USAID’s New Youth in Development Policy: A Demographic Opportunity for Development Success

USAID Youth Policy

“[T]here are underlying dynamics that are affecting young people everywhere – changes in demographics and technology, economics and politics that are bringing together this unique moment in history. Young people are at the heart of today’s great strategic opportunities and challenges, from rebuilding the global economy to combating violent extremism to building sustainable democracies.” —Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton,“Youth Rising” Tunisia, February 25, 2012

On November 1, 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced its new Policy on Youth in Development. The policy’s guiding principles support USAID’s programs to incorporate youth in development, increase program effectiveness, and promote youth participation throughout the world. In order to ensure that development is sustainable, USAID recognizes that practices must include the support, engagement, preparation, and protection of youth. By building youth capacity to ignite positive change, young people will be able to contribute to and benefit from their communities.

“These efforts will not only advance youth development and empowerment but can also help nations accelerate economic growth and capture a demographic dividend. Harnessing this demographic opportunity is not inevitable. It will require strategic, results‐oriented investments in youth today,” Administrator Rajiv Shah said about the new policy.

More than half of the global population is under the age of 30, with most residing in developing countries. After centuries of being one of the most marginalized populations, youth are beginning to receive recognition as major proponents of societal change. The power of youth mobilization has emerged several times throughout history, in events such as the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1919, the anti-war movements in the U.S. in 1970, the demonstrations in Iran in 2009, and more recently, in the Arab Spring of 2011. However, for the first time, young people are finding their strength validated by institutions.

As the foremost policy of its kind, USAID’s Policy on Youth in Development hopes to launch an international movement to seize the opportunity that youth present for social progress:


  • Strengthen youth programming, participation and partnership in support of Agency development objectives.
  • Mainstream and integrate youth issues and engage young people across Agency initiatives and operations.

Expected Outcomes

  • Youth are better able to access economic and social opportunities, share in economic growth, live healthy lives, and contribute to household, community, and national well­being.
  • Youth fully participate in democratic and development processes, play active roles in peace­building and civil society, and are less involved in youth gangs, criminal networks, and insurgent organizations.
  • Youth have a stronger voice in, and are better served by local and national institutions, with more robust and youth­friendly policies.

While USAID’s goals are noble, they must be carefully put into practice in order to ensure success. As major stakeholders in most development projects, youth must not only be consulted but also involved in strategizing. Young people have a unique perspective and sometimes elevate issues that others would marginalize. Awareness of these concerns has the potential to accelerate development progress, particularly the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). After the MDGs “end” in 2015, youth participation will be even more crucial in determining the post-2015 development agenda.

The policy’s engagement of girls, in particular, indicates the potential success of youth involvement in development. Research has proven that when girls are healthy and educated, society as a whole benefits. Girls make up 70 percent of the world’s youth who are not attending school. A girl’s salary will increase by 20 percent for every year she attends school beyond the fourth grade. With seven or more years of education, she will marry four years later and have 2.2 fewer children. Known as “the girl effect,” this phenomenon initially gained momentum with the publication of Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky. Now that “the girl effect” has made its way into USAID’s strategy, it has the ability to further promote the inclusion of all young people, especially girls, in crucial development decision-making.

USAID’s policy, if enacted and replicated internationally, has the potential to transform the development landscape. More countries will find themselves on track to meet MDG targets. Inequality will decrease. The future will hold the promise of sustained positive change. And finally, youth will find their voice heard.

Read USAID’s Policy on Youth in Development here.

2 November 2012

This post is one of a series that I contributed to The MIDCM Column, a blog written by students in the Minor in International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland.


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