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In a post-conflict context like Liberia, growing populations of unemployed youth represent both an opportunity to develop and enhance the Liberian economy as well as a potential source of instability. Conflicts are fuelled as youth compete for limited job opportunities. Youth with few job prospects are also vulnerable to influence by external forces violence, drugs, crime, and political elites. Despite high levels of investment in youth development programs in recent years, little evidence exists on which interventions are most effective in increasing economic opportunities for youth and reducing their risk of participating in violence and risky behaviours.
Mercy Corps, in partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), aims to fill this knowledge gap through an impact evaluation of Mercy Corps' Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Economic Transformation (PROSPECTS) project in Liberia - a youth economic empowerment program. Through a randomized evaluation design, the impact evaluation of the PROSPECTS program aims to identify the effects of (1) life-skills training and psychosocial support through sports groups and, (2) cash for work interventions on key labour outcomes among youth, as well as their propensity towards violence.
A central motivation of this evaluation is a need to better understand the channels through which youth development programs can influence the ability of youth to pursue productive opportunities. Using social network mapping, this evaluation will assess social connections of Liberian youth to determine whether the components of the PROSPECTS program affect what Woolcock (1998) refers to as "social integration" and "social linkages."
This evaluation aims to complement ongoing research in Liberia [(Blair, Blattman and Hartman 2012) (Blattman, Jamison, Sheridan 2012) (Annan and Blattman 2012)] and provide Ministry officials and practitioners in Liberia evidence and reliable data on the cost-effectiveness of youth integration and employment programs. The Ministry of Youth in Liberia has made an explicit request for evidence on proven program strategies in these areas as they launch $20 million worth of youth-targeted programming in 2013.