Adolescents and young adults deal with numerous health challenges with immediate and long-term consequences on their well-being. Globally, adolescents and young adults are greatly affected by mental health disorders, substance use, HIV and AIDS, interpersonal violence, food insecurity, and sexual and reproductive health concerns, increasing their risk for morbidity and mortality. Vulnerable and marginalized youth, including those living in poverty, adolescent girls and young women, youth with disabilities, and LGBT+ youth, are disproportionately affected by these health problems, often due to economic insecurity and social exclusion.
At GDSI, we seek to improve young people’s health outcomes by improving their economic and financial standing through employment, financial inclusion, and asset development. Although efforts to reduce health disparities and to promote health equity have focused primarily on improving access to and quality of health care services, we at GSDI recognize the significance of economic resources and opportunities as mechanisms to motivate young people to make informed choices, avoid health risks, and support their peers and communities. We continue to examine and improve our understandings of the role of various economic resources – savings, cash transfers, income from employment, and household assets – in health promotion and prevention. Our current initiatives aim to understand better how economic resources and resource-based stigmatization affect health outcomes of vulnerable and marginalized youth, including youth living with HIV, adolescent girls and young women, racial and ethnic minority youth, sexual and gender minority youth, and youth who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET).
Education is one of the most transformative tools for advancing economic and social mobility. Access to quality education and improved literacy and numeracy skills provide a foundation for economic, health, and social well-being across the lifespan. Education determines economic security by impacting youth’s ability to engage in various income-generating activities, diversify their income sources, and promote innovation. Yet, data from UNESCO suggest that over 250 million school-aged children and youth across the globe remain out of school. Another metric indicates that more than half of 10-year-olds in low- and lower-middle-income countries are learning poor, meaning they cannot read and understand simple stories. Unfortunately, millions of these young people are at an elevated risk of falling into or remaining in the cycle of inter-generational poverty and economic insecurity.
At GSDI, our vision for “capable youth” through a positive youth development lens means an intentional focus on young people’s holistic development and growth, including their human capital development. Therefore, our work in the three core areas of economic security, workforce development, and financial inclusion ultimately targets several developmental outcomes, such as the educational well-being of young people. As we design, implement, and evaluate programs and interventions, we pursue key questions to understand the structural facilitators and barriers to education mobility: How do low-income households prepare financially for their children’s education? What strategies are most viable in keeping students in school, on task, and motivated? What are alternative pathways for young people to enter into the workforce successfully? For those students who do not make it into higher education, what mechanisms can be employed to encourage them to continue pursuing other viable alternatives to economic security? Our strategy for addressing these questions entails continually engaging local expertise and youth voices to generate and share empirical evidence to shape systems that support young people’s development.