2019 Summit: The Opportunity Puzzle:

Piecing it Together for All Youth to Learn, Earn, and Thrive

We live in a time of rapid economic, social, and environmental change. No group has a greater stake in the consequences of these global trends than the world’s 1.8 billion young people, the largest youth cohort in history. The majority of today’s youth population—nearly 90 percent—live in developing countries, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. 

The increase in today’s youth demographic coincides with another trend: Despite the overall number of people living in extreme poverty fallen in the last decade, wealth is increasingly concentrated among fewer individuals. Yet this imbalance is about more than how wealth is concentrated: It signals where global decision making lies, and who has a say in determining the policies and systems that shape our future.  

Young people know this first-hand. Youth in search of opportunity today confront a complex puzzle of promise and obstacle, navigating policies and systems not designed with their future in mind. Unsurprisingly, thousands of youth demonstrators took to the streets at the 2019 World Economic Forum meeting at Davos and elsewhere demanding urgent, decisive action by world leaders on employment, social and economic inequality, and climate change.


Understanding Youth Economic Opportunity in a Changing World

The questions of how and where we invest our resources, and what kind of future we can help young people create, are at the heart of the Youth Economic Opportunities Network (YEO Network) at Making Cents International. For more than a decade, our YEO Network has been a platform for knowledge sharing and collaboration on critical challenges that impact youth economic opportunities. 

In 2017, we developed a new learning agenda for the YEO Network and our annual Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit (GYEO), focused on the changing nature of work for young people in developing countries. We observed a knowledge gap between “future of work” discussions dominated by robots, decentralization of labor, and the gig economy in wealthier regions on the one side, and what we know about livelihood options for young people in some of the poorest areas on the other. We sought to understand what automation and digital disruption mean for a young person’s livelihood in rural Africa, or urban youth in Latin America, or a young refugee in the Middle East.


To answer these questions, we assembled research on global economic trends by the Brookings Institute, the World Economic Forum, and The World Bank, among others, and coupled it with insights from 1000+ youth development practitioners from more than 60 countries who attended the 2017 and 2018 GYEO Summits. 

2019 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit (GYEO)


The findings of our learning agenda research cover a wide range of issues but share something in common – they raise important questions about the contexts in which we operate. Namely, what are the system-wide conditions needed for young people to learn, earn, and thrive; to be healthy in body and in mind; to engage fully in their societies as citizens with a say in their future; and to feel a sense of optimism and possibility, regardless of their background. What does youth-inclusive growth look like, and what are the conditions needed to make this a reality? 

These “system” questions inform the YEO Network’s 2019 – 2020 Learning Agenda, and the theme of the 13th Annual Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit: “The Opportunity Puzzle: Piecing it together to help youth learn, earn, and thrive”. 

We believe this means: 

  • Addressing the entire eco-system of people, services, institutions, and policies that inform the conditions a young person’s life. 

  • Engaging governments and the private sector, both critical partners for achieving inclusive policy, scale, and access to industries of opportunity for youth. 

  • Connecting the pieces of the opportunity puzzle together in a way that is mutually reinforcing and inclusive of all young people. 

  • Ensuring that issues like gender, sexual identity, disability, mental health, violence, and justice are included as essential, holistic components of our economic opportunities work with youth. 

To support this focus, the 2019 GYEO Summit continued to explore skills development, work readiness, and self-employment and entrepreneurship, as well as cross-cutting issues like gender, conflict, measuring impact, and scale. The agenda incorporated a deeper look at the following areas:  

  • Policy and governance: How do we narrow the “policy gap” for youth social and economic mobility? How can we more effectively engage leadership to drive investments that benefit more young people? 

  • Engaging business: Where are the emerging industries of opportunity, how can young people access these jobs, and how can we work with companies to recruit, retain, mentor, and train youth on the job?

  • Healthy workforce: How can we incorporate a stronger focus on issues of mental health and trauma in our youth economic opportunities programs? 

  • The impact of disruption on youth economic opportunity: conflict and violence, environmental disaster, mass migration; these events impact young people’s social and economic wellbeing in critical ways. How well do we understand the impact on young peoples’ development, and how do we better reflect this understanding in the design of our programs and policies? 


Summit Learning Agenda and Technical Tracks

The GYEO Summit agenda is supported by four interconnected technical tracks designed to support learning for our community. The agenda also includes cross-cutting topics on: systems-change and policy; scale; technology; gender; conflict; migration; climate and environment; rural development and agriculture; and monitoring, evaluation and learning (MERL).   


1. Building a Foundation: How do we build a foundation of skills for youth that supports their long-term social and economic success in a changing world of work?


2. Ready for the Global Workforce: How do we prepare youth for transition to the workforce and for the demands of today’s rapidly transforming global economy?


3. Livelihoods through Self-Employment: What kinds of skills, programs and policies can prepare and support young people for self-employment, or entrepreneurship, in the growing gig and informal economies?


4. Global Context Matters: How will the future of work both inform, and be shaped by critical factors like gender, conflict, migration, climate change, and policy environment?

Learn more about each technical track below.