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50 for 50: Looking Back at Youth Programs

By Opportunity International

In 2019, 16% of the world’s population was made up of youth (individuals aged 15-24). By stark contrast Africa, nearly 75% of the population is under the age of 35. And in the world’s poorest countries, the United Nations estimates that the population of youth will grow by 62% in the next 30 years.

We have a chance to help stop the cycle of generational poverty so that the next generation can thrive.

Opportunity International is committed to providing educational, financial, and vocational opportunities to the world’s youth. As these young people enter the workforce, there is a serious risk of unemployment—but there is also an opportunity for rapid, community-wide economic growth. By developing specialty programs for youth, Opportunity International invests in the collective future and security of their entire community.

Over the course of our 50-year history, we have developed a number of programs designed specifically to meet the needs of young people:

In 2004, Opportunity International piloted its Youth Apprenticeship Program in Ghana. Providing business training, technical assistance, bereavement counseling, and start-up capital, the program first empowered AIDS orphans and vulnerable youth with the tools critical to succeeding in the workforce, before expanding to serve an even wider group of young leaders.

In 2018, the initiative won first prize in the Women and Girls Opportunity (WeGO) Awards, an initiative that highlights and honors Opportunity International partners around the world who work selflessly in challenging environments to implement projects that improve the livelihoods and financial opportunities of women and girls around the world. Over 3,000 apprentices—80 percent of whom are young women—have completed the program, and a 2018 survey showed that 97% of program graduates were still employed one year after graduation.

Two Youth Apprenticeship Program graduates, Juliet Amankura and Monica Amanfo, first heard about the program on the radio. Once enrolled, both women pursued apprenticeships at a hairdressers in Kumasi. They trained by observation and practice, and they both received instruction on customer care, health, and social education.

By providing youth access to accessible and creative programming, Opportunity ensures that young women like Juliet and Monica have the tools they need to access a secure future.

In Malawi, Opportunity International began a similar program focused on empowering young women through a special youth loans group, where they collaborated with other youth to increase their understanding of financial and business operations.

Before entering the Youth Lending Program in Malawi, Piriani, Angela, and Bettina felt hopeless. They lived in a remote community without access to education, skills training, or the urban economy. Their only aim was survival—because everything else was painfully out of reach.

When Opportunity International approached Piriani, Angela, and Bettina with a new program focused on empowering young people just like them, they were eager to take advantage of this opportunity.


Piriani was a 25-year-old mother of three. She completed seventh grade, but then school became too expensive for her family to afford. Her friend Angela estimated her age to be around 28—and never had the opportunity to attend school at all. But through hard work, she did whatever she could to give her four children the education she didn’t have. Bettina was 24 and expecting her third child. Despite only completing eighth grade herself, she dreamed of giving a better life to her own children and those in her community.

Through their special youth loans group, these young women received financial training and business loans. Piriani began to sell household goods, Angela decided to sell fabric, and Bettina started selling grocery items.

Each woman received the opportunity to access the tools and training she needed to not only survive—but to thrive.

Through the youth loans program, these three young women—and thousands more like them—have opportunities ahead of them and a brighter future is within reach.

Across the globe, Opportunity International comes alongside young people and invests in their dreams and futures through specialized and innovative youth programs. With ongoing educational programs, relationships with local business leaders, and start-up capital, young people have the resources they need to build their own businesses, support themselves, and contribute to their families' wellbeing. When youth are given the opportunity to access educational and financial opportunities, they not only transform their lives—but the lives of their entire communities.


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