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Abstract

Countries of the Near East, North Africa, Europe and Central Asia (NEN) region face a myriad of social, economic and political challenges that have stalled their structural and rural transformation processes. This has had a detrimental impacton rural youth, who, as a result, face limited economic opportunities. The NEN region has the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. Weak education systems are failing to provide youth, especially in rural areas, with the cognitive and non-cognitive skills they need to compete in a global economy.

The NEN region also suffers from low levels of female labour force participation. Excessive regulation has dampened the agricultural business climate. This is especially problematic given that the region is among the most water-scarce in the world, a condition further aggravated by global warming. The resulting high rates of joblessness, unemployment and informal work have encouraged rural youth to migrate to urban areas and abroad in search of better opportunities. This background paper reviews the opportunities and challenges facing rural youth in the NEN region and suggests a number of programme and policy priorities that NEN governments should consider.

These include (1) improving the rural business environment and moving away from resource-depleting rentier systems that institutionalize cronyism and dependency; (2) reforming education systems to provide rural youth with the market-relevant skills they need to succeed; (3) addressing gender imbalances and developing policies to ensure that young women are able to find acceptable work; (4) improving the evidence base on effective rural youth policies and programmes; and (5) improving access to microfinance and business services for rural youth who are trying to start, manage or grow a business.