Listening to Youth Through 17 Cross-Sectoral Youth Assessments: Implications for Programming and Policy


  • Cassandra Jessee International Center for Research on Women
  • Audrey Marie Moore Mathematica Policy Research
  • Christy Olenik Making Cents International
  • Chelsea Pallatino Trevelline Making Cents International
  • Nancy Taggart US Agency for International Development (USAID)



international positive youth development, cross-sectoral youth assessments, youth programming, workforce development, livelihood, education, health, civic engagement, youth participation, peace and security


Between 2015 and 2020, USAID invested in 17 country-focused and regional youth assessments to investigate young people’s priorities and needs. This article analyzes the results of those assessments and their implications for youth programming and policy in low- and middle-income countries. Primary data collection, document review, and secondary data analysis form the basis for the findings presented in the article. Our analysis across all assessments focused on identifying the most marginalized and vulnerable youth within each country of focus and understanding youth’s priorities and the barriers and facilitators for achieving them across the sectors. Securing a decent livelihood was the top priority cited by youth in each of the 17 assessments. The youth saw education as a step towards self-reliance and a better future. Older youth recognized the importance of gaining tangible work-related skills and wanted more opportunities to learn and apply these skills. Health priorities related to mental health, substance abuse prevention, and reproductive health, specifically early pregnancy. Young people expressed frustration that adults and society writ large do not hear their voices and acknowledged limited opportunities to develop leadership roles. Youth in conflict or unstable contexts expressed a strong desire to engage in their society. Common implications focus on sectoral programming, research, and policy using a positive youth development framework, acknowledging the importance of any program to foster cross-sectoral collaboration. Building awareness, improving coordination, and increasing the skills of actors supporting youth development—and ensuring youth are at the center of these efforts—increase the effectiveness and consistency of youth programming and policies as part of the enabling environment.


Allison, C., Jenderedian, G., Sargsyan, L., Proctor, H., & Jessee, C. (2019). Armenia youth situational analysis. YouthPower Learning.

Barsa, M., & Sidatt, H. (2020). USAID/Mauritania cross-sectoral youth assessment report. YouthPower Learning and YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation.

Bell, P., Olenik, C., Alldredge, J., Moroz, E., Moore, A., O'Donnell, C., & Jessee, C. (2019). Cross-sectoral youth assessment for USAID/Kyrgyz Republic (Final Assessment Report). YouthPower Learning.

Benson, P. L., Leffert, N., Scales, P. C., & Blyth, D. A. (1998). Beyond the “village” rhetoric: Creating healthy communities for children and adolescents. Applied Developmental Science, 2(3), 138-159.

Blum, R. (2018). Recommended strategic priorities: Positive youth development programming for USAID/Liberia. YouthPower Learning.

Blum, R., Jones, B., & Ngeleza, R. (2017). Overview of youth development perspectives in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. YouthPower Learning.

Blum, R., N'Tow, S., Woolf, L., & Jessee, C. (2019). USAID/Liberia youth situational analysis. YouthPower Learning.

Boyson, J., Bitga, A., & Desta, Z. (2017). Recommended strategic priorities: Positive youth development programming for USAID/Ethiopia. YouthPower Learning.

Catalano, R. F., Berglund, M. L., Ryan, J. A., Lonczak, H. S., & Hawkins, J. D. (2002). Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. Prevention & Treatment, 5(1), Article 15.

Catalano, R. F., Skinner, M., Alvarado, G., Kapungu, C., Reavley, N., Patton, G., Jessee, C., Plaut, D., Moss, C., Bennett, K., Sawyer, S. M., Sebany, M., Sexton, M., Olenik, C., & Petroni, S. (2019, July). Positive youth development programs in low- and middle-income countries: A conceptual framework and systematic review of efficacy. Journal of Adolescent Health, 65(1), 15-31.

Catsum, M., & Castro, A. (2019). Recommended strategic priorities: Positive youth development programming USAID/Honduras. YouthPower Learning.

Catsum, M., Castro, A., O'Donnell, C., Chard, E., & Jessee, C. (2018). USAID/Honduras development objective youth assessment situational analysis. YouthPower Learning.

Chowa, G., Masa, R., Manzanares, M., Bilotta, N., & Barrington, C. (2021). A systematic review for positive youth development impacts on marginalized and vulnerable youth in low- and middle-income countries. YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation.

Clarke, V., Braun, V., & Hayfield, N. (2015). Thematic analysis. In J. A. Smith (Ed.), Qualitative psychology: A practical guide to research methods, (pp. 222-248). SAGE.

Desta, Z., Bitga, A., & Boyson, J. (2018). USAID/Ethiopia cross-sectoral youth assessment situational analysis. YouthPower Learning.

Eccles, J., & Gootman, J. A. (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. National Research Council Institute of Medicine: National Academy Press.

Education Development Center. (2009). Guide to cross-sectoral youth assessments. Education Development Center.

FHI 360. (2019). Implementation guide: Youth programming assessment tool (YPAT). Author.

Green, K., & Andrianaivosoa, L. M. (2020). USAID/Madagascar cross-sectoral youth assessment final report. YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation.

Green, K., Woolf, L., Olenik, C. (2020). Youth assessments 101. YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation

Green, K., Bagaye, E., Blum, R., Woolf, L., & Jessee, C. (2019). USAID/Rwanda youth assessment. YouthPower Learning.

Hinson, L., Kapungu, C., Jessee, C., Skinner, M., Bardini, M., & Evans-Whipp, T. (2016). Measuring positive youth development toolkit: A guide for implementers of youth programs. YouthPower Learning. Retrieved from

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent. (2020). What is vulnerability? Author. Retrieved September 2020, from

International Foundation for Electoral Systems. (2016, September). Supporting meaningful global youth engagement. Author.

International Labour Organization. (2020). World employment and social outlook trends 2020. Author.

Jessee, C., & Wolkoff, L. (2020). The YouthPower learning project: Advancing youth development. YouthPower Learning.

Lerner, R. M. (2002). Concepts and theories of human development (3rd ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lerner, R. M. (2004). Liberty: Thriving and civic engagement among America’s youth. Sage.

Lerner, R. M., Almerigi, J. B., Theokas, C., & Lerner, J. V. (2005). Positive youth development: A view of the issues. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 25(1), 10-16.

Lord, K. (2016, August 12). Here comes the young. Foreign Policy.

Making Cents International. (2016). Workforce development and youth employment in Nigeria. YouthPower Learning.

Nicholson, C., & Walker, G. (2020). USAID/Eastern and Southern Caribbean cross-sectoral youth assessment situational analysis. YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation.

Olenik, C., Darrow de Mora, D., Sohnen, N., & Tines, J. (2020). USAID/Dominican Republic cross-sectoral youth assessment desk review report. YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation.

Patton, G. C., Sawyer, S. M., Santelli, J. S., Ross, D. A., Afifi, R., Allen, N. B., Arora, M., Azzopardi, P., Baldwin, W., Bonell, C., Kakuma, R., Kennedy, E., Mahon, J., McGovern, T., Mokdad, A. H., Patel, V., Petroni, S., Reavley, N., Taiwo, K., . . . Viner, R. (2016). Our future: a Lancet commission on adolescent health and wellbeing. Lancet, 387(10036), 2423–2478.

Plan International. (2021). Youth voices in youth employment: A roadmap for promoting meaningful youth engagement in youth employment programs. Author.

Robinson, J. P., & Winthrop, R. (2016). Millions learning: Scaling up quality education in developing countries. The Center for Universal Education at Brookings.

Rutherford, D., & Mirzoyants, A. (2020). USAID/Kenya youth assessment. YouthPower Learning.

Rutherford, D., Farah, O., Walanwal, F. K., & Jessee, C. (2019). Recommended strategic priorities: Positive youth development programming for USAID/Somalia. YouthPower Learning.

Rutherford, D., Farah, O., Walanwal, F. K., Woolf, L., & Jessee, C. (2020). USAID/Somalia youth assessment. YouthPower Learning.

Sengezener, S., & Mansare, S. (2020a). USAID/Guinea youth assessment situational analysis report. YouthPower Learning and YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation.

Sengezener, S., & Mansare, S. (2020b). Recommended strategic priorities: Positive youth development programming for USAID/Guinea. YouthPower Learning and YouthPower2 Learning and Evaluation.

Tihm, Y., Walker, G., Moore, A.-M., Moroz, E., & Lapadatova, G. (2020). USAID/Morocco cross-sectoral youth assessment situational analysis report. YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation.

United Nations. (2020). The world of work and COVID-19 (Policy Brief). Author.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Dynamics. (2020, September). World population prospects 2019. Author.

United Nations Children's Fund. (2019). Transitions from school-to-work. UNICEF.

U.S. Agency for International Development. (2012). Youth in development policy. Author.

Walker, G., Green, K., Douglas, Z., & Chileshe, C. (2016). USAID/Zambia mission-wide youth assessment report. YouthPower Learning.

Woolf, L., Blum, R., Jessee, C., & Olenik, C. (2017). Evidence review of cross-sectoral youth development approaches in conflict-affected environments. YouthPower Learning.

World Bank. (2018). The great schooling expansion—and those it has left behind. In World development report 2018. Author.

World Bank. (2020). The World Bank data catalog. Author.