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International Year of Youth: How is Youth Empowerment Promoting Rural Development in South Asia?

August 11, 2011


August 11, 2011 - The United Nations commemorated the International Year of Youth from August 11, 2010 to August 11, 2011. To promote youth participation towards progress and development, the Rural Livelihoods team at the World Bank has put youth at the forefront of poverty reduction and maximizing rural growth.


Saroja (pictured above), like many others, could hardly string a few words of English together. Today she speaks boldly, thanks to 200 hours of training in English, soft-skills, and computer literacy offered by one of the many components of the Andhra Pradesh Rural Poverty Reduction Project.


South Asia is home to 26% of the world’s youth, with youth representing 20% of the region’s population. In this regard, South Asia is the youngest region in the world and each year between 2010 and 2015, an additional one million youth are expected to enter the labor market. There's a growing gap between urban and rural areas as rapid industrialization in South Asia disproportionately benefits urban populations. Rural areas suffer from under-employment and low incomes and the rural do not have access to job opportunities created by new industries and continue to be relegated work in the informal sector.

Rural youth are a widely untapped resource for improving their household’s livelihoods and transforming the skills base in rural areas. One opportunity is to enable rural poor youths to transition from the oversaturated agricultural employment. Youth are generally more able and willing, as supplemental income earners, to develop nontraditional skills. In the hopes of using youth as a dynamic resource for development, the Rural Livelihoods team has youth strategy for every project. The broad aim is to equip rural youth with necessary skills through training, to provide employment opportunities, and to facilitate access to financial services for those who wish to be self-employed entrepreneurs.


The World Bank’s $1 billion National Rural Livelihoods Project (NRLP), which supports India’s National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM), is helping link rural families living below the poverty level (BPL) find sustainable livelihoods opportunities. NRLM works to provide the rural youth with skills development and employment, either in high growth sectors or in remunerative self-employment and mirco-enterprises.

After being counseled and tested, interested and eligible rural BPL youth will be offered skills development training or job-placement, according to their abilities, through partnerships with public, private, non-government, and community organizations. Strong relationships with industry associations and sector specific employers’ associations are fostered. NRLM will support a string of academies delivering job related courses to aid the poor in migrating to growth centers for jobs in organized sectors on better terms, with better skills, higher wages, with a sensitive support network. NRLM encourages public sector banks to set up Rural Self Employment Training Institutes (RSETIs) in all districts of the country. RSETIs, managed by banks, transform unemployed rural youth from the district into confident self-employed entrepreneurs through experienced learning programs.

Self-employed and entrepreneurial poor will be provided access to financial linkages in order for them to establish or strengthen successful micro-enterprises for products and services in demand. These platforms also offer space for convergence and partnerships with a variety of stakeholders and create a conducive environment for the poor to access their rights and entitlements, public services, and innovations.


In Tamil Nadu, the state government—in conjunction with the World Bank's Tamil Nadu Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Project, locally known as Vazhndhu Kaattuvom Project (VKP)—has had great success in empowering the rural youth.

The project sets up Village Poverty Reduction Committees (VPRC) to allocate funds for skills development and training to help eligible community members upgrade traditional skills and/or acquire new critical skills in financial accounting, business development, computer literacy, etc to lead to gainful employment opportunities. In order to create awareness for this program, the VPRC organizes festivals in each village during which youth are informed of skill trainings and employment opportunities. A database of individuals between the ages of 18 and 35 is created, which stores information regarding their qualifications and skills withtheir training preferences. As of March 2010, 129,300 youth had been identified for the skills development.

Youth with previous training and adequate qualifications are mobilized to attend job fairs held in each district every month where local and international companies recruit candidates for employment. Unskilled youth are matched to training facilities based on their background and current skill-set.

Each company has a different policy; some companies train and hire youth, while others only offer training, while again some others offer training and placement services. For example, internationally reputable companies such as Nokia and FoxConn have already recruited over 2200 economically disadvantaged youth, offering them at least $100 per month month after training.

To date, need-based training has been completed for 46,350 youths, of which at least 80 percent are from project families. As of April 2010, 40,100 trained youths were employed; roughly three quarters of which were wage-employed; the rest were self-employed. As a result, unemployment has fallen ten percent annually since the project began.


The Employment Generation & Marketing Mission (EGMM), which was established by the Andhra Pradesh Rural Poverty Reduction Program, in 2005 had a simple goal: one job per poor rural family. EGMM began as a pilot program by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) and was quickly scaled up based on its effectiveness.

EGMM’s success is based on its highly structured community-management of program logistics and the identification of youth for employment. In order to help rural families transcend poverty, EGMM facilitated youth employment in the formal sector by using the well-established institutional network of 800,000 Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and their federations. SHGs not only disseminate program information and facilitate logistical support, but they also provide accurate information for a database of unemployed youth and their skill-sets that feeds into the EGMM software, which matches registered youth based on their abilities to local training centers.

EGMM’s multi-focal strategy further reinforces its effectiveness by providing resources and support at each step in the job-placement process. By first understanding what skills were in demand and identifying employment opportunities, EGMM was able set up market-linked job academies and match job seekers with job placements. By including the private sector in the creation of the training modules, EGMM further guaranteed private-sector buy-in and jobs for their “graduates.” To ensure a newly-employed youth’s success, EGMM also provides post-employment support including training on money management, microloans from SHGs to help ease the transition to city life for the first month, and social networks.

So far, of those who have received training, roughly 80 percent have been linked to jobs. As the largest jobs mission for the rural poor in India, EGMM has trained over 226,909 youth at 450 EGMM training centers. Based on its success in employing youth, this approach has been replicated in Bihar, Orissa, and Rajasthan.

For families living in poverty, a skilled job for one member of the family can have a large impact on the family’s livelihood, and in most rural South Asian households, youth employment almost doubles family income. While August 11 marks the end of the UN’s International Year of Youth, continuing to focus on rural poor youth, as an integral part of development, will help to reinforce sustainable livelihoods and to ensure the achievement of the MDGs.