With half the world’s population under the age of 25 and 85 percent of young people ages 15-24 living in poverty, the US Agency for International Development has recently moved to focus more on preparing and engaging youth in constructive economic, political, and social activities.
As the first major step in this direction, USAID has awarded funding to EDC to conduct a large-scale, five-year initiative called EQUIP 3/Youth Trust, one of three complementary cooperative agreements that focus on education and youth development. EDC and its partners will address the needs of out-of-school children and young adults. (The two other grantees will focus on classrooms and communities, and education systems and policies, respectively.)
The very name, “Youth Trust,” reveals the philosophy of the project, notes Paul Sully, EDC project director. “It was chosen for two reasons: One, it symbolizes the belief in the positive contribution that young people can make to society, given the opportunity and trust to do so. Two, all resources that are allocated for international youth development should be viewed as a special trust to be used wisely in support of youth.”
EDC staff will work with three organizations that form a core partnership: the Academy for Educational Development, the International Youth Foundation, and the National Youth Employment Coalition. Nine other partners complete the consortium: Catholic Relief Services, International Council on National Youth Policy, National Youth Leadership Council, Opportunities Industrialization Centers, Inc., Partners of the Americas, Plan International, Sesame Workshop, Street Kids International, and World Learning. Partner organizations are active in more than 100 countries and represent multiple areas of expertise.
Principles of the project
The activities of the EQUIP 3/Youth Trust initiative will focus on both the development of products as well as the creation of relationships that will strengthen local youth development organizations. EQUIP 3 staff will amass information about projects and policies, identify promising practices for integrating youth into development activities, and maintain databases of projects and policies demonstrating youth contributions in development. One of the key tools and products will be a Web site produced for and by youth designed to foster youth contributions to development and civic engagement.
Training events and materials development will be informed by intensive fieldwork with USAID missions around the world. EQUIP 3 team members are in the process of making their capacity known to USAID offices in many countries. The missions can then request help if they are poised to take action in the area of youth development.
Keeping youth involved in all phrases of these activities is a central goal of the project, according to Melanie Beauvy, EQUIP 3’s Associate Director for Youth Involvement. “It is very important that we really understand their needs and work with them from beginning to end—from designing to implementing, to evaluating projects,” she says. But part of the challenge the project faces, she adds, is that not everyone believes that engaging youth is important. “We need to convince people of the value of involving youth. Youth are not a liability but an asset. Involving them brings added value to development in general.” Read more on youth involvement in EQUIP.
The emphasis on partnering with youth is a natural extension of the evolution of international development work, says Sully. “It used to be that development professionals would show up and tell [country residents] what they needed. That changed when in-country residents said ‘we need to sit at the table, too.’ Then women said the same thing. Youth are the next frontier.”
USAID and EQUIP 3 partners hope to build on the successes of their many programs around the world that are successfully cultivating youth involvement, says Sully. For example, in Afghanistan, Catholic Relief Services has assisted with a program that aims to provide learning and life skills to rural out-of-school youth, especially girls. It is a youth-led program, using young women as education facilitators. In Latin America and Caribbean nations, the International Youth Foundation runs a youth-designed and managed website, (www.youthactionnet.org) which promotes and supports young community leaders by linking them to each other to share lessons, stories, information and advice on how to lead effective change, and to other information, resources and tools to strengthen their work. In several EDC projects funded by USAID, project staff develop and deliver basic education lessons to out-of-school youth using Interactive Radio Instruction; many of these lessons are taught by young mentors and caregivers. (See, for example, “Radio Learning Centers Fill Educational Void in Zambia.”)
In addition to the practical assistance EQUIP 3 will offer countries, USAID sees this project as a way to solidify “intellectual capital” on the issue of youth development by bringing together experts from different sectors. “Organizations have typically focused on young people in individual ‘silos’—health or education or vocational training. This will be a multi-sector approach to out-of-school youth.”
EQUIP 3 will also collaborate with various EDC projects that also address global youth development, such as the Global Workforce in Transition project (GWIT), which develops public-private collaboration to increase workforce competitiveness, and the Youth Employment Summit (YES), which has launched a worldwide decade-long campaign to build productive and sustainable work for the world’s 500 million young adults, especially those living in poverty.
Originally published on October 1, 2003