Youth unemployment is one of the main obstacles to development in Liberia. There are few opportunities to enter into wage employment; most of Liberia’s youth earn income on a day-to-day basis by trading on local markets or as day laborers in precarious conditions. The situation of young women is particularly challenging. Gender-based violence is pervasive in Liberia, nearly 40% of girls age 15 to 19 are not in school and cannot read or write, and many girls become mothers when they are still young themselves. Economically, young women are active, but they face many obstacles when it comes to finding and keeping jobs or starting businesses.
In response, the Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (EPAG) project—was launched in Liberia in March, 2010. The EPAG was the first pilot within the World Bank’s Adolescent Girls Initiative. The AGI initiative is being piloted in eight low-income countries—including some of the toughest environments for girls. Each intervention is tailored to the country context, and includes an impact evaluation to build the evidence base to help adolescent girls and young women succeed in the labor market.
This brief features results from the EPAG impact evaluation, showing that the project has been very successful in achieving its primary objectives—increasing employment and earnings among young women. The magnitude of the results is impressive when compared to findings from other youth training programs in developing countries. Furthermore, end-line analysis shows that EPAG’s effects are long-lasting.
The program consists of six-months of classroom training followed by six-months of placement and support (including micro-enterprise advisory services and internship and job placement assistance). The aim of the project is to increase wage and self-employment for young women in Liberia. 70% of girls are trained in business development skills (BDS) and 30% in job skills (JS) targeted to sectors with high demand for workers. The JS training, although primarily focused on wage employment, includes a short module on self-employment basics as a fallback because opportunities for wage employment are very limited in the Liberian labor market. All participants receive life skills training specifically designed for Liberian girls. In addition, trainees receive small stipends contingent upon classroom attendance and are assisted in opening savings accounts at local banks. Girls who complete the training are awarded a small bonus ($20 USD).
EPAG has several innovative design features, including:
(i) EPAG is designed around girls' needs: service providers hold morning and afternoon sessions to accommodate participants' busy schedules; trainings are held in the communities where the girls reside; and every site offers free childcare.
(ii) Participation is incentivized creatively through attendance prizes, contests, business plan competitions, etc.
(iii) Girls receive support throughout the program from volunteer EPAG coaches who attend the classroom training and follow-up with girls in their communities during the placement phase. Girls are also organized into peer groups of EPAG girls for social and learning support.
(iv) The M&E framework includes frequent and unannounced visits to ensure that service providers maintain a high-quality learning environment.
(v) Performance bonuses are awarded to training providers that successfully place their graduates in jobs or micro-enterprises.
EPAG implementation is led by the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development (MoGD) with a team of service providers. The EPAG project also includes a capacity-building component for the Ministry of Gender and Development that has resulted in a newly created Adolescent Girls Unit to help mainstream programming and policies sensitive to the needs of adolescent girls and young women in Liberia.
EPAG was originally targeted to young women who were i) between age 16 and 24; ii) possessed basic literacy and numeracy skills; iii) were not in school (although night school was okay); and iv) resided in one of nine target communities in and around Monrovia and Kakata City.
Community mobilization campaigns began in September 2009 and trainee recruitment took place from December 2009 through January 2010 in all nine target communities. Recruitment—particularly for younger girls who were both not in school and literate—proved challenging and the age limit was raised to 27. EPAG originally recruited 2106 trainees.
This brief summarizes rigorous evaluation results showing the impact of the project on the treatment group (round 1 trainees) as compared to a statistically similar control group (round 2 trainees). The EPAG impact evaluation employs a randomized pipeline research design in which trainees were randomly assigned to receive training in either the first round (March 2010 to February 2011) or second round (July 2011 to June 2012). 1273 trainees were randomly assigned to the treatment group and 769 to the control. Impacts are estimated using a difference-in-difference regression model. Outcomes are measured by a baseline survey completed in March, 2010 and a midline survey completed in May, 2011, six months after the treatment group (round 1 trainees) completed the classroom training. This paper also presents descriptive statistics of longer-term project impacts gathered in an endline survey that was completed in July, 2012.
The program led to a 47 percent increase in employment among trainees, compared to those in the control group. Before the first round of training, the treatment and control groups were approximately equal: about 38 percent of young women in both groups reported being engaged in at least one income-generating activity. Both groups improved by the mid-line, but the change was significantly larger among the treatment group. The end-line results show that these effects are sustained among the treatment group, and the control group caught up with, and even slightly surpassed, the treatment group.