Youth and International Development Policy - the Case for Investing in Young People

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The world now has the largest generation aged 15 to 24 in history, and almost 90% of these young women and men live in developing countries. High fertility rates in the developing world mean that their share of the global population is likely to increase over the next 20 years (UNICEF, 2012) and many developing countries are already experiencing a ‘youth bulge’. The international community is assessing its progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and preparing the post-2015 agenda. This presents a one-time window of opportunity for a concerted international effort to help developing countries reap a ‘demographic dividend’ from educated, healthy and gainfully employed young women and men, and achieve far higher economic growth rates. Young people are diverse, with distinct needs and interests shaped by their gender, context, ability, wealth, and age. For all of them, however, youth is a time of transition: from school to work, from dependence to autonomy, and into sexual maturity. Investment in youth generates the greatest returns when started in early childhood and continued through these transitions. Experts interviewed for ODI’s research on Youth and international development policy: prospects and challenges agree that young people, particularly adolescents, are more adaptable and learn more quickly than adults. Investment in this age cohort is an effective development strategy because it generates changes that will last throughout their life-time, with higher absolute returns than investment in older adults. The benefits to countries in terms of human, social and economic development include increased productivity, lower health costs, enhanced social capital, and greater individual and community resilience to cope with shocks. Investment in mechanisms for youth participation at every level can improve policy and programming, promote civic engagement and encourage good governance. Investment in young people is, in short, an effective way to meet development priorities amid the global contraction of development assistance. This briefing accompanies a report analysing secondary evidence, key expert interviews and case studies to argue for the application of a youth lens to development agency funding and policies.


James Hamilton Harding

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