs. Yet, there is growing evidence which notes providing vulnerable groups, such as youth, with financial services can help them improve their livelihoods and build their assets in the long term, thus decreasing their vulnerability and improving their standards of living.
As the leading United Nations agency on financial inclusion, UNCDF is cognizant of the importance of helping improve youths’ economic opportunities. Through the YouthStart Program, UNCDF has focused its efforts on increasing youths’ access to financial services and products as they are essential to helping youth realize their own economic potential. Although the goal of YouthStart has been to support partner FSPs develop products specifically for youth, UNCDF has learned that if we want to have greater and long-lasting impact in the youth economic opportunity sphere, we need to go beyond financial inclusion. We need to ensure that while young people access relevant and affordable financial services they also gain access to entrepreneurship training, mentoring, apprenticeships and other relevant non-financial services that support their transition from school to work, secure decent work and/or start/expand their own business. As such, the next phase of the program, YouthStart Global, has been focusing on understanding the youth economic opportunities ecosystem: Which organizations are in place for young people to access entrepreneurship training, mentoring, apprenticeships and other relevant non-financial services that support their transition from school to work? How can financial services be better linked to these organizations and help youth access economic opportunities? What sectors offer untapped opportunities for youth?
These questions and others are probed in an assessment of the youth economic opportunities ecosystem conducted in Benin, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Zambia. The assessments look at the current landscape of economic opportunities, challenges for youth along with sectors that present significant economic opportunities for youth.
Despite significant economic growth in the countries analysed, the rate of youth entering the labour market has outpaced the generation of jobs by the market. Furthermore, lack of access to capital, skills and training has limited the ability of youth to become economically empowered through entrepreneurship. A number of sectors were identified as having high potential to generate economic opportunities for youth through both employment and entrepreneurship; the key sectors identified include agriculture, construction, ICT and tourism. Barriers to entry, such as lack of skills and limited access to capital, were identified as the most significant factors hindering youth’s access to opportunity. For more information on the findings from each country, please visit our publication page.