Investments in Youth Boost Economic Opportunities and Advance Communities

Consider these facts: over 3 billion people—nearly one-half of the world’s population—are under the age of 25, and almost 90 percent of young people live in developing countries.

Youth are Key to Sustainable and Innovative Development

Working with young people is integral to our approach to sustainable, innovative development. ACDI/VOCA engages youth as valued partners in building more prosperous and secure futures for themselves, their families and their communities.

Millions of young people graduate from colleges and universities every year in developing countries; however, unemployment remains at all-time highs in many places. ACDI/VOCA works to encourage young people to embrace agriculture as a viable economic activity that also plays a key role for their countries’ food security. Youth are encouraged to be innovative, using technologies that save on labor and time—both of which are significant challenges women in agriculture face since they provide most of the labor for farming.

ACDI/VOCA harnesses and builds on the energy, creativity, skills and promise of the next generation. Our investments invite youth participation as partners, entrepreneurs, future employers and employees, and as citizens and leaders.



“This project is not just about securing a job. It’s about changing the mindset of our youth, that we can take control of our futures and that there are opportunities for us.”
—Ana María Herazo, ACIP project participant


Skilled Youth Drive Future Economic Growth

ACDI/VOCA transfers skills and practical tools to help youth meet their individual needs and expectations and create their own livelihoods—opening opportunities for participation in both the formal and informal economies.

    • In Colombia, ACDI/VOCA promotes formal employment opportunities for young people through the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Program. In 2012-13, the program collaborated with the private sector to train 4,500 youth (18-28 years of age) in job skills identified by potential employers. Through formal agreements with these employers, job placement in the health, clothing and automotive sectors and at call centers has been guaranteed for the 4,500 Afro-Colombian and indigenous youth participants, a tremendous opportunity to access well-paying, formal sector jobs.

    • In Jamaica, we nurture youth as climate-smart action agents—individuals who become active leaders within their communities as environmental stewards, sharing information on climate change risks and strategies to reduce their communities’ vulnerability. Through direct support to Jamaican 4-H Clubs and its “Youth in Agriculture” entrepreneurial program, ACDI/VOCA encourages youth to adopt a climate-smart approach to agriculture and agribusiness. Over 155 youth are now trained as agents through the new Climate Change Action Training developed to foster youth leadership among ages 14-28. This work supports our larger farmer field school efforts to empower Jamaican farmers to boost farm production and their incomes, reduce vulnerability to climate-related risks, apply climate-smart agricultural techniques and share those innovations with their wider communities.

    • In Liberia ACDI/VOCA applied an innovative approach to economic growth, using interconnected private and public sector networks to improve youth welfare. The Agriculture for Children’s Empowerment (ACE) program provided youth with access to educational opportunities that support Liberia’s social and economic development. ACE served 5,442 young people with school demonstration gardens to strengthen farming skills and provide additional income. ACE also introduced an internship program with the country’s top vacation resort to offer youth opportunities in areas such as stewarding, food production, landscaping/gardening and housekeeping.

    • In northern Iraq, ACDI/VOCA has helped expand economic opportunities for young people since 2003 through learning-by-doing methodologies. ACDI/VOCA created more than 3,750 days of short-term employment for unemployed local youth hired to support infrastructure projects. It also provided hands-on job skills development through the creation and support of youth cooperatives, including a heavy plastic sheeting cooperative and an ironwork cooperative. Over the life of program, 2,604 paid apprentices—38 percent of whom were young women—were placed in over 200 private companies, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

  • In Bolivia ACDI/VOCA operated a scholarship program for underprivileged students to attend local, national and international universities and held leadership workshops for graduating high school students. ACDI/VOCA trained more than 600 graduates—251 of whom were women—in personal development, conflict resolution, consensus building and leadership. Trainees also received vocational guidance. These investments were in response to short-term community needs, but the investment in future community leaders will help ensure sustainable, long-term community stability and development.

Youth Key as Informed Future Citizens and Leaders

ACDI/VOCA contributes to an enhanced learning environment for citizens, including the next generation of leaders, using peer counseling, social entrepreneurship opportunities and providing various service models.

ACDI/VOCA works with youth in many ways, including interactive workshops with or without adults, civic education and leadership camps, peer education, scholarships and youth centers. Youth gain skills and the confidence to contribute to their communities and position themselves as future leaders.

    • In Colombia ACDI/VOCA works to increase socioeconomic and political inclusion for ethnic minority youth. Colombia provides for youth inclusion through the Presidential Program for the National Youth System known as “Colombia Joven.” We support the country’s governmental institutions and programs to improve services for ethnic minority youth and provide direct technical assistance to strengthen the Colombia Joven program. ACDI/VOCA also promotes youth participation in ethnic community-based organizations as a way to preserve Afro-Colombian and indigenous culture and traditions while fostering leadership for a new generation.

    • In Iraq ACDI/VOCA conducted youth camps to build leadership skills and bring together youth from different religious and ethnic backgrounds to foster dialogue and cross-cultural understanding. Each year, two camp sessions—one for males, one for females—hosted youth ages 16-24 from different social, cultural and ethnoreligious groups. For many, the camp was the first opportunity to live and socialize with youth from diverse backgrounds. Held in safe and neutral venues, the camps hosted activities to provide practical experience in how to participate in local community efforts and advocate for projects that benefit their communities. In total, 1,367 young people participated in the camps.

  • In Serbia, we engaged youth in our efforts to promote reconciliation among various ethnic and religious groups. Young people took a key role in the democratic community-driven projects, resulting in 20 municipal youth task forces that designed more than 150 youth projects.


“Now that I have been trained, I am inspired to become a scientist, as I want to learn more about climate change. ”
—Kurt Hossen-Smith , Ja REEACH project participant


Youth as Development Partners

ACDI/VOCA collaborates with local allies to develop interventions where youth are informed, consulted and given decision making and implementation power on matters important to them. Youth bring fresh ideas to the table and play an important role as social agents in engaging all stakeholder groups.

    • In Iraq, ACDI/VOCA applied our community-driven development methodology through the USAID-funded Community Action Program and the World Bank-funded Consultative Service Delivery Program. Active citizen participation ensured that all people, including vulnerable populations such as youth, women, those who were displaced, religious and ethnic minorities and the disabled, were represented in the program. Communities recognized the importance of developing projects for and with youth.

    • In Kenya ACDI/VOCA used our Farming as a Family Business methodology to empower the entire household to make decisions together. We helped involve youth in strategic family planning and helped households acknowledge youth’s on-farm contributions as important. To encourage the families’—and specifically youths’—involvement in the program ACDI/VOCA wrote a script and produced a radio program on family farming with professional actors playing each role (in Swahili). The program aired on both local and national radio stations.

ACDI/VOCA believes nothing could be more important than investing in youth and has adopted that principle for all its projects. Today’s youth are the future.