We have the ability to look at the intersection of programs and policies and convene people across disciplines to treat youth holistically."
— Christopher Spera
Division Vice President, U.S. Health The global youth population has hit historic highs, with approxiamately 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 to 24. More than a billion of them will enter the job market in the next decade. They are the fastest-growing population. And they face great challenges on a range of issues – from economic opportunities and civic engagement to reproductive health.
Abt Associates is using evidence combined with a dose of innovation to help our clients create opportunities for productive, healthy futures for young people. The work spans the globe, combining rigorous research and the implementation of programs on topics as diverse as employment and workforce development to gender and health care. All of these issues are interrelated.
“We have the ability to look at the intersection of programs and policies and convene people across disciplines to treat youth holistically,” says Abt’s Christopher Spera, division vice president for U.S. Health, who spoke at the 2016 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit on how impact investing can spur youth employment and entrepreneurship.
Creating Economic Opportunities, Inspiring Entrepreneurship
Preparing youth for employment and helping them develop skills needed for the workforce of the future is one of the ways Abt Associates is improving the economic well-being of young people around the world.
Abt’s work includes:
- A workforce development project in Pakistan to promote job creation among youth and women;
- Conducting randomized control trials in the U.S. to test employment and training models;
- Creating and training youth farming organizations in South Sudan;
- Encouraging a culture of entrepreneurship among youth in Mexico; and
- Evaluating a program in Massachusetts to help at-risk youths who have been in jail gain education and employment skills to disrupt the cycle of poverty and incarceration. The project, called Roca, employs a pay-for-success model wherein investors pay to fund the program. If the program meets or exceeds its goals, the state repays the investors their principal and a profit.
One project in the U.S. is studying a national program called Year Up, which uses an innovative approach to help about 2,000 low-income 18-24 year-olds gain valuable career skills. The program provides six months of intensive training in IT, financial, and other high-demand occupations; followed by a six-month internship with a major national company and weekly stipends tied to standards for professional behavior. Employer payments cover three-fifths of the $27,000 cost for each participant in Year Up’s “core” program, a stand-alone model.
The Abt-led, USAID-funded Jordan Communication, Advocacy, and Policy (JCAP) project worked with 20 Jordan young people to create videos that broke social taboos about discussing family planning.
The above screenshot is from “My Oversized Dress,” a video about child marriage showing a 13-year old girl wearing red lipstick and awkwardly dressed in an over-sized white wedding dress. The movie ends with the message, “Early marriage deprives girls of their right to play, learn, and live.”
Photo credit: JCAP Abt is evaluating several versions of Year Up’s program. One study involves a randomized controlled trial of the core program as part of Abt’s multi-site Pathways to Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) evaluation. Abt produced a report that distilled lessons from Year Up’s core program and expansion toward college settings. The expansion resulted in the new Professional Training Corps (PTC) model, with pilots underway or planned at more than a dozen colleges nationally. A series of experimental and descriptive studies of key elements of the PTC model also are underway.
In Mexico, Abt has worked through USAID’s Mexico Economic Policy Program (MEPP) to help students at public universities develop ideas to create their own start-ups. Students from four public universities apply to the program, called Dare to Start Up. Out of the hundreds of applications, 50 teams were selected in the first round, and from there, 25 receive intensive training in business plans and workshops. Ten finalists had the opportunity to pitch their project to investors.
Encouraging A Culture of Transparency
Mexico’s economic development also depends on good governance. Like many nations, the country struggles with systemic corruption. Abt is also working through MEPP to create a culture of civic engagement among youth and emphasize transparency within government. The project has organized hackathons at major universities and works with young people to create a variety of digital products – from videos, infographics and gifs – to teach them about the value of transparency through influential video bloggers.
More than 350 groups applied to the Atrevete a Emprender program, and 10 finalists made it to the week intensive workshop at the Arrowhead Center in New Mexico. Among these were the siblings Rosa Maria and Jose Gutierrez, with EmotionBox, a gift service with an element of surprise…
Photo credit: Natalia Jardon, MEPP “People in Mexico are fed up with corruption. It’s really important to focus on the young – they are the next generation,” says Natalia Jardon, a communications specialist with Abt in Mexico.
Empowering Teens, Strengthening Family Planning
Abt develops, implements, and evaluates a range of programs in family planning, reproductive health, infectious diseases, and mental health aimed at youth. These projects include:
- Evaluating the effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention programs in the United States, including programs that educate adolescent males on pregnancy prevention;
- In Zambia, working through the Scaling Up Family Planning Project to reach youth in underserved communities to increase the use of contraception; and
- In Jordan, working with the USAID-funded Jordan Communication, Advocacy, and Policy project to partner with a local non-government organization to teach young people about reproductive health. A group of 20 Jordanians, from ages 18 to 29, produced short movies that broke the social taboo of talking about family planning.
"When it comes to youth, it’s not just how the government can help, but what role the private sector can play, too," says Caroline Quijada, an Abt expert in family planning and reproductive health.
"When you talk about youth, you are talking about so many things – education, health, economic growth. We understand how these issues work together so that we can bring solutions to improve their lives."
— Caroline Quijada
Deputy Director, SHOPS Project “We bring that experience in understanding private sector markets, and particularly how youth access them,” Quijada said, noting that young people often turn to the private sector for sexual and reproductive health needs. She is deputy director of the Sustaining Health Outcomes through the Private Sector Plus project, USAID’s flagship initiative in private sector health.
“When you talk about youth, you are talking about so many things – education, health, economic growth,” Quijada said. “We understand how these issues work together so that we can bring solutions to improve their lives.”
Read more about Abt’s work in youth empowerment:
- Brochure: Innovative, Evidence-Based Approaches to Empower Youth
- Brochure: Youth Development
- Research: Do Effective Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs Continue to Work?
- News Release: Effort to Reduce Bullying among America’s Youth