In 2018, the Opportunity International UK (OIUK) office in Oxford temporarily adopted me into their team over the summer. I was two years into an undergraduate degree, grappling with the global challenges I was learning about and struggling to imagine how such overwhelming poverty around the world could be alleviated sustainably.
I started researching microcredit, financial inclusion, and models of poverty alleviation that didn’t offer pity but empowerment and hope. A hand up, not a handout. Opportunity International’s commitment to treating clients with dignity was inspiring, and I hoped to gain a deeper insight while offering my time.
Among various projects, I was involved in researching and developing a Youth Livelihoods strategy. I learned that one billion young people are predicted to enter the labour market in the next decade, and researched the specific barriers confronting these young people in the transition from school to work in Sub-Saharan Africa. Falling into the youth group myself, it felt unsettling to read the demographic bulge being termed a ‘youth challenge’.
Beyond my summer in the OIUK office, the questions persisted: how can the challenges of the youth bulge instead be met with tangible opportunity?
This autumn, I’ll be taking up a doctoral studentship at the University of Cambridge in partnership with the International Labour Organisation. The project seeks to better understand the characteristics and aspirations of youth that are not in employment, education or training (NEET). By marrying the analysis of global survey data with qualitative case study findings, the research aims to contribute a deeper appreciation of the diverse experiences of marginalised youth.
Just as each of the entrepreneurs that Opportunity International serves have personal aspirations and individual skills, so do the marginalised youth that remain unseen. Understanding the differing contexts, characteristics and expectations of NEET youth will help to guide the work of vital organisations like OIUK, as they continue to provide the tools to turn the ‘youth challenge’ into youth opportunities.
I learnt so much from my time with OIUK. It had a profound effect on my desire to contribute to research and work that tackles the challenges faced by many young people globally – many, who like me, have ambitions and aspirations yet they don’t have the same opportunities to fulfil them. With Opportunity International's help, they will.