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Five Ways to Maximize Youth Economic Inclusion and Participation in the Just Transition

June 12, 2023

Last month, Abt joined hundreds of young leaders and youth-in-development experts, practitioners, policymakers. and funders from around the world for the Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit (GYEO). Themed “YEO Reimagined: Powering Youth-led Action to 2030,” the summit explored expanding economic opportunities and sustainable development outcomes by, with and for young people. Amid compounding crises and an everchanging landscape, there was much to discuss and three days of dynamic conversations ensued in Silver Spring, MD.

One of topics to receive a deeper dive was green economy, and I was pleased to lead a breakout discussion on “Maximizing Youth Opportunities in the Just Transition.” I shared market and technical insights and featured Abt’s work implementing the USAID Mongolia Energy Governance Activity with Shure Otgonsuren, the project’s Community and Gender Engagement Lead.  We were joined by colleagues from Accenture Development Partners: Dan Baker in D.C. and Farai Mubaiwa, in South Africa. 

We discussed encouraging worldwide trends and growing global green economy market dynamics – which could deliver more than $26 trillion in economic gains and generate between  25 million and 65 million new jobs globally through 2030. The opportunities notwithstanding, we also shared distinct country and regional challenges to youth engagement in the just transitions underway in South Africa and Mongolia – which include information asymmetries and associated skills gaps, migration and associated labor mobility gaps, social norms and stigma that hinder young women especially, and the lack of finance for green startups.

From this conversation and others at GYEO, I gathered five top takeaways for a just transition and cross-sectoral program design, including implementation and learning approaches that align with our broader experience in youth economic inclusion at Abt. 

  • Information is key. This applies to all stakeholders. For example, labor market information on jobs and required skills can better inform youth as they make educational and career choices. Market, product, and price information can inform enterprise development or business operations and thus improve earnings. Disaggregated data can help policymakers better identify needs and address inequality and the intersectional challenges that  youth face.
  • Inspiration is infectious. Role models and diverse representation can have profound impacts on young people, prompting them to turn their aspirations and talent toward new opportunities.  In the green economy or non-traditional sectors, for example, seeing and hearing from successful older women as leaders in science and engineering is important to mitigate stigma, break social norms, and encourage younger women (and their families) to pursue these careers. Because of the opportunity in climate-smart agriculture, leadership from successful and innovative farmers and agripreneurs can help mitigate or even reverse traditional youth aversion to join this sector.
  • Investments and capital must come from many sources and to many youth. Realizing a just transition and the UN’s Goal 8 on quality jobs and livelihoods has been made especially more difficult by a challenging macroeconomic environment, including pandemic shutdowns, supply chain limitations, inflation, rising debt, and capital and credit constraints. You can see this reflected in, for example, climate finance, where only about 16 percent of funding needs are being met. This situation demands an all-hands-on-deck approach, incuding mobilizing private finance and domestic, local resources. Additionally, making public capital more catalytic is crucial, and we have to ensure that such investments and resources reach and benefit youth disproportionately impacted by crises and shocks. This also means more initiatives targeting youth directly, as well as making more financing or funding(including dedicated project subgrants/grants under contracts, as in Mongolia) available directly to young entrepreneurs, local youth organizations, and young leaders.
  • Incentives matter. The evidence of the business and demographic dividend case for prioritizing youth in economic and development policy is mounting but needs to be translated into practical policies or programs—such as training tax credits, concessional climate finance, wage subsidies, or innovation grants. To do that, we need to incentivize corporate, financier, civil society, government, or other youth system actors to allocate more resources to—and amplify the participation of—youth.
  • Intra- and intergenerational approaches can foster youth leadership and power shifts. Experience shows that activities and dialogues that bring youth and adults together in a direct, concrete, meaningful, and sustained manner to co-create, co-implement, or co-evaluate programs can help transfer insights, perspectives, skills, and knowledge (in both directions) as well as build confidence and trust,shift narratives, and provide the inspiration discussed above, all of which empower and support youth-led development.  Peer-to-peer approaches between younger and older youth also contribute to power shifts between youth and adults.

These are cumulative and new insights sparked by GYEO -  imagine what we can do as a community as we continue to share ideas! Have some of your own? Interested in discussing how Abt can apply what we’ve learned to your youth-empowerment or just transition efforts? We’d love to hear from you!

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