06/24/2015 04:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

Sports, Theater, and Circus Arts Ease At-Risk Youth into the Workforce

By Claudio Cortellese and Mariel Sabra

Claudio Cortellese joined the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) in 1993, where he has piloted instruments and initiatives to support the development of small businesses. Since 2010, he has managed the MIF's Access to Markets and Skills Unit.

For the vast majority of the 160 million youth between 15 and 29 years old in Latin America and the Caribbean, the transition into the labor market is anything but easy. Youth unemployment continues to hover around 13%--three times the rate of adults (5%). When broken down by gender, young women experience higher unemployment rates than their male counterparts (17% vs. 11%). And, of the young people who have been able to find a job, more than half are employed in the informal sector, according to the International Labour Organization.

The employment opportunities for youth in the bottom socioeconomic rungs are even more concerning. One-quarter of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean are poor, and one-third are at risk for problems including juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy. These youth are more likely to form part of the 16% that neither studies, nor works, nor seeks employment, according to household surveys conducted by the region's governments and compiled by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). In other words, 1 of every 6 youth in the region have neither opportunities to work or study, nor the social capital needed to enter the labor market or lead a productive life.

Although a large number of youth are excluded from the labor market and have little opportunity to escape poverty, connecting with them requires interventions tailored to their unique needs and specific situations. Furthermore, it is very difficult to expand a pilot program to a large number of beneficiaries. Sports, theater, dance, and circus arts are a few of the innovative methods that have been successful in preparing at-risk youth for jobs and getting them into the workforce. But these interventions require further analysis and evaluation. Below are a few recent examples of projects tested by the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), the innovation laboratory for the IDB Group:

Multilateral Investment Fund

  • A Ganar, which began in 2005 in Brazil, Ecuador, and Uruguay, uses sports clinics to teach key employability skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, and effective communication. The program is grounded in the belief that youth can draw a comparison between what is needed to win on the field with what is expected from them in the workplace. Participants are eligible for workplace internships that often lead to full-time employment. Starting in 2009, the program was expanded to 10 other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and has benefitted around 6,000 young people ages 15 to 24. Nearly 70% of participants have found work, returned to school, or started a business.

  • Galpão Aplauso uses dance and theater as tools to improve the employability of at-risk youth from the slums of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The program teaches life skills and vocational/technical skills, and provides job-placement services. A recent impact evaluation suggests that this model can be an effective alternative to traditional pedagogical approaches, with youth benefitting both in the short term and the medium term. More than 500 young people ages 15 to 29 have completed Galpão Aplauso's vocational training. Results show a 14.6 percentage point increase in employment rates and a100.46 Reals (32.43) increase in monthly earnings in the medium-term for participants.
  • Social Circus, underway in Argentina, Chile, and Peru, teaches circus arts such as juggling to vulnerable youth ages 16 to 29. The physical effort and discipline required and the process of setting and achieving goals also teach the young people important life lessons. In addition, the program helps at-risk youth find an occupation, strengthen the skills required for that occupation, and contact potential employers, and place them in the labor market (as employees or entrepreneurs). While still in its infancy, the project is on target to reach 1,500 youth, with the goal of placing 25% of them in jobs that offer the minimum wage or above. See this video.
  • Once these interventions are proven effective, the MIF is teaming up with the IDB to replicate them on a larger scale. For example, the Galpão Aplauso model will be transferred to community institutions that work with the government of Brazil's state of Espírito Santo, to benefit 2,000 youth at risk of entering into violence.

    Going forward, the MIF and IDB are devising a way to analyze and systematize the critical factors needed for workforce preparation for youth living in conflict with the law or in high-conflict zones. The aim is identify and implement some innovative interventions, adapted to the needs of young people in different environments.

    The knowledge gleaned from these experiences will add to the growing library of evidence about what works to help at-risk youth in the Americas and elsewhere.

    Mariel Sabra

    Mariel Sabra leads the Multilateral Investment Fund's work in the area of youth employment and entrepreneurship. She has 18 years of experience in the design, monitoring and evaluation of projects and earned a master's degree in applied economics from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

    From the Multilateral Investment Fund Trends blog