Does Youth Employment Build Stability?
Evidence from an Impact Evaluation of Vocational Training in Afghanistan
Starting in late 2013, Mercy Corps carried out research to test the theories of change that link unemployment, poverty and economic deprivation to support for political violence, terrorism and insurgency. The study was conducted as part of Mercy Corps' Introducing New Vocational Education and Skills Training (INVEST) program in Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan. The INVEST program, funded by DfID, increases youth employment in Helmand by offering vocational and technical training courses in nine technical vocational education and training (TVET) centers across Helmand Province.
The study examined multiple mechanisms through which the program was hypothesized to have had an effect on young Afghans' propensity toward violence and support for the Taliban insurgency. The study utilized a quasi-experimental, mixed methodology impact evaluation design to test the program's hypotheses. Surveys were administered to a treatment and comparison group of male and female INVEST participants from February to April 2014. The treatment group consisted of recent graduates from the INVEST program while the comparison group was comprised of incoming students who had enrolled in the program but had not yet started classes. Additionally, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with employed male and female INVEST graduates, current INVEST students, teachers, business owners and community and religious leaders.
The INVEST program had strong positive impacts on most of its intended economic outcomes, as well as on several of the social and political outcomes explored in this study. However, based on the tests of program effects, INVEST had limited impacts on participants' willingness to engage in political violence or their belief that violence is sometimes justified in Afghan politics. The research unpacked these contrary findings by testing the individual hypotheses linking INVEST to propensity towards political violence. The findings on all three hypotheses were mixed and produced little evidence to support the major assumptions tested.
Overall, the results suggested that the INVEST program did not contribute to stabilization through decreasing support for political violence and the Taliban. The research presents new evidence on young Afghan's micro-level motivations for political violence. The results of this study shed light on the potential and limitations of economic development programs in fragile and conflict affected contexts. The insights generated have important implications for improving the effectiveness of investments in youth employment and stability interventions in Afghanistan and similar fragile states.