How to boost decent employment for youth in Africa and the Middle East?

Challenge accepted

As the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE) reaches its midway point, we take this opportunity to reflect on our progress since its inception in 2019 and highlight our achievements for 2022. Along this journey, we have gathered valuable insights on supporting initiatives that aim to create meaningful and decent job opportunities for the youth in Africa and the Middle East.

About the CFYE

Funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE) aims to create a prosperous future for 230,000 young women and men in the Middle East, North Africa, Sahel & West Africa, and the Horn of Africa. We do this by providing funding and technical assistance to initiatives that offer youth, particularly young women, opportunities for decent work – work that delivers better prospects for personal development, is productive, and provides a stable income, social protection, and safe conditions. The CFYE is managed by a consortium including Palladium, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), and Randstad.

Our Strategy

We strongly believe that by supporting businesses and intermediaries with capital, capacity, and targeted strategies, we can enable them to create more and better income-generating opportunities for youth. Our ultimate goal is to realise decent employment either by creating new job opportunities, matching youth with existing ones, or improving working terms and conditions.

2022 Achievements

In 2022, we achieved the following:

Funded 70 projects for 180K+ youth, with 62% being young women. Out of these projects, 36 were initiated during 2022: 4 in Burkina Faso, 5 in Ethiopia, 6 in Morocco, 5 in Senegal, 7 in Tunisia, 4 in Uganda, and 4 under the thematic ‘Scalable Employment Models’ (SEM) Call 1.  These new initiatives complemented our pool of funded partners in Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Sudan, and Jordan.

Operationalised the largest to date Call 4, with 6 countries representing diverse contexts.

Increased our total funding allocation to over €60.6M with a total project value of over €180M, leveraging over €120M in co-investment (34% of total CFYE investment).

A total of 14,110 jobs for young people (50% women) were created, matched and/or improved: 8,200 jobs were created (52% women), 339 youth were matched (58% women), and 5,571 jobs were improved (46% women).

Co-organised a learning and networking event together with the Embassy in Kampala to facilitate discussions on green jobs and gender inclusivity with Ugandan IPs.

Co-hosted a COP-27 side event in Sinai, Egypt, to explore the role of local adaptations in climate mitigations.

Launched the Future Economies Start with Youth podcast. We have invited internal and external experts and published 4 episodes covering the topics of youth unemployment in Africa, meaningful youth engagement, decent work, and blended volunteering.

Launched and began IPs selection for Call 5 (including calls in four repeat countries).

Launched a second thematic call focused on scalable models that generate employment through support to Small and Growing Businesses (SGBs) by intermediary organisations.

Valuable lessons

Together with our partners, we have gathered valuable lessons about how to deepen our impact, how to grow and evolve Fund operations efficiently and effectively, how to define decent work and measure employment quality, how to engage young people in our decision-making, and how to strengthen the evidence base for future programs.

1. How to define and measure decent jobs

We can’t focus on job creation without job quality. To determine which jobs would be “good enough to count”, we first developed minimum standards and a scoring rubric. However, when we tried to operationalise these tools, we faced challenges, especially in measuring and applying a living wage benchmark. The living wage is a gold standard that all employers should aim for, but its value varies considerably in different contexts and can be difficult to calculate and monitor. Furthermore, in many of the contexts where we work, most workers do not earn a living wage, making it unrealistic as a universal minimum standard for CFYE. This especially holds for self-employed, part-time, or gig workers.  

The world of work is also changing, and employment standards are still catching up. Some countries have recently updated minimum wage regulations, while others haven’t been updated in decades. In addition to wages, other aspects, such as work-life balance, job security, and opportunities for development, are also crucial for youth. Given the variation in labour standards by country and the diversity of jobs in our portfolio, we realised that our decent work threshold needed to be revisited. Therefore we evolved our strategy, splitting the concept between decent work standards (defined by ILO’s four core labour standards and applicable to all CFYE-supported projects and jobs) and the CFYE’s job quality improvement framework – for projects aiming to improve broader aspects of job quality (wages, working conditions, job security). This new approach enables us to uphold universal minimum standards for decent work while also accommodating contextually-relevant definitions, interventions, and measurement approaches focused on enhancing job quality. These efforts are informed by local labour laws, sector-specific standards, and/or the valuable perspectives of youth regarding what truly matters.

2. How to amplify youth voices

CFYE strives to create employment opportunities for underserved youth, particularly young women, who often face underemployment and poor working conditions. Through scoping research, we identify these underserved youth and design projects to reach them.

We have taken a frontrunner role in embedding Meaningful Youth Participation (MYP) in its private sector-driven work. To support our partners in understanding and contributing to youth’s actual needs and aspirations, we piloted a youth-led approach via “youth champions”: one-year national volunteers whose mandate is to bring a youth perspective across CFYE and partners using youth-friendly methods. These youth champs conducted youth-action research and helped shape some of the CFYE’s key activities. Based on the success and learnings of the 2021 Youth Champs pilot, the CFYE Youth Champs initiative was scaled-up and formalised in 2022.

In addition, 16 Youth Champions and 4 Youth Experts from Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia were engaged as in-house experts in 2022. The network creates a win-win situation for both CFYE and Youth Champs, benefiting from the youth perspective while supporting the personal and professional development of the Youth Champs.

Tool for youth champions

In addition to engaging designated youth champions, we also designed and tested a self-assessment tool for our partners to discover how to better integrate a youth and gender lens in their businesses. It is framed around three components: attracting, selecting, and retaining youth talent, and includes specific building blocks, including marketing and community-based outreach, youth-inclusive recruitment, young professional development opportunities, peer networks, gender-inclusive practices, and youth-led benefits. Based on scoring in the matrix, partners may adapt their projects to improve their youth and female focus.

3. How to scale up our work in an effective, impactful, and efficient way

Our Delivery at Scale initiative focused on three priority areas: strategic alignment, operational efficiency and practical integration. Through a thorough diagnostic and consultative process, the CFYE’s organisational structure was revamped, and a dedicated Fund Management team was established. Country Leads were empowered as drivers of CFYE’s in-country strategy and service delivery with active support from other teams. We updated and rolled out critical processes and frameworks for portfolio management, including Quarterly Reporting & Reviews, Annual Reporting & Reviews, Internal Quarterly Portfolio Reviews, and Payments-by-Results-Framework.

5. How to grow and learn

In 2022, we refined our Learning & Innovation Agenda. The agenda helps us create, share and use learning, knowledge and innovation to achieve our strategic goals. We are working with five priority learning themes: 1) Defining and measuring the quality of jobs for youth, 2) The investment case for quality employment, 3) The future of work for youth (with a strong emphasis on digital and green jobs), 4) Enhancing the youth employment ecosystem, and 5) CFYE’s strategy and model.

The Future of Work for Youth

Green jobs

Together with INCLUDE, we started a collaboration aimed at gaining insights into green jobs and their key features, as well as identifying green job opportunities for youth and employers. A framework was developed to measure green jobs and formulate green job pathways. For more information, see our portfolio page on green jobs.

Digital jobs

We paired knowledge with JobTechAliiance (MercyCorps) and ILO Systemic Initiative on a learning lab to generate insights around key features, quality and inclusivity of digitally enabled jobs. For more information, see our portfolio page on digital jobs.

4. How to better run our challenge fund mechanism to achieve our goal

Support intermediaries to finance and scale small and growing businesses (SGBs)

We recognise that small and growing businesses (SGBs) are the engine of job creation in our focus countries. However, it would be inefficient for CFYE to fund most SGBs directly due to our co-funding requirement and limited capacity to manage and monitor smaller grants. Therefore, we collaborate with intermediaries that support other enterprises and entrepreneurs with business support, entrepreneurship development, finance, training, and/or job-matching support.

6. How to strengthen the evidence base for youth employment

In our first year, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our partners, we identified key learning objectives based on evidence gaps in our theory of change. These objectives include defining and measuring the quality of jobs (or decent work), the business case for decent work for youth, the future of work, and strengthening the youth employment ecosystem.

Three stage approach

We follow a three-staged approach in our learning: first, we gain more insights through engaging with our partners and (if needed) conducting additional research; second, we apply these insights to improve performance; and third, we build sufficient evidence to inform the wider sector.