Putting Youth in the Lead

Youth (between the ages of 12-19) and adolescents make up almost a quarter of the world’s population. That’s equivalent to 1.8 billion potential change-makers.

For at-risk youth living in conflict-affected or fragile environments, adolescence is also a vital time to reach them before violent behavioral norms are established.

However, about 80 percent of the world’s young people live in fragile countries where economic, civic and social opportunities are limited, hindering their ability to learn, engage and prepare for adulthood.

Our approach

Mercy Corps believes that with the right tools, resources and opportunities youth can become positive agents of change who will transform their communities with smart solutions to tough challenges.

Mercy Corps has found that an integrated, ‘systems’ approach to youth programs in conflict-affected countries can dissuade young people from joining armed groups. Without meaningful opportunities, youth are more susceptible to recruitment by these violent groups.

When society fails youth in fragile states, leaving them angry and disenfranchised, armed groups can provide an escape while also offering purpose, dignity and a sense of belonging.

Our research

For years, Western donors have tried to diminish the appeal of armed groups by investing in economic development programs, particularly vocational and technical training to make young people more employable.

However, in Mercy Corps’ research released in 2015 entitled, Youth & Consequences: Unemployment, Injustice and Violence, We Found that in fact, the drivers of youth attraction to political violence are not unemployment or poverty, but rather are deeply rooted in experiences of injustice, marginalization, discrimination, corruption and abuse by police and security forces.

In short, vocational training by itself is not the solution.

Our work

To best support vulnerable youth and diminish the appeal of extremists and political violence, Mercy Corps advocates for donor governments to support a holistic approach to youth programming. Among our recommendations:

  • Donor governments should appoint permanent “youth coordinators” in foreign assistance agencies to identify and drive critical priorities concerning youth across development portfolios; ensure policy coherence, accountability and transparency; and guide the mainstreaming, integration and coordination of more evidence-based programming.

  • Donor governments should develop democracy and governance (D&G) and countering violent extremism (CVE) strategies informed by rigorous analysis of the political, social and economic factors that drive youth to support political violence.