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When Rural Youth Have Better Opportunities, Everyone Benefits

“Instead of migrating to an urban area where you know no one, turn to your home community and identify a business opportunity.” That’s what we heard from Phillip Kipkoech Langat, a remarkable young microentrepreneur we met at this year’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit. Phillip says one of his mentors gave him this unconventional advice and it changed the course of his life.

Improving Livelihoods for Rural Youth

Everywhere we turned at the conference—across the sessions and during networking breaks—people were talking about how to increase economic opportunities for young people in their communities.

How can we help young people see a future for themselves in traditional trades and livelihoods in the communities where they grew up? How can we make sure the next generation has better opportunities than their parents?

A few speakers at the conference highlighted programs such as STRYDE, Lend-A-Hand India, BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents project and 4-H. These projects give rural youth opportunities for training and entrepreneurship that were unavailable to their parents’ generation.

The skills and information young people gain can open up new opportunities beyond the family farm. Programs like these help increase wages and enable young people to stay in their communities, where they can benefit from the support of their families, friends and broader social networks.

Benefits to the Community

Keeping young people near their families and helping them become productive members of their communities provides benefits far beyond their earnings. When young people contribute their ideas and energy, local economies grow, businesses become more innovative and community safety nets become stronger.

At the same time, the influx of young workers into nearby cities slows down a bit, relieving some of the pressure of rapidly growing urban populations. This places less weight on groaning urban infrastructure systems, and can help defuse the social and political tensions that sharpen when young people flood urban areas.

Lessons for Development Practitioners

The economic realities that rural youth face have a broad impact, changing the landscape of their own communities and nearby cities. When young people have attractive opportunities in on- and off-farm enterprises in rural areas, everyone benefits. Supporting rural youth doesn’t just improve their individual livelihoods—it stabilizes communities and contributes to broad-based economic growth.

The theme of Making Cents’ 2015 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit was “Scale in Practice.” It focused on advancing youth economic inclusion through markets, cultural change and government action. The technical tracks focused on workforce development, enterprise development, financial inclusion, gender, and monitoring and evaluation. Many of the presentations focused on entrepreneurship and skill-building, which concern young people in both urban and rural areas around the world.