4.2.1. Overview of At-Risk Youth


Youth—defined by the United Nations as between 15 and 24 years old—play a critical demographic role in the world; there are an estimated 1.3 billion youth currently living in developing countries.[1] There are significant differences in how youth are classified across contexts. In some countries (e.g., Kenya, Pakistan) persons as old as 35 are included. Definitions are also not always strictly tied to age. In West Africa, for instance, marital and employment status are also relevant.[2]

Most youth are already economically active. Even those without formal employment, who may be officially classified as unemployed or in fulltime education, are typically engaged in a diverse set of livelihood activities including involvement in the informal sector or in family-operated businesses.[3] Nevertheless, a large proportion of youth who reside in developing countries are presently ill-equipped to engage in profitable, rewarding livelihood strategies. Youth generally face significant barriers to entering the formal labor force, resulting in unemployment rates that are two to three times higher those of adults.[4]

The consequence of these barriers is to constrain the potential 'demographic dividend' from which countries with large youth populations could benefit if there were adequate opportunities for productive activity.[5] Research indicates that improvement of economic opportunities for youth is a strong driver of positive changes in other aspects of a youth’s life, such as health and education.

A number of factors contribute to youth vulnerability. Depending on the context, these may include weak connections to community protection systems (e.g., safety nets or kinship networks), social exclusion, low self worth, homelessness, dangerous or insecure work conditions or the lack of a secure livelihood.[6] Practitioners are increasingly recognizing the diversity that exists within the 'youth' category, including age, gender, life stage, educational status, location and household wealth. There are substantial differences in the needs and capacities of single youth that are living at home and studying fulltime, for instance, and married youth with children and fulltime employment. Effective value chain programming recognizes these differences and tailors interventions to the characteristics of the target youth.

Value Chain Programming with Children

Children—often defined as those under 15 years old—are also often economically active. Given their age and level of development, however, many value chain projects use an indirect approach to benefiting children that links caregivers to value chain opportunities while monitoring child welfare impacts. This is supported by research indicating that families prioritize spending additional income on areas that directly benefit their children: education and health care.[7] ACDI/VOCA's Agriculture for Children's Empowerment project in Liberia, for instance, focuses primarily on developing viable value chain opportunities for the caregivers of vulnerable children[8], while actively monitoring key social and economic indicators of children within the target households. Action for Enterprise uses a similar approach in the Philippines, where links have been established between household income and spending on food, health and education.

Other value chain initiatives improve the safety of children’s workplace conditions and opportunities for personal development. MEDA and AED's Afghanistan Secure Futures project targets working children in the construction sector, where there are strong market opportunities but many workplace safety hazards. The project works with business owners to create incentives for safety improvements while also creating space for children to pursue supplementary education and develop personal skills.

This section focuses specifically on at-risk youth, given the legal, ethical and practical dilemmas of working with children. Nevertheless, many of the principles and lessons presented here also apply to programming for children.

Analytical Tools for Working with Youth

Several guides and methodologies have been developed by practitioners for assessing markets and economic opportunities for young people. These include:

  • Youth Livelihoods Development Program Guide
  • Youth Labor Market Assessments
  • Guide to Cross-Sectoral Youth Assessments
  • Girl-Centered Value Chain Analysis and Situation Assessment


  1. World Bank, World Development Report 2007: Development and the Next Generation, (2006), 33.
  2. W. Ismail et al, Youth Vulnerability and Exclusion in West Africa: Synthesis Report, (2009) 9.
  3. David James-Wilson, Youth Livelihoods Development Programme Guide, (2008), 6.
  4. World Bank, World Development Report 2007: Development and the Next Generation, (2006), 99.
  5. World Bank, World Development Report 2007: Development and the Next Generation, (2006), 34-35.
  6. D. James-Wilson, Youth Livelihoods Development Programme Guide, (2008), 12-13.
  7. D. James-Wilson, Youth Livelihoods Development Programme Guide, (2008), 12.
  8. PTE and MEDA, Impacts of Microfinance on Children: Overview of the Study Report, (2007), 12.