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Examining the Youth, Economic Engagement and Conflict Nexus:
How Youth Economic Empowerment can Enhance Stability
August 24, 2011 – 11:30 a.m.

Presenters:  Jon Kurtz, Mercy Corps
Tara Noronha, Mercy Corps
Rebecca Wolfe, Mercy Corps

The panel discussed new approaches to looking at the connection between youth unemployment and the motivation of youth to join violent movements or engage in violence. Presenters discussed research on the connection between youth and violence in Kenya and Liberia and examples of programs that Mercy Corps is implementing to address the problem of youth and violence in a holistic manner.

Rebecca Wolfe began by reviewing the three main factors that cause youth to resort to violence or join violent movements: Economic (income to cover basic needs or other financial incentives); Political (upset at system of corruption and nepotism, but lack the voice and opportunities for political engagement); and Cultural (seek connection or sense of belonging with larger group, but lack status in society). Wolfe went on to explain some of the problems with the link that many programs are eager to establish between unemployment and youth violence.

Jon Kurtz shared a study Mercy Corps did to test the hypothesis that if young people are meaningfully employed, they will be less likely to join violent movements for economic gain. The hypothesis was tested using program surveys, the Afrobarometer surveys, and qualitative research (focus groups and interviews) in Kenya and Liberia. The study revealed that social and political factors were more influential than economic factors in youth resorting to violence or joining violent movements. He concluded that job creation alone would not be enough to stop youth from engaging in violence or joining violent movements.

Tara Noronha shared three examples of holistic programming that Mercy Corps has engaged in: (1) Skills for Kosovo’s Young Leaders Program, (2) Start-Up Kashmir Entrepreneur Development Project, and (3) Local Empowerment for Peace Plus Program in Kenya. These programs focus on improving youth livelihoods from an economic perspective and encourage community service, leadership, and entrepreneurship.

Key take away points stress that youth engage in violence or join violent movements for a variety of socio-political, economic and cultural reasons. By focusing narrowly on economic reasons and more specifically on jobs, many programs miss the larger picture and address only part of the problem. Development organizations need to implement (1) holistic programming that addresses all of the causes of youth violence and (2) ways to effectively monitor and evaluate these programs.


To view the presentations, please click on a link below:

Mercy Corps Handout (617 KB)
Mercy Corps PPT (1 MB)





For questions related to the 2011 Education Workshop,
please contact Rachel Kozolup at rkozolup@jbsinternational.com