Cities as Drivers of Economic Opportunity for Youth: Three Critical Elements of Success

smiling young man

In collaboration and with the support of the Citi Foundation, Making Cents International brought together an expert stakeholder group to discuss challenges and opportunities at the nexus of urbanization and youth economic opportunity development.

Researchers, practitioners, and policy makers gathered in Washington, D.C. on November 14th, 2014 to learn from each other about the critical economic issues facing youth in urban areas, to articulate gaps in existing knowledge and programming in the field, and to explore existing and promising solutions.

During the half-day event, experts considered a number of topics that promised to improve economic opportunities for young people and decided to focus on three hypotheses that they believed had the highest potential and discussed them in more detail. Those hypotheses included:

  1. A youth development strategy that addresses the specific challenges youth face in urban settings must be integrated in the city’s economic development strategy;

  2. Public-private-NGO partnerships, and other multi-stakeholder collaboration networks, are a promising model for addressing and improving livelihoods opportunities for youth in urban areas cities; and

  3. Learning systems must be aligned with future job opportunities.

Youth Development a Fundamental Part of Economic Growth Strategies

All experts agreed that increasing economic opportunities for youth in urban areas would require collaboration of many relevant stakeholders on a clearly defined urban economic growth strategy, which integrates an explicit, inclusive, comprehensive, evidence-based and well resourced youth development strategy. Along with urban planners and youth development experts, young people themselves must be involved in all stages of designing, implementing and monitoring of such strategic plans.

Discussion participants also identified conditions, tools and success factors necessary to convince mayors and city leadership to focus, budget, and implement this type of youth development strategy. A well defined proposal must be grounded in data-rich research that clearly connects youth economic opportunity with the prosperity of cities. It must contain:

  1. An assessment of the existing challenges, opportunities and resources;

  2. Short, intermediate, and long term goals;

  3. A feasibility study;

  4. A cost-benefit analysis;

  5. Well-chosen examples of successful and promising practices from around the world; and

  6. A compelling value proposition for city managers.

Youth Inclusive Growth through Public-Private Partnerships

The group also delved into the principles, models and examples of public-private-NGO partnerships, and other multi-stakeholder collaboration networks, as effective drivers for addressing and improving youth livelihoods in urban areas. They agreed that if public-private partnerships did not consider youth needs closely, growth opportunities may not benefit young people, especially disadvantaged ones. As important, the potential of young people to accelerate growth would be lost. A successful example cited was in Nairobi, where a mapping exercise by young people of the Kibera slum highlighted infrastructure gaps that hindered them from participating in training opportunities or obtaining jobs, and led to government and private sector action to address these problems.

Discussion participants also identified Collective Impact as an innovative and promising model of a well-functioning multi-stakeholder collaboration network model. However, several gaps in knowledge were identified that require further investigation including:

  • How do you bring all stakeholders to speak the same language and align their various agendas and goals?

  • How do you create concrete and accessible channels of multi-stakeholder consultation?

  • How do you attract, leverage, allocate and sustain adequate resources for collaborative execution of youth development plans?

  • How do you create multi-stakeholder collaboration that meets the needs of today as well as prepares for the future?

Aligned Learning Systems to ensure Youth Capabilities match demand

The challenge of aligning learning systems, which encompasses the spectrum of private and public educational and training institutions and programs, with future job opportunities for youth also evolved as a critical issue during the meeting. There is an obvious lack of systematic ways to dynamically identify existing and forecast emerging economic opportunities for young people, and then translating those findings into concrete, responsive and effective youth development interventions within both the educational and the workforce development systems.

Experts agreed that aligning the private sector interests and demand for skills with municipal government’s agenda and priorities is very important. For example, considering micro-trends or particular industries that offer high employment opportunities for new workers and developing partnerships with the municipality and training organizations around supplying the future demand was cited as an important approach to consider. Establishing a better understanding, alignment and communication on workplace success competencies would help the private and the public sector to better synchronize education and training programs with labor market demand. Creating a culture of entrepreneurship, developing entrepreneurial skills in youth, and providing access to financial and social capital to young entrepreneurs, must be on the agenda of city leaders, especially when local economy does not create enough jobs.

Finally, meeting participants brought forward several examples of successful partnerships between universities and their business schools, chambers of commerce, and public employment services in specific United States municipalities. However, the question of how to replicate these models remained open.


Across the three hypotheses, the consultation with expert stakeholders indicated the importance of developing mutually beneficial partnerships between municipalities, the private sector, NGOs and youth. At the same time, the discussions highlighted the challenges of forging these partnerships, and although multiple promising practices and policies do exist, especially in the United States and Europe, there is a clear lack of replicable, sustainable and scalable solutions that could be easily customized for the unique complexities of various cities across the world.

Next Steps

Based on the results of this meeting, Making Cents is in the process of developing an urban youth economic opportunity learning and action agenda. The agenda envisions developing a framework for understanding how city stakeholders can collaborate to create more opportunities for youth, disseminating information to improve practice, convening stakeholders to share lessons learned, and where possible, working with municipalities to develop youth economic opportunity action plans. Youth inclusion in urban areas will continue to be topic that Makes Cents advances in 2015. To contribute and consume information on this topic, consider attending Making Cents’ 2015 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit (October 6-8 in Washington, DC). Additional learning products and activities will be posted on Making Cents International’s Online Learning Hub.

Expert Stakeholder Discussion – Participating Organizations

  • Carana
  • Chemonics
  • Citi Foundation
  • Creative Associates International
  • DAI
  • Economist Intelligence Unit
  • Education for Employment
  • FHI 360
  • Future Work Consulting
  • Global Communities
  • International Youth Foundation
  • KPMG
  • Making Cents International
  • Mercy Corps
  • MSI
  • NFTE
  • Nicole Goldin Advisory
  • Plan International
  • PWC
  • RTI International
  • Urban Institute
  • World of Letters
  • Youth Build