A recent analysis of youth in Liberia indicates that fewer than ten percent are employed, whereas a Mercy Corps assessment indicates that something like eighty percent have at least one income stream, and almost half these youth have more than one source of income from work. This ‘mixed livelihoods’ lifestyle is a central feature of youths’ complex experience and identity. Yet, this work is often episodic, part-time, and can sometimes put youth at risk, e.g. drugs, prostitution, gangs. Although it provides occasional income, it is not so much employment as misemployment. This is NOT what youth necessarily want to do, but their creative response to the post-conflict economy.
The recent UN Security Council Resolution on Youth, Peace and Security (see ECCN’s J. Rogan’s Blog Youth Working for Peace) notes that large numbers of youth trapped in ‘vulnerable’ employment threaten the social fabric. The creation of sufficient productive employment opportunities and decent jobs is of the highest global priority, all the more in countries in crisis or post-crisis. Liberia, like other post-conflict societies, is at high risk of political instability and conflict if high youth misemployment, illiteracy and poverty persist.
What does this have to do with adaptive program management and feedback loops?
First, development aid has been, for the most part, ineffective in providing effective youth training and secure employment in conflict-affected contexts. Education such as TVET, Accelerated Education and Apprenticeships have raised expectations, but have frequently failed to link youth to sustainable and meaningful jobs. These programs, typically offering a one size fits all, leave youth with skills for which there is little demand in the actual, mostly non-formal, economy.
Enter a program that reflects Adaptive Management and Feedback Loops.
Mercy Corps’ PROSPECTS does it differently. First, a detailed baseline assessment found that most youth have complex and multiple means of getting some income: they have unique and different needs and paths to livelihoods. So, rather than a one size fits all training program, PROSPECTS creates Opportunity Centers for some 8,000 urban youth, operating like a cafeteria with different services such as counseling, job links, training options, and access to equity for enterprise. PROSPECTS then tracks youth experience, with real-time feedback loops, showing who uses what services, with what outcomes. In short, the project designs, manages and evaluates the program like a good health service center or a responsive gym, producing evidence and data that shape its services and effectiveness. The power of feedback loops here is not to control changes in youth behavior, but to give that control to them.
Please feel free to share another example of a program that uses adaptive management and feedback loops to improve education services in crisis and conflict-affected environments.