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Learn. Work. Thrive: Adolescent Girls Initiative Pilots Help Young Women Transition to Productive Employment

May 9, 2016


In 2008, the World Bank launched the Adolescent Girls Initiative to understand how to help young women transition to productive employment. The AGI reached more than 16,000 girls in Afghanistan, Haiti, Jordan, Lao PDR, Liberia, Nepal, Rwanda, and South Sudan. Each project was tailored to the country context. Five of the eight pilots included a rigorous evaluation to assess impact; the others were evaluated using pre- and post-tests and qualitative assessments.


More than one third of all youth are not in employment, education or training (NEET’s) and across all regions young women are worse off than young men (see Figure 1). Although the gender gap in school enrollment has been closing, these gains have not yet translated into gains in secure, paid employment. Reaching girls during adolescence is critical because decisions made and behaviors established during this period affect their horizons later in life. Adolescence for boys typically ushers in greater mobility and autonomy, but for girls, it often comes with increased restrictions: fewer opportunities and less freedom to exercise choice. During this formative period in their lives, it is important to provide adolescent girls with the tools they need to become economically empowered young women.

Figure 1: Youth Not in Education and Not in Employment or Training (NEETs) by region


Source: 2013 World Development Report


The AGI pilot projects varied in duration, rural-urban focus, and the size and heterogeneity of the groups they assisted. The interventions used in each pilot were tailored to local labor market opportunities and specific local constraints faced by girls and young women. All projects included life skills, combined with an array of technical, vocational, and business development skills. Arrangements for implementing the pilots varied depending on the setting but involved government ministries and partners, including local and international NGOs as well as private training providers. The AGI pilots also included post-training support to help beneficiaries connect to job opportunities and business advisory services, equipping them with tools and confidence to take advantage of new economic opportunities.


The AGI provided training to more than 16,000 young women in eight countries. In addition to the impacts the pilots had on individual participants, the AGI produced new knowledge in two main areas: (1) program impacts to guide policy decisions; and (2) operational lessons and innovative strategies to improve project performance and achieve results.

AGI pilots in low-income countries had positive impacts on economic outcomes (engagement in income-generating activities and average weekly incomes). The strongest experimental evidence comes from Nepal and Liberia. The Employment Fund program in Nepal, which targeted females, including those from poor and marginalized groups, significantly improved employment and earnings, especially non-farm employment. The majority of participants had never worked outside of agriculture, and their vocational training options spanned professions that were less traditional for women and more profitable. One year after the training, the treatment group had increased their non-farm employment by 14 percentage points, for an overall gain in employment of 47% relative to the control group. Average monthly earnings increased by approximately 45% for the 2010 cohort and 66% for the 2011 cohort. Liberia’s Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (EPAG) program significantly increased participants’ economic activity and earnings, as well as their savings (potential startup capital), and its impacts endured after the training ended. An end line survey conducted one year and four months after the treatment group completed the training showed only a very slight decline (from 67% to 65%) in the likelihood of working over this period. Meanwhile, end-line data confirmed that employment among the control group (who by this point had themselves completed the project) caught up with, and even slightly surpassed, that of the treatment group. The incorporation of business skills appeared to have played a significant role in enhancing participants’ prospects for self-employment, the sector where employment is expanding most rapidly in Liberia. Most notably, the participants gained economically even though they were, for the most part, young mothers, and often marginally literate, who had come of age in a period of violent conflict.

The AGI pilots had mixed empowerment impacts. Several of the AGI pilots, even those with strong economic impacts, had mixed or inconclusive impacts on female empowerment. For example, the pilot in Liberia had positive effects on trainees’ self-confidence and job satisfaction, but no impact on self-esteem or other measures of empowerment. However, pilots in Haiti and Rwanda had strong empowerment impacts. In Haiti, beneficiaries developed higher socio-emotional “assets” compared with young women who did not take part in the program. Their autonomy in decision-making and personal mobility and standing in relations with family and others all significantly increased. Compared to their control counterparts, AGI program participants were 15 percentage points more likely to go to school or training centers, 6 points more likely to go to NGOs, and 8 points more likely to go to health centers. An overall index of mental health considering issues of stress, anxiety, and depression showed that beneficiaries’ mental status was significantly improved. Beneficiaries’ aspirations about work and income also grew more ambitious. Compared to the control group, participants were 14 percentage points more likely to expect to enroll in school and 12.7 points more likely to expect to be engaged in an IGA in two years. In Rwanda, respondents in non-experimental pre- and post- surveys reported wider social networks and moderate improvements in their relationships with friends, family, and community members following their participation in the project. Notably, more girls declared having someone to borrow money from in case of an emergency (from 61% to 72%) and having a place to meet female friends (from 67% to 79%), both aspects directly related to goals of the AGI project. They also reported higher satisfaction with their lives. Measured by aggregating self-assessed satisfaction in eight areas of life, with individual scores ranging from 1 (completely unhappy) to 7 (completely happy), total satisfaction score increased significantly from 31.7 at baseline to 36.7 at end line. Girls’ entrepreneurial self-confidence also increased significantly—they became significantly more assured of their abilities to identify business opportunities, to run their own businesses, and to interview for a professional job—skills directly related to the training curriculum.

IDA on results

  1. The Afghanistan Female Youth Employment Initiative (FYEI) provided job skills training to 1,300 young women aged 18-30. Skills training included computer and English language skills, plus life skills that included a focus on health and nutrition. More than 60% of interviewed graduates thought that the training was very or extremely useful for finding a job (on a five-point scale). According to the FYEI field office, the majority of graduates (62%) went on to complete a practical internship in an office or school environment. However, evaluation of the pilot was conducted during the internship phase and was not able to measure durable labor market outcomes (i.e. graduates’ engagement in stable, paid employment beyond the project period). Nonetheless, results show 7% of FYEI graduates holding jobs in the private sector or schools at the time of the end line evaluation.
  2. The Haiti Adolescent Girls Initiative provided technical and soft-skills training to more than 1,000 young women. Impacts measured three months after program completion show that beneficiaries changed the type of work they do, but neither earnings nor the share who participated in income-generating activities increased. The project did improve the overall agency of beneficiaries, meaning their capacity to make choices and pursue desired actions. Participants’ autonomy in decision-making and mobility increased, as did their standing in relations with their families. The project also led to decreases in stress and increased aspirations for the future. Although the impact evaluation did not unbundle the intervention, the integrated design of the project and the importance given to soft-skill training appear to have been key determinants of those outcomes.
  3. The Jordan New Work Opportunities for Women (NOW) pilot was launched in 2010, and tested the effect of employability skills training and vouchers among young female community college graduates. Results from the impact evaluation found that female graduates with active job vouchers were 39% more likely to work than female graduates without vouchers. However, this effect was temporary and did not last beyond the expiry of the vouchers, although the training did boost self-confidence and mental well-being among the graduates.
  4. In Laos, the Supporting Talent, Entrepreneurial Potential and Success (STEPS) project implemented two different interventions to help young people transition to the labor market: (1) a marketplace competition to promote a culture of entrepreneurship among young entrepreneurs seeking to start or expand a business; and (2) career counseling offices to provide job placement and career counseling services to university students. An affirmative action strategy was used in the marketplace competition—including proactive outreach and explicit female targets during the participant selection process—to ensure 50 percent female participation in the first round and 70 percent in the second round. Overall, monitoring results show that the project met or exceeded its employment and targets for female participation. The project was successful at helping the local business association work with young women; from 2010-2012 membership increased by 26% and the number of female members doubled. Beneficiaries of the Career Counseling Offices were surveyed at three and nine months after graduation. Surveys found that 47% of the graduates registered with the Career Counseling Office at NUOL (more than half of whom are female) and 44% at Pakpasak Technical College (more than a third of whom are female) reported being employed within one year of graduation.
  5. In Liberia, the Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (EPAG) project trained about 2,500 young women for either wage employment or self-employment plus life skills, with an emphasis on job placement and follow-up support. The evaluation of the project shows that employment rose by 47% while earnings increased by about US$32 per month—an 80% increase relative to the control group. The impacts were larger for the self-employment track than for the wage employment track, but both show much larger impacts than seen in other youth skills training programs that have been rigorously evaluated to-date globally. The project also significantly increased girls’ savings; the treatment group was nearly 50 percentage points more likely to have savings and were saving on average LD$2500 (nearly US$35) more than the control group.
  6. In Nepal, the Adolescent Girls Employment Initiative (AGEI) trained 4,410 young women in three rounds. Livelihood trainings spanned 39 occupations across 44 districts of Nepal. Trainees also received life skills training and were assisted with job searching and placement or were otherwise supported to start their own businesses. One year later, the treatment group had increased their non-farm employment by 14 percentage points, for an overall gain in employment of 47% relative to the control group. Average monthly earnings increased by some 45% for the 2010 cohort and 66% for the 2011 cohort relative to the control group. In contrast, limited effects were found on empowerment, reproductive health, and household-level outcomes.
  7. The Rwanda Adolescent Girls Initiative delivered two weeks of life and entrepreneurship skills, plus six months of vocational and technical training followed by five and half months of follow-up support to nearly 2,000 vulnerable adolescent girls. A non-experimental evaluation revealed a substantial increase in non-farm employment among beneficiaries, with the share of girls reporting businesses, wage employment or internships rising from 50% to 75%. There was only a modest increase in the share of respondents who reported being paid for at least one income generating activity (from 55% to 58%), but amounts earned increased significantly. By the end of the program, respondents were more likely to be members of savings groups (from 27% to 81%), to have saved recently (from 18% to 37%), and to have saved larger amounts. The impact of the AGI project on beneficiaries’ lives went beyond the economic realm; respondents reported having larger social networks, higher life satisfaction, and greater entrepreneurial self-confidence.
  8. In South Sudan, the Adolescent Girls Initiative was delivered by BRAC, an international NGO, based on their successful experience in other countries (including Bangladesh, Uganda, and Tanzania). From 2010-2013, BRAC operated 100 community-level girls’ clubs, where girls aged 15 to 24 could meet four afternoons per week to socialize and receive life skills training from a female mentor. The program reached 3,000 girls and offered support for savings and short livelihood trainings in a variety of trades, including agriculture, hairdressing, tailoring, and poultry-rearing. Data collection for the impact evaluation has only recently been completed and analysis of the results is under way.

Bank Group Contribution

The AGI program was supported by US$20 million from the Adolescent Girls Initiative Multi-Donor Trust Fund.


The Bank’s partners in the AGI are the governments of Afghanistan, Australia, Denmark, Jordan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Liberia, Nepal, Norway, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, and the Nike Foundation.

Moving Forward

Technical support to youth employment teams and knowledge dissemination is being incorporated into the Bank Group’s core learning and knowledge agenda. The knowledge and experience gained from the AGI are helping teams set their sights higher in designing operations to break occupational segregation and skills gaps and encourage female labor force participation. To support these efforts an AGI resource guide has been developed and teams are receiving targeted technical support. In addition to influencing Bank Group operations, the AGI is informing the research agenda on adolescent girls within the World Bank Group. The Africa Gender Innovation Lab (GIL), which led several AGI impact evaluations, has an ongoing portfolio of policy-relevant research on gender and youth employment. Building from the early work of the AGI, the GIL is leading two impact evaluations on girls’ empowerment programs. The GIL is also leading impact evaluations of two IDA-financed youth employment programs in Benin and Republic of Congo that incorporate lessons from the AGI.


“I have now gotten the spirit of boldness.”—Participant, Liberia

“My boyfriend and others thought it was ridiculous for me to be doing masonry. They said I was getting darker under the sun and I couldn’t put on long nails anymore. But I said to my boyfriend, ‘We will have to see which one of us advances faster after my internship.’”—Participant, Haiti

“With this job I can become a different kind of woman, an independent woman.”—Participant, Haiti

“You can tell anyone that I am now a professional.”—Participant, Liberia

“Just look at me. I used to be afraid of electricity and now I’m an electrician!”—Participant, Haiti

“She [my mentor] was my inspiration to pursue business; I can see myself in her being so successful and it motivates me.”—Participant, Lao PDR

“Nowadays I am employed at a mobile [phone] repair shop where I earn 8–10,000 rupees per month. This has changed my life and given me a lot of dignity.”—Participant, Nepal

“The life-skills training was crucial to transform my internship…into a full-time job. It taught me how to interact with colleagues and build new collegial relationships.”—Participant, Afghanistan

“Should only men be allowed to be builders, heavy machinery drivers, or electricians? No—I want to be able to do these jobs too.”—Participant, Haiti

“Before I went into the program, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how to communicate well. I didn’t know how a CV is done. Now, I know how to meet with Human Resources and I know how to negotiate.”—Participant, Jordan