Youth Economic Opportunities

There are 1.8 billion youth ages 15-to-24 in the world today – the largest youth population in human history. While young people represent around one-fifth of the global population, they make up one-third of the total unemployed global workforce. There are 67 million unemployed youth worldwide and 145 million working youth live in poverty (ILO)1. With low education and skill levels, limited resources and inadequate social and business networks, deprived youth face particularly difficult challenges in securing safe and rewarding jobs. Many find it difficult to balance education with income-earning demands to contribute to household income. Vulnerable youth have few prospects beyond low-paying day labor in the informal sector and can be regularly exposed to dangerous and exploitative conditions. Adolescent girls face additional vulnerabilities and barriers – such as discrimination, early marriage, pregnancy, and gender violence – to achieving their livelihoods aspirations. Taken in aggregate, these personal, family and social obstacles can lead to a drag on local and national economies. The time is now to address youth unemployment and provide young people access to economic opportunities.

Our Global Response
Economically secure households provide a more stable foundation for children to stay healthy, be protected and thrive. Recognizing that today’s youth are tomorrow’s parents and caregivers, we are building on Save the Children’s established strengths in education, protection and community development to create and scale up an evidence-based approach to the youth employment. Save the Children takes a distinctive, multilevel approach to ensure that youth make a successful transition to adulthood and break the cycle of poverty.

In emerging and developing markets around the world, our youth economic opportunity programs equip deprived and at-risk adolescents and youth with the skills and job linkages they need to find decent jobs or build their own businesses. Our programs offer market-driven employability skills, entrepreneurship, vocational training, on-the-job training, career counseling, mentorship, job linkages, financial literacy and good savings practices, and business startup services to young women and men aged 12-to-24, living in urban and peri-urban communities. Our approach ensures maximum impact in the communities we serve by building the capacity of parents, teachers, mentors, employers, and community and non-profit leaders and advocating with government agencies for systems level change to make training more relevant to the needs of employers, open access for deprived youth to safe and rewarding jobs and improve workplaces that employ youth.

Our Goal
Youth have the capabilities, opportunities and enabling environment they need to earn and manage a decent income. Key outcomes for adolescents and youth include:

  • Key capabilities strengthened: Girls and boys have the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviors needed to foster agency and resilience in the transition to decent work and adulthood. They have life skills for success so they can navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well and achieve their goals.
  • Availability and access to decent economic opportunities increased: economic opportunities increase for adolescents and youth who have the capabilities and are empowered to take advantage of them.
  • Enabling environment fostered: Systems and policies become more effective and inclusive of the most deprived adolescents and youth, and hazardous workplaces are improved, allowing them to transition into decent livelihoods and work and realize their rights as "economic actors."

Our Impact by the Numbers
Since 2014: we have reached 885,000 youth in 45 countries
By 2020 (goal): we expect to reach over 1 million additional youth

Flexible Work Approach Across Contexts

We recognize that diverse youth segments require different entry and exit pathways between learning and earning opportunities — depending on age, context-specific vulnerabilities, community structures, family support and individual talents and aspirations. Our signature approach is rooted in Positive Youth Development and is designed to ensure maximum impact for youth in the communities we serve. Seven key factors set us apart from other organizations working in this arena:

Icon of a smartphone and a monitor, demonstrating our commitment to creating digital solutions for youths. Image credit: Save the Children, 2017.



Innovation through Digital – We create digital solutions for youth to be personally empowered and professionally successful, such as mobile apps for financial capability, eLearning for employability skills, online platforms for job matching, and extended reality for youth workforce development.

Icon of a meter with a needle for measurement, representative of our work to scale and sustain solutions across sectors. Image credit: Save the Children, 2017.



Scaling and Sustaining – We work actively to convene stakeholders across sectors — private sector, government and academia — to share evidence and best practices, and to influence policies and practices of governments and employers.

Icon of an arrow pointing upward, depicting our evidence-based approach to improving programs. Image credit: Save the Children, 2017.



Evidence-Based – We take a rigorous and evidence-based approach through evaluations and research across our global youth economic opportunities portfolio and use results to continuously improve, adapt and scale our programs.

Icon of a young girl with pigtails, representing our commitment to early childhood education and readiness. Image credit: Save the Children, 2017.



Committed to Starting Early – We begin working with youth as early as age 12, before they have solidified their financial and work habits. We encourage youth to stay in school and layer on work readiness and financial management skills.

Icon of a megaphone, indicating that we’re sensitive to cultural and legal standards and laws when helping youths find work. Image credit: Save the Children, 2017.



Sensitive to Cultural and Legal Contexts – Only youth who are of legal working age participate in job linkage activities, and we work with employers to improve their workplaces in line with the national and ILO standards of decent work.

Icon of a person with two opposing arrows coming from the top of their head. Indicates our work in integrating skill sets for youths. Image credit: Save the Children, 2017.



Integrated Skill Sets – Recognizing that today’s youth are tomorrow’s heads of household, we arm youth with knowledge that will benefit them for the rest of their lives — including information on sexual and reproductive health, nutrition, gender norms, and civic participation.

Icon of three people, two are red and one is gray. Representative of our work promoting youth participation and encouraging youths to practice real-life work skills. Image credit: Save the Children, 2017.



Promoting Youth Participation – We encourage youth to practice “running things” by participating in program design, leading youth club activities, implementing community service projects, and monitoring and evaluating the programs.

Youth Voice – Transforming Economic Opportunities

A young girl works with a tape measure as part of Save the Children’s Skills to Succeed program in Indonesia. Thanks to the program, she sharpened her employability skills and tripled her income. Photo credit: Susan Warner / Save the Children, December 2013.


Forced by poverty to stop school after 8th grade, Sabina was earning $30/month in a tailor’s shop. Then she participated in our Skills to Succeed program for 9 months, gaining employability skills and modern vocational training. After the training, Sabina more than tripled her income. “My next destination,” she says, “is to be floor manager in large garment-industry business.”

A young woman waters plants in her café in Ethiopia. She participated in a work-readiness training through Save the Children, where she learned business skills to help her succeed. Photo credit: Save the Children.


Kemer dropped out of school in 7th grade and immigrated to Saudi Arabia for work, but returned to Ethiopia disappointed. She then enrolled in POTENTIAL’s work-readiness training, which renewed her motivation and upgraded her business skills. “The training helped me to identify my mistakes and made me learn from them. It taught me about customer service, community mapping, saving and other important lessons,” she recounts. Her café is now full of customers, and she is an inspiration to many young girls in her home town.

A group of men gather together for professional training as part of the Cocoalife program. Photo credit: Save the Children.


Though only 24, Triswandi was elected to the executive committee of a farmers’ savings and lending group organized by our Cocoalife program. “This process has contributed to enriching my communications and leadership skills,” he says, “and even how to manage people who are older than me, which is sometimes very difficult."



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