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Conference tackles youth unemployment in Latin America

The Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) of the Inter-American Development Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States Department of State and the International Youth Foundation (IYF) hosted a two-day high level discussion on how to most effectively address the issues of unemployment and social exclusion facing youth at risk in Latin America and the Caribbean in the years ahead.

Participants at the Youth-Partnerships-Employability Conference held in Washington, DC June 21-22 shared proven practices and innovative solutions for tapping into the full potential of today’s youth from across the region. One of the many successful partnership models discussed at the conference came from Jamaica, where IYF’s USAID-supported Obra initiative has inspired the creation of the Youth Upliftment Through Employment (YUTE) project, which has gained the combined support of the business, government and NGO communities.

The goal of the project, which has already received pledges of over $3 million from more than a dozen private and public sector organizations, is to create 2,200 quality jobs for vulnerable youth by 2013. Another successful example on the agenda was from Brazil, where IYF’s local partner worked with Walmart to provide disadvantaged youth with training, internships and jobs, as part of entra21, IYF’s region-wide youth employability initiative supported by the MIF. The program proved so effective that Walmart is now using the same curriculum in its retail training schools throughout Brazil.

The conference sought to challenge leaders from the public sector, the business community, and non-governmental organizations to explore improved strategies for developing the capacity of young people through education, job preparation and expanded opportunities to be civically engaged in their communities.

“The inclusion of youth is not just a footnote, but rather a headline; we consider it a central component of our efforts on crime prevention in this region and around the world,” said Mark Lopes, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Latin America, USAID.

“Far too many young people in Latin America and the Caribbean are being pushed to the margins of society – unable to obtain a quality education or get a good job,” said IYF CEO and President William S. Reese. “At this conference, we discussed how to scale up our most effective and innovative strategies, so that more of our youth will find success and realize their full potential in the years ahead.”

Critical issues on the agenda included collaborating with the public sector to increase the scale of youth programs; improving the transition from school to work; engaging the business community in youth employment programs; promoting job training and engagement strategies for youth living in violence-affected communities; and measuring the long-term impact of youth programs.

“Latin America and the Caribbean is a region with a relatively young population, a major advantage for growth prospects. However, 50 million at-risk youth in LAC remain excluded from productive jobs. The MIF and our partners have worked for years to develop the most effective programs for building skills, placing young people in jobs, and helping them start businesses. Through this conference, we hope to spread knowledge of the best models so that they can be scaled up throughout the region to expand employment and entrepreneurship opportunities,” said MIF General Manager Nancy Lee.

To help lead the dialogue, IYF assembled a group of distinguished speakers from the private, public and civil society sectors, including youth leaders from across the region. Their mission was to deepen participants’ knowledge about proven best practices and programs in order to more effectively engage with youth at risk in the future.

Youth unemployment and social exclusion are global issues that require urgent attention. The conference aimed to strengthen youth-serving institutions’ understanding of how to tackle these challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean. The collective experience of these participants in promoting successful solutions is valuable to donors, business leaders, implementing organizations and youth themselves, not only in this region but around the world.