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Decent work and youth livelihoods

Decent work and youth livelihoods

This project will assess the policy challenges in responding to the growing crisis of youth (un)employment, working poverty and livelihoods in three Sub-Saharan African countries. Sub-Saharan Africa is of particular interest due to the persistent rise in youth populations which is expected to continue in many countries until at least 2100. The potential for a so-called 'demographic dividend' is contingent upon meeting the challenge of finding meaningful work that enables people to make a living. Yet at present the highest levels of working poverty are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, there is a clear recognition of the importance of how people make a living, with 'full and productive employment and decent work for all' being the cornerstone of Sustainable Development Goal 8. While this global priority is now enshrined in the SDG agenda, there are important questions about how this is translated and implemented at the national level, bearing in mind the role of the state, industry, and workers themselves. Developing locally and national appropriate employment strategies is a key public policy challenge across the Global South, and specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is a risk that the demographic dividend might otherwise turn into the demographic nightmare of high youth unemployment and social unrest.

This project will draw on the experiences of young people as they enter and navigate the workplace and search for jobs and meaningful work, engaging especially with literatures on Youth Voice which recognise the importance of proactively engaging the people who are traditionally framed as the 'beneficiaries of development'. It will combine this sensitivity to the lived experience of those seeking work with institutional analyses of policy responses to the Decent Work agenda, which will draw on the Global Social Policy literature, particularly recognising the importance of the intersection between international and transnational actors with the nation state. By doing this, we hope to address what has been identified as an 'imagination gap' between the policy solutions proposed and young people's own aspirations. Right now development professionals and policy makers tend to see entrepreneurship as the solution to the youth employment challenge in Sub-Saharan Africa. An example of this is the ILO and EU Youth Entrepreneurship Facility in Uganda for 'Unleashing African Entrepreneurship'. However, entrepreneurship does not necessarily lead to business success and decent jobs. At the same time some forms of work are overlooked by high level analyses, some work is pathologised despite being empowering for young people, and unpaid care and domestic work is frequently overlooked by official statistics as a form of labour. Deepening understandings of the youth employment challenge in conversation with young people is essential to offering the insights needed to inform policy makers and academic debate.

Decent work and youth livelihoods