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In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), young people represent 40% of the working age population, a percentage that will continue to grow in coming years. However, the region’s youth unemployment rate is nearly three times that of adults, over 50% of youth with jobs are working in the informal sector earning less than minimum wage, and approximately 32 million youth (1 in every 5 youth aged 15-29) are not in education, employment, or training, often referred to as "NEETs." At the same time, in many LAC countries, high jobless rates exists side-by-side with unmet demand for skilled workers in the labor force. In order to sustain LAC growth, countries and companies need to fill the skills gap and take advantage of their youthful workforce to do so.


The MIF has been a leader in the field of youth employment and entrepreneurship training for nearly two decades, reaching more than 235,000 poor and low-income youth in 24 countries through over 120 grant projects with an average job placement rate of 50-70%. Based on an analysis of the lessons learned from this rich experience, the MIF has developed a new Youth Agenda for Action launched in September 2012 (full document and presentation summary).

The objective of this agenda is to improve economic opportunities for poor and low-income youth ages 16-29 who lack employability skills and are either unemployed or working in the informal sector. This five-year agenda centers on five key elements: Scale; Innovation; Results, Evaluation and Knowledge Sharing; Youth Empowerment; and Gender.

MIF Solutions:

  • Scale: Take a systemic approach to addressing youth employability by working with key public, private and civil society actors to scale up the most effective youth training and job placement models through the New Employment Opportunities for Youth Initiative (NEO).
  • Innovation: Test innovative job training approaches for at-risk youth who often face additional stigma in the job market, especially if they come from violence-prone areas; (2) refine existing entrepreneurship models, test new screening and teaching approaches and explore new entrepreneurship alternatives for at-risk youth, such as microfranchising, youth cooperatives, and value chain approaches; and (3) promote financial services for young entrepreneurs and financial literacy for youth more broadly.
  • Results, Evaluation and Knowledge Sharing: Increase project impact, improve cost-effectiveness and guide decision-making about future programming by taking a comprehensive approach to monitoring and evaluation, using a set of common indicators, a mix of monitoring tools and both quantitative and qualitative evaluation methods.
  • Youth Empowerment: Empower young people by involving them directly in the design and implementation of projects and create structures for youth leadership within projects.
  • Gender: Create training programs that are relevant for both sexes by addressing the different needs and circumstances of both male and female youth. In particular, the MIF will focus on addressing the specific needs and challenges facing young women by incorporating gender-sensitive activities into all youth projects.

Results and Impact:

Through our strategy we expect to:

  • Give poor and low-income youth the necessary assets (knowledge, skills and experience) for socioeconomic mobility.
  • Increase job placement and enterprise start up rates; increase job quality and job permanence; increase incomes; higher survival rates for youth enterprises; and increase formal school/technical training reinsertion rates.

NEO New Employment Opportunities for Youth 


NEO, a path-breaking alliance between major corporations, the public sector, and job training service providers will expand high-impact, market-relevant job training and placement models, reaching one million youth in Latin America and the Caribbean over the next decade.

The initiative, developed by the MIF and the International Youth Foundation and launched at the 2012 Summit of the Americas, will develop multi-stakeholder partnerships throughout the region that will create employment training, internship and entry-level job opportunities for poor and low-income youth; and strengthen government programs and policies related to youth employment. The IDB’s Social Sector is playing a key role in bringing government agencies into NEO.

NEO’s founding corporate partners, Walmart, Caterpillar, Microsoft, CEMEX, and Arcos Dorados, are providing key financial and in-kind support, and are acting as leaders in engaging the private sector in the effort to create a better future for both the region’s youth and its economy. 

Learn more about on the NEO website and by following #NEOAmericas on Twitter.