Economic opportunity interventions are rarely about income generation alone. Such interventions matter for their economic outcomes, but also for their non-economic outcomes. How would you, in view of your organization’s background and mission, set priorities?
What can you do?
NGO programming often defines behavioural and societal changes in addition to economic outcomes. One option is to focus on outcomes at the level of individual beneficiaries. This would mean working on young people’s skills and attitudes. The other option is to focus on the societal level and make economic interventions work for non-violent relations and more inclusive decision-making.
What does experience show?
Many organizations develop economic activities as ‘a way in’ to address local conflict dynamics and youth exclusion. Economic opportunity interventions are integrated with other strategies around social cohesion, conflict resolution and inclusive government.
Many of these programmes target women, hoping to contribute to gender equity. Others define their outcomes in terms of young people’s citizenship. Participation in economic activities helps young people gain confidence and respect.
Not poverty alone, but inequality, relative deprivation, and frustrated expectations explain why young people develop destructive behaviour.
NGOs search for mutual reinforcement between economic and non-economic outcomes. However, they are often unsure how to demonstrate such impacts. Beneficiaries indicate that the non-economic outcomes of programmes matter to them. However, inclusion alone does not deliver economic independence. A critical question is whether these programmes make enough of a change at the economic level. What is the more effective way to boost economic agency: focusing on young people’s capacities or tackling the mechanism of exclusion?
Theory supports the importance of inclusion and non-material needs, such as dignity. Not poverty alone, but inequality, relative deprivation, and frustrated expectations explain why young people develop destructive behaviour.
MORE EVIDENCE FROM OUR RESEARCH
Economic and non-economic outcomes
NGOs engage in economic opportunity interventions to attain both economic and non-economic goals, or they combine economic opportunity interventions with other strategies. In our research, we found combinations of outcomes for all economic opportunity interventions, though the emphasis differs.
Non-economic outcomes may be defined at the individual level, referring to changes in a beneficiary’s skills and attitudes. These outcomes do not directly increase a person’s capital, but do contribute to his or her employability. Examples include: transferable skills, those that carry over from one occupation to the next; and transitional skills, that carry over from the learning environment to employment.
Outcomes may also be defined at the societal level, where interventions seek to tackle important issues such as conflictive relations, exclusion, and gender inequality. In this case, economic interventions are essentially an entry point to achieving conflict transformation and inclusive governance and decision- making.
Through a local partner, one of the organizations in this study supports the creation of groups of young men/women that together engage in an economic activity. The idea is that the necessary teamwork while adhering to certain values and guidelines will improve social cohesion.
This type of approach is underpinned by an understanding that the lack of economic prospects for young people is not just an economic issue, but partly a product of social exclusion.
Different approaches: Evidence from the research
Our research shows that the way organizations link economic and non-economic outcomes derives from their own history and mission, and reflects current debates. Notions like ‘employment for stability’ are combined with ideas about local level conflict transformation, social cohesion and citizenship. This is best illustrated by looking at the NGOs in our consortium in some more detail.
On one end of the spectrum, are organizations who seek mutual reinforcement between economic and non-economic outcomes. One of these organizations starts with an explicit focus on young people’s rights. For example, in South Sudan, this organization’s economic opportunity interventions are expected to contribute to the overall objective that young men and women “are economically and socially empowered in an active and strong civil society, contributing to a peaceful, democratic and stable South Sudan”. In this approach, vocational training is not just a strategy to transfer skills and enhance young people’s employability, but it is also a way to address young people’s feelings of (economic) exclusion that derive from a lack of skills. This might be a more effective way to address young people’s rights than outright advocacy.
Similarly, another organization also operating from a rights-based approach maintains that economic empowerment impacts non-economic outcomes, and vice versa. Without social empowerment and citizenship, economic empowerment is impossible.
At the other end of the spectrum, we find an organization that relies on economic outcomes as the backbone of their programmes. Here, economic outcomes also serve peace-building goals. Their vision notes: “Inclusive economic growth and poverty eradication, through the creation of decent work for youth, women and marginalised groups, make a major contribution to promoting sustainable peace in fragile states”. The main economic outcomes include behavioural and societal changes, making capital more accessible for business ideas with potential, improving business plans of aspiring entrepreneurs and providing access to much needed business skills.
Beyond ‘employment for stability’
Our research found organizations work with a wide range of ideas beyond the cost-benefit economic rationality that underpins the ‘employment for stability’ idea. They bring in key ideas about non-material needs, such as dignity and belonging. They look beyond mere individual gain and consider how young people see themselves in relation to others.
However, the connection between economic and non-economic outcomes poses a challenge. Programmes assume a mutual reinforcement between these outcomes, but organizations in the study were uncertain whether such mutual reinforcement exists or how to trace it. Furthermore, when the economic acts as a 'way in' rather than an aim in itself, objectives regarding economic outcomes might be compromised. Is it acceptable when interventions only marginally increase the economic agency of young people? What evidence do we have that social inclusion of young men and women leads to greater economic opportunities?
Organizational contributions to policy development on economic opportunity interventions might be more significant if the connection between economic and social outcomes are thought through more carefully. Answering these questions allows for the sharpening of intervention tools to deliver the most significant impact on economic agency.