Designing the Perfect Youth Project — Ain’t No Such Thing!

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to talk to a crowd of young and buzzing youth activists through one of our monthly innovation forums. With the number of youth reaching almost 52 per cent of the total population of Bangladesh, it is a group that we can ignore at our own peril. Since there’s a lot happening in this sector, specifically driven by the youth-led organisations, it only seemed natural bringing them together and hear about the real scenario in this sector.

Incentives are the worst! (as a project manager thinking about it)

We invited a bunch of people that we thought would be interesting to listen to and designed a session around them to understand what actually works in the field and what’s only good on paper. We didn’t want it to be a one-sided lecture dominated session but went for a collaborative problem solving approach instead. The results were quite evident as we had the participants rapidly brainstorming on three questions and presenting their thoughts on a quick-fire presentation round.

Reality checks for everyone who has worked in this sector

It’s not everyday that practitioners from the same field gets to talk shop and share notes on their work so we kept the theme tied to youth intervention design. I wouldn’t lie, we have a vested interest in the theme as my team is thinking about incubating a youth-focused pilot project as well! But what we wanted to learn from the practitioners were what are their biggest challenges for working with youth and what are they thinking about structures and sustainability as a whole. We asked them these questions and they all shared what they thought about these critical issues. When they started talking about these broader themes, patterns started to emerge. Three things that I found insightful from the discussion are:

Biggest challenge in youth interventions is keeping young people engaged:

Getting something to run is not very difficult. But once the initial ‘cool’ factor dies down, it is difficult to keep people engaged in a certain activity. Once that very essence of the model is at risk, everything else breaks down to pieces.

Challenge accepted!

Monetisation rarely works as an incentive:

Financial incentives rarely work among youth. Even if it works for a small group, it is in no way sustainable in the long run, even for the most resource-heavy projects. More effective incentives can be being able to show a clear link towards future career growth, adding a fun element to the activities or just by adding a human touch to it. Developing and promoting role models are also excellent ways of making the project more attractive and relevant for youth.

Sustainability is still a BIG problem:

Having to change course over shifting donor priorities is a big challenge towards having a realistic sustainability target. People who are thinking along that line are introducing cost recovery models like BYLC but seeing concrete results will take time. Also important is the structural sustainability of the organisation as most youth initiatives are built around the founders and once they are out of the picture, the whole system collapses.

Some good ol’ fashioned brainstorming and sticky notes!

The takeaways are simple concepts, but very powerful insights. It is easy to fall prey to the lure of a flashy model where everything seem to fall in places. But sometimes all you need is to put some structures in place and keep things simple to make it work. Synergy and collaboration are all words as long as it stays on whiteboards or in the concluding parts of our grand speeches. The people who are working in this sector and people that we are working for are both young and full of hope about the future. It’s just connecting the individual dots and making the picture whole is what might be missing right now.

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Rakib Avi

Husband, father, innovator, strategist. Leading innovation, strategy and growth at @BRACworld. Focused on scaling frugal innovations in the global south.