There are several parallel youth engagement schemes being managed at the federal and provincial government levels. At a national level, one is often given the example of Prime Minister’s Youth Initiative, which includes the laptop programme, training scheme, fee reimbursement scheme, interest-free loan schemes and skill development programme.
At sub-national level, we have schemes, such as Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Youth Development Programme, Punjab Youth Development Programme, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Youth Employment Programme, and Chief Minister’s Balochistan’s Laptop Scheme.
Unfortunately, the basis for many of the above-mentioned schemes are found missing in provincial youth policies. Indeed, it seems that these are politically-driven budget allocations for winning votes. Second, there are significant overlaps across national and sub-national youth interventions, leading to waste of scarce budgets.
Both supply-side and demand-side accountability mechanisms are missing, leading to alleged financial irregularities and missed service delivery targets. The excluded youth are usually unable to access information regarding these programmes.
Another key issue is missing linkages between youth interventions and social protection programmes at the national and sub-national level.
Perhaps, this partially explains challenges regarding: lack of ease of access (particularly for marginalised and youth with disabilities), weak targeting efficiency due to which many deserving cannot claim benefits, exclusion of youth in agriculture and informal sectors, dependence on foreign donors to keep the disbursements running, violations of merit in funds disbursement, diverting allocated amounts during mid-course to other priorities, complex application procedures, weak grievance redress mechanisms, and limited outreach and engagement with intended beneficiaries.
There is ample literature from around the globe, South Asia and Pakistan which advocates the use of ‘scientific evaluation’ for policy effectiveness in youth engagement programmes. This literature makes a case for more effective evaluation for youth-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which in turn can render timely accountability and learning, and also more favourable outcomes and impact vis-à-vis the outcomes seen during the period when Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were being implemented.
One of the key outcomes envisaged in many youth engagement programmes is reduction in youth under-employment and unemployment. Recently, using official data form Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) demonstrated that the level of unemployed youth (as percentage of labour force between 15-24 years) is not coming down as earlier envisaged in programmes.
Second, there is a high share of youth who are currently not in education, employment or training. Third, given the demographics and youth bulge in these countries, the ratio of youth to overall unemployed persons is increasing. These three patterns point towards a negative outcome — by not having a significant share of youth in productive activities, South Asia and particularly Pakistan loses substantial national income.
Any evaluation exercise, which aims to look more deeply into the above-mentioned findings, should first start by answering: i) How many youth are being served by the public sector interventions? ii) What are community-level impacts of these youth related interventions? iii) Who and where are the excluded groups?
While the answers to the above questions may serve as an analysis into prevalent challenges and constraints, a medium to long-term follow-up and review of youth schemes is required to put forward priority actions to accelerate youth engagement and employment. Furthermore, any recommendation towards priority actions needs to be complimented with a comprehensive overview of available and missing means of implementation (of priority actions).
SDPI’s research also finds gaps in existing evaluations of youth-related interventions. These include: a) youth employment being seen in isolation from youth engagement, b) outdated data and research on supply-side versus demand-side factors hindering youth employment, c) weak needs-assessment of unemployed youth, d) policies for youth not backed by primary evidence, and e) missing regular review of ongoing policies and programmes for youth.
Going forward, a good evaluation agenda at national and sub-national level should be two-pronged. A set of supply-side evaluations aimed to: map youth unemployment by region and community; explain how can central governments fill the role of planning, coordination and monitoring of youth related interventions; assess how public-sector secondary schools, colleges and universities should be encouraged to open their technical vocational education training facility for youth; and how to develop a strong monitoring and accountability framework across public sector programmes for youth engagement and employment?
A set of demand-side evaluation should aim to: assess how education and skills development may be encouraged through non-profit, civil society organisations and social enterprises; and identify domestic regulations, taxes and subsidies that may be reformed to incentivise skill development.
Finally, as is well known that public sector’s capacity to absorb unemployed youth has greatly declined. It is only the growth of private sector which can help provide more jobs. Therefore, equally important are reforms which rationalise the regulatory burden on Pakistani small and medium enterprises, in turn enabling them to being better instruments of economic growth and job creation.
The writer is associated with www.sdpi.org