Social services


The World Bank and youth

11 September 2006 | Inside the institutions

versión en español

Almost half of the population in developing countries is under the age of 24. Despite facing urgent development challenges, the World Bank says that youth is often a “neglected constituency”. According to the Bank, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for 47 per cent of unemployment globally, nearly half of all new HIV infections, and could play a pivotal role in the outbreak of civil conflict in countries with large young populations.

The World Bank’s Children and Youth (C&Y) Unit was established in late 2002 within the Human Development Network to “guide and foster coordination and partnerships that contribute to more effective children and youth development work”. The contact point for civil society groups is Vivianna Mangiaterra, the World Bank C&Y advisor. There are full- and part-time staff in every region who work on C&Y issues and the regional civil society contact points are country specific. The unit’s main objectives are to:

it is economically efficient to invest in the early years
  • provide the Bank with a programmatic framework for action;
  • support the regions implementing and monitoring C&Y plans;
  • promote C&Y learning outcomes and improve coordination among sectors, networks, and regional work;
  • shape the Bank’s collaboration with other international agencies; and
  • facilitate dialogue with children and youth worldwide.

The Bank’s conceptual framework for working with youth argues that it is “economically efficient to invest in the early years”; that “demographic urgency” puts a political imperative on policymakers to address youth issues; that a “life-cycle approach”, which recognises that certain risks are age-specific, is required; and that interventions must be multi-sectoral to be effective.

The framework identifies nine key areas of intervention. At a young age, a safe habitat, early childhood development and child health and nutrition are essential; this is followed by primary education and child protection for children aged five to ten; finally secondary education, healthy behaviours and youth employment are priorities in youth up to 25 years of age. The key World Bank publications on the subject are Children and Youth Framework for action and the World Development Report 2007 (see related resources below).

The number of Bank projects with youth components increased from 15 in fiscal year 2000 to 46 in fiscal year 2004. In the same period, the total investment in youth components went up from $752 million to $1.5 billion. The nature of these investments has broadened from a focus on education in the nineties to include urban development, health, social development and social protection. The Africa region had the highest share of lending towards youth (49 per cent, or $743 million in 2004).

Key regional initiatives include: ‘orphans and vulnerable children’ (Africa); ‘social development youth program’ (Europe and Central Asia), while worldwide initiatives include: ‘youth voices’; the ‘early childhood programme’ and the ‘youth, development and peace network’. The Bank tends to prioritise assistance and funding based on the requests of governments. Hence the focus is currently on youth violence in South America, youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa, participation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and HIV/AIDS in Africa.

The C&Y unit claims four staff in Washington, and a network of approximately 60 staff with C&Y expertise in country/regional offices. Over 30 country offices have established youth consultation networks “to both inform youth about what the Bank does and is, as well as to incorporate their perspectives into Bank strategies and programmes”. The respective country social/civil-society specialists in the missions often are the youth focal point persons.

The theme of the World Development Report (WDR) 2007 is youth. The report, which will be released at the annual meetings in September, will focus on capabilities and transitions in a young person’s life: “learning for life and work, staying healthy, working, forming families, and exercising citizenship.” The report also emphasises three policy pillars for public interventions addressing young people’s development: “expanding opportunities, enhancing capabilities and providing second chances.”

The Bank has recognised that its capacity, and that of governments, partner agencies and youth organisations, “needs to improve”. More effective policies, tools and efforts are necessary “to bridge gaps in knowledge around what works and doesn’t in youth development.” A priority for the Bank is to assist developing countries in the development of “comprehensive C&Y strategies”, to prioritise youth components in their national development strategies, Poverty Reduction Strategies and City Development Strategies, and to scale up their investments in youth at both the national and local levels.