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Gaps in knowledge regarding youth and economic opportunities in fragile contexts


There is still a lot of work to do to improve, concretize and demonstrate the theories of change that link economic opportunities for youth to stability, in the reconstruction programs of Dutch organizations. This is the main outcome of a workshop in which the theories of change of CARE, Cordaid, Oxfam, Save the Children, SPARK and ZOA were analyzed.


Linking employment projects to stability

The theories of change were compared with the four theoretical categories that Professor Tillman Brück has identified, linking employment projects to stability:

  1. increased government legitimacy;
  2. increased opportunity costs of violence;
  3. reduced grievances leading to violence; and
  4. reinforced social norms related to stability.

Most of the theories of change can be placed in categories 2 and 4, which is where most of the overlap – and potential synergy – between the programs can be found. 

Knowledge gaps

The analysis during the workshop revealed that Dutch organizations still have a lot to learn about the motivations, needs and rationales of the youth they work with. They identified the following knowledge gaps:

  • What youth believe to be the link between their age group and violence
  • Rationalities of youth: which factors can influence the motivations of young people to engage in conflict?
  • How can the effectiveness of our programs increase (economic benefits, impact towards stability, social effects of programs)?
  • Comparing 'economic approaches' that are focused on increasing livelihood options and employment, versus more 'holistic approaches' that also address the social status, identity and participation of youth in society.
  • Targeting of youth groups without doing harm (without increasing inequality between targeted and non-targeted youth)
  • The influence of the local conflict  on the impact of programs

Potential and need for further research

The workshop made the participating organizations realize that there are knowledge gaps in their theories of change relating economic opportunities for youth to stability, which should be addressed. The fact that many programs overlap but also complement one another, is a potential basis for joint applied research, which the participating organizations aim to explore in the near future. 

Workshop: Youth and economic opportunities in fragile contexts

On 6 October 2015, a workshop was organized by the reconstruction tender working group (RTWG)  of the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law. The aim was to explore the various assumptions and knowledge gaps regarding economic opportunities for youth and stability in the reconstruction tender projects and to link this with knowledge on this theme developed by scientists as well as practitioners. Led by Gemma van der Haar (Wageningen University) and co-facilitated by Bram Peters and Wouter van Bruggen, the workshop addressed three main questions:

  1. Theories of change on youth, employment and stability: Are the theories of the reconstruction tender projects good enough?
  2. Activities and effects of programs: Do we know what works?
  3. Youth in fragile settings: What works for them?