Today’s world youth population aged 15 to 24 is 1.2 billion people strong and represents the largest cohort ever to be transitioning to adulthood. Over 85% of them live in developing countries and, in many places, they represent as much as 30% of the population and the numbers keep growing. Many developing countries have the potential to realise a demographic dividend, if the right social and economic policies and investments are in place. As such, youth is increasingly taking centre stage in policy debates as a driver of development. Targeting young people requires, however, addressing challenges on multiple fronts, from getting decent employment and quality education to accessing youth-friendly health services and becoming active citizens.

Timely interventions directed at young people are likely to yield a greater return for sustainable development than attempts to fix problems later in life. Gaps in initial education and skills, for example, are forcing too many young people to leave the school system at an early age, unprepared for work and life. Today, one out of four children in the world drops out of primary education. Surprisingly, no progress has been made on this over the last decade. Youth joblessness and vulnerable employment are widespread; young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. Adolescent reproductive and sexual health needs are poorly addressed while new health risks have emerged. Not all youth have equal opportunities for mobility, and too many young people remain excluded from decision-making processes that affect their lives.

The opportunity to close the youth well-being gap is however real. Measuring and analysing the problems of disadvantaged youth is a prerequisite for developing evidence-based policies for youth. Sharing good practices and exchanging information on what works or not play a crucial role in youth policy making in both developing and advanced economies. Policies that intervene at critical stages can significantly reduce the risks of youth becoming further disadvantaged. For example, facilitating the transition to the world of work through labour market counselling and comprehensive on-the-job training services is helping youth economic inclusion. Evidence also suggests that cultural and creative activities, violence prevention programmes and juvenile justice services can support active citizenship among the youth population.

The Youth Inclusion Project, co-financed by the European Union and implemented by the OECD Development Centre, analyses these aspects in ten developing and emerging economies (Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Jordan, Malawi, Moldova, Peru, Togo and Viet Nam) through Youth Well-being Policy Reviews. It provides evidence and concrete advice on how to assess youth challenges from a multi-dimensional perspective and how to involve youth in national development processes. The reviews use the analytical framework and tools developed in this toolkit to shed light on the determinants of youth vulnerabilities and what constitutes successful transitions in each of the countries. Tapping into the evidence to design better policies is one of the best ways to minimise challenges and maximise the potential, turning the youth bulge into a youth dividend. The Youth Inclusion Project is part of the work of the Development Centre on inclusive societies and aims to support countries to find innovative solutions to social challenges and to build more cohesive societies.

Mario Pezzini

Director, OECD Development Centre and Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary-General on Development