Economic Citizenship for Conflict Affected Youth

Economic Citizenship for Conflict Affected Youth

Authors: Alberto Sostre and Shaireen Moon, Interns, Global Engagement and Evaluation, Child & Youth Finance International

The population of young people is the largest it has ever been, and one third of them live in countries affected by violent conflict. Additionally, around 75 million youth are unemployed. There is a strong likelihood that any ongoing conflict will involve the considerable participation of young people. Over the past decades, more than a hundred armed conflicts were reported, occurring primarily in developing countries.

Compounded Adversities

Countless children and youth have not only sustained physical, but also psychological and economic damage. The outbreak of war compounds the adversities that many children and youth already face in developing communities. Conflict further magnifies existing socio-economic issues and decreases available opportunities for social and economic empowerment. The youth population tends to be particularly vulnerable as they are frequently targeted for recruitment and abductions during periods of conflict. Although creating employment opportunities is essential for youth, it is not always sufficient to promote economic stability and peace. Essential lifeskills and Economic Citizenship Education (ECE), especially for the youth population, are also critical to mending communities broken by years of conflict and survivalist economics. Additionally, children and youth are at risk of being drawn into illegal activities to support themselves, and turn to conflict as a means to vent their frustration with the government or to survive in communities prone to violence and lacking tangible economic opportunities.

Youth Economic Empowerment

Child and Youth Finance International (CYFI) strives to empower children and youth around the world by enhancing their financial capabilities and economic citizenship. Financial inclusion and Economic Citizenship Education (ECE) are integral themes that CYFI emphasizes in its various child and youth targeted activities. To further spread ECE, CYFI has collaborated with various national stakeholders in its network such as government authorities, education providers, NGOs/youth organizations, financial service providers, and academic institutions. ECE on its own is not as effective without the incorporation of financial inclusion, and it stresses the importance of delivering integrated educational and financial services to children and youth.

Youth Demand Improved Livelihoods

Often the primary source of discontent from youth in conflict areas stems from the demand for improved livelihoods. In 2011, various young Yeminis took to the streets in the hope of obtaining greater employment opportunities. Stability in the context of Yemen and other conflict areas lies in rejuvenating economic growth, stimulating livelihoods, and promoting improvement of social cohesion. Through the Youth Economic Empowerment Project (YEEP), the Yemini government in collaboration with UNDP, has endeavored to reduce the risk of conflict by fulfilling the employment demands raised during the uprising. Creating economic opportunities for youth not only relates to economic growth, but also to restoring and maintaining their faith in political, social, and economic structures.

Investing in Youth Projects

Mercy Corps, a partner in the CYFI network, invests in youth projects as a way to socially and economically engage young people as a means to create and secure productive livelihoods for themselves and their families. Mercy Corps has worked extensively in conflict stricken areas such as Afghanistan and Colombia. In Afghanistan, Mercy Corp has implemented the Introducing New Vocational Education and Skills Training (INVEST) program. The primary objective of INVEST is to increase youth employment in Helmand province through the offering of technical vocational education and training. The organization has also been involved in various reintegration programs for former child soldiers in Colombia. Mercy Corps has worked diligently on enhancing its five-year Protecting, Educating and Advancing Children and Youth in Colombia (PEACYC) program. PEACYC targets youth between the ages of 15 and 19 years old and consolidates educational programs, psychological support, and in-school and after-school protection measures.

Mercy Corps acknowledges that increasing youth employment alone does not decrease participation in violent conflicts. While youth compose a majority of the population in transitional and fragile states, they often do not have an outlet to influence local and national governments. As a result, governments do not create policies to meet the most pressing needs of youth. Disillusionment with the government may often make youth more vulnerable to recruitment by violent movements. It is essential that youth, along with securing greater economic opportunities, have the opportunity as well to engage with governments on their primary concerns and grievances.

Conflict will continue to affect vulnerable communities, especially children and youth, if an active approach is not pursued to uncover primary sources of discontent. Young people, particularly in developing areas, do not ordinarily have access to the necessary resources needed to recover after the initial outbreak of conflict. Economic opportunities and ECE enable young people to become more empowered economic and social citizens. Various NGOs and international organizations in the CYFI network are collaborating with local and national governments to provide greater economic and political opportunities to youth in conflict affected regions. As improvements to youth livelihoods increase, the risk of youth involvement in violent activities will gradually diminish.

This blog is the first in a series of summer blog articles related to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and are authored by youth interns at Child & Youth Finance International. Join the discussion on social media by following @ChildFinance and using the hashtag #cyfiyouth.

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A First Look At The Post-2015 Agenda

In December 2014, the Secretary General of the U.N., Mr. Ban-Ki Moon, published a report titled Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet: Synthesis Report of the Secretary-General on the Post 2015 Agenda. The report puts forward 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 associated targets which aim at ending a1sx2_300_UN-meeting-CYFI-Youth-and-high-level-stakeholders-7.jpgpoverty, achieving shared prosperity, protecting the planet and leaving no one behind. It stresses the importance of using the millennium development goals (MDGs) as a “springboard” into the future—a future “free from poverty and built on human rights, equality and sustainability” (p. 5).

Child and Youth Finance International (CYFI) believes this report, and the presentation of the 17 SDGs, represents a major achievement in reaffirming many of the essential issues facing our world. The SDGs most relevant to the work of CYFI include 1, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 16 which, in very broad terms, cover issues of poverty, well-being, education, gender equality, economic growth and sustainable development. However, CYFI must stress that a greater emphasis on the issues facing young people, especially in regards to financial inclusion, economic citizenship education and sustainable livelihoods should be included in the associated targets.

National Strategies for Economic Citizenship for Young People

CYFI applauds the strong focus on inclusiveness and “leaving no one behind” (p. 34), and welcomes the many references to improving the global situation for children and youth in the Secretary General’s report. CYFI supports the position that “Young people will be the torch bearers of the next sustainable development agenda through 2030” (p. 3). Young people represent some of the most vulnerable members of society, and are therefore most deserving of our protection. However, they also represent our future and should thus receive the majority of attention when it comes to policy making at both the global and local level. CYFI believes that a stronger emphasis should have been made in the report on increasing the level of economic citizenship for children and youth, especially through the policies and initiatives of national and regional bodies.

Economic citizenship is achieved when an individual has the opportunity to access appropriate financial services, acquire relevant skills, secure a sustainable livelihood and participate in social, economic and political life. It plays an important role in the eradication of poverty and in facilitating inclusive, sustainable economic growth. CYFI’s National Implementation Manual provides guidance to government authorities seeking to design strategies to further advance financial inclusion and education for children and youth. As children and youth represent nearly a third of the world’s population, it is essential that national economic citizenship strategies are incorporated into the targets associated with the post-2015 agenda.

Financial Inclusion for Young People

While the report does mention the need to “stimulate and support a1sx2_300_Product-Development-Guide-2014.jpgentrepreneurship” and to “provide universal access to financial services” (p. 24), it does so, unfortunately, without specific mention of children and youth. CYFI believes strongly in financial inclusion for young people, enabling them to save and develop greater financial capability. In 2014, CYFI and the MasterCard Corporation developed a tool for financial service providers entitled Banking a New Generation: Developing Responsible Retail Banking Products for Children and Youth, a Product Development Guide. Greater access to formal financial services can help pave the way towards employment, entrepreneurship and investment opportunities, allowing young people to build assets and invest in their own futures. Children and youth often face barriers to financial inclusion that are of a different nature compared to other groups, and therefore need special attention. The UNCDF YouthStart initiative, and its promotion of sustainable financial and nonfinancial services for children and youth, is an example of a positive effort being made in this direction. In order for inclusive and sustainable economic growth (as is expressed in SDG 8) to be realized, it is vital that specific targets be included in the agenda which make formal financial services more accessible to young people.

Economic Citizenship Education

The report states that, “It is essential that young people receive relevant skills and high-quality education and life-long learning, from early childhood development to post-primary schooling, including life skills and vocational education and training, as well as science, sports and culture. Teachers must be given the means to deliver learning and knowledge in response to a safe global workplace, driven by technology” (p. 17, 18). CYFI strongly agrees with these sentiments and urges decision makers to set targets which will include Economic Citizenship Education (ECE) in its education goals (e.g. SDG 4). The ECE Learning Framework was developed by the CYFI Education Working Group, which was co-chaired by UNICEF and the OECD, and integrates elements of financial, social and livelihoods education. When ECE is combined with financial inclusion, it can lead to greater financial capability and empowerment, thus giving children and youth the opportunity to become active economic citizens. Possible synthesis of the CYFI ECE framework and UNESCO Global Citizenship Education programs could create a stronger, more extensive and influential program. CYFI suggests that the ECE framework, and its accompanying assessment tool, be incorporated into the agenda and its associated targets as part of the answer for life-long education, vocational training and life skills.

Sustainable Livelihoods

SDG 8 declares that it is necessary to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” (p. 14). Regrettably, this statement does not specifically refer to children and youth, but it does establish the necessity for a stable livelihood for all. CYFI strongly believes that promoting sustainable livelihoods and stable incomes for children and youth is an essential element in eradicating poverty. This is because children and youth have the highest levels of risk and opportunity in relation to poverty: they can either rise out of it through education or entrepreneurship, or relapse into it when faced with monetary or knowledge barriers. Such barriers must be removed so that children and youth are able to fulfill their true potential and poverty can be eliminated—a goal common to CYFI and SDG 1. CYFI efforts to promote sustainable livelihoods are represented in the Ye! Network: a web portal that provides young entrepreneurs with a diverse set of resources to help their businesses thrive.

Youth Participation & Engagement

a1sx2_300_Youth-Engagement-Country-Handbook.jpgThe report specifically states that there is a need to “accommodate voices of women, [and] youth”, and to “remove obstacles to full participation by […] adolescents and youth” (p. 17). Throughout the report, and in several of the SDGs (such as SDG 8, 11, and 16), inclusiveness is mentioned as a central element of the agenda. When children and youth are given the chance to participate in their community, in areas such as finance and politics, it can lead to personal growth and transformation on a wider scale. Participation allows children and youth to increase control over their lives and learn how to make their own monetary decisions, creating an environment that better supports and improves their wellbeing. CYFI has created the Youth Engagement Country Handbook to give governmental, academic, civil society and other national stakeholders a better understanding of the financial inclusion and education initiatives available to better engage young people in their countries. Engaging youth in this manner will encourage the larger goals mentioned in SDG 1, 4, 5, 8, and 16. Associated targets within the new agenda should stress the importance of including youth participation and engagement.


While the Secretary General’s report is full of promise, and the SDGs with their associated targets represent real potential for global improvement, some issues related to children and youth remain unaddressed. Despite the report’s numerous references to the inclusion and well-being of young people, there has been a failure to sufficiently translate these sentiments into concrete goals and targets. CYFI, therefore, urges decision makers to make youth a priority, and to adopt a more aggressive approach to the youth related issues outlined above.

This article was authored by Oleksandra Pravednyk and Sean Filidis – CYFI Interns

Oleksandra is a Ukrainian student currently earning a bachelor degree at Amsterdam University College. She is currently interning at CYFI in the global education and engagement department, where she is in charge of CYFI relationships with multi and bilateral organizations.

Sean is an American business student and freelance ICT specialist living and studying in Amsterdam. He is currently interning at CYFI in both the Communications and the Global Engagement and Evaluation departments. He considers himself socially engaged and globally-minded, and hopes to continue making long-term, meaningful contributions in the non-profit sector.

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