Expanding & Supporting Opportunities for Youth Worldwide


Over half the world’s population is under the age of 30, and in developing countries, where assistance is most needed, that percentage is even higher, at nearly 60%. Providing young people with the skills and opportunities they need to be successful learners, workers, citizens, and leaders, and actively engaging them in policy and program development, as well as local governance, will integrate them meaningfully into the political, economic, social, and civic life of their communities and countries.
Positive youth development means recognizing young people as assets and focusing our collective resources to tap into their energy and talents so they can realize their full potential and play meaningful and positive roles within their communities. 

There is a demographic imperative to address youth holistically in US foreign policy:

  • According to the ILO, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are expected to see the largest increases in youth population. Currently, South Asia hosts 27% of the world’s total youth population (about 300 million youth ages 15-24). Between 2010 and 2020, that region’s youth population will grow by 15 million. From 2010 to 2015, the number of youth in sub-Saharan Africa will grow by more than 19 million; and by 2050, Africa’s youth population will have increased by 182 million. 
  • UN Habitat estimates that by 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities and as many as 60% of urban residents will be under the age of 18.


Young people are affected by conflict and violence:

  • Young people ages 10 to 24 make up over 30 percent of the world's 42 million displaced by armed conflict.
  • Enrolment rates in secondary school are nearly one-third lower in conflict-affected countries compared with other developing countries, and far lower still for girls.
  • The youth literacy rate for conflict-affected countries is 79%, compared with 93% for other developing countries.


According to the IRC, youth in areas of conflict suffer both physical as well as emotional and mental harm caused by conflict. This includes the loss of educational and economic opportunities, increased health risks, and the death of parents and loved ones.  Despite these challenges, young people in confilict-settings demonstrate extraordinary resilience, with many becoming the primary breadwinners for themselves and their families. Nevertheless, their unique needs and capacities are often overlooked in humanitarian responses.
Effective youth programming involves more than the inclusion of youth as beneficiaries in traditional development interventions.  Programs must engage young people as assets whose capacity can be fully realized with training, skills and opportunity. Youth are already creative entrepreneurs, community leaders, and act on their own and others’ behalf. In conflict environments where the challenges for young people are even greater, they need our support. 

More Than a Demographic, Youth are a Strategic Priority

Young people must be targeted deliberately and comprehensively, which requires a specialized technical approach. Just as “gender-blind” activities may not serve to increase gender equality, programs that do not differentiate their approach by factoring in the age of beneficiaries may not ultimately be successful.  Youth policies and programs must reflect the diverse needs of young people and the integral role they play in the social and economic well-being of their communities, now and in the future. Accounting for contextual and cross-cutting factors such as age, gender, disability, conflict, and culture is essential for effective and sustainable programming, and must be reflected in youth-focused initiatives and policies worldwide. Effective youth development programs empower young people to participate in all aspects of program design and delivery, and enable them to serve as change agents.
Critical support for youth in all aspects of US foreign assistance is both timely and urgently needed, particularly given the potential demographic dividend of today’s global youth population, the momentous youth-led events in the Middle East and around the world this past year, and the persistent challenges of poverty, unemployment, health and local and regional conflicts that impact the lives and prospects of today’s youth. With over half the world’s population under the age of 30, whether directly or indirectly all foreign assistance programs are related to improving the lives of youth. Our collective future rides on their success. 

Learn More from Our Community

Read: Expanding Opportunities for Youth in the new Foreign Assistance Briefing Book (FABB) 2013

Contact an expert: our members work around the world and across all sectors of youth development. We can connect you. Contact us at: ssladen@interaction.org