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At-risk males in post-conflict Liberia: Piloting new approaches for reducing violence and poverty among urban street youth

Project Name At-Risk Males In Post-Conflict Liberia: Piloting New Approaches For Reducing Violence And Poverty Among Urban Street Youth
Location Liberia
Primary Beneficiaries Vulnerable urban male youth
Duration January – December 2012
Implementation Partner Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA)

Overview:  This initiative aims to implement and evaluate an intervention for neglected and at-risk urban street youth in Monrovia, to better understand their conditions and needs, and to use that research to create an inexpensive and scalable program that will reduce poverty, violence and social instability among these youth. The research furthermore expects to identify the most cost-effective program components and inputs, especially (i) business development grants, (b) skills training and (c) counseling and life skills.

Rationale: In Liberia, a 14-year civil war not only destroyed the country’s economy, infrastructure and human resource capacity, but also left tens of thousands of youth unemployed, at-risk and easily mobilized into crime and violence.  At-risk youth pose risks of broader social instability, through participation in organized crime, violent protest, communal violence and armed conflict.  Given weak state capacity in the post-conflict context, frustrations are many and young men and women are often victims or perpetrators of violence.
Although there is a growing body of evidence that the poor have high returns to capital and invest cash grants in such high return activities, street youth pose particular challenges.  First, there are concerns that behavior problems present in the general population, such as impulsive or short-sighted spending, are particularly acute among urban male street youth. Second, there are concerns about potential adverse effects, such as increased risk of robbery and crime victimization, or of spending on harmful and addictive substances. Innovations for poverty action (IPA) has been working with local partners to experiment with and rigorously evaluate new anti-poverty, anti-violence and crime programs for urban street youth to address these issues.

The current intervention and research design aim to explore whether market failures and behavioral challenges exist and inhibit entrepreneurial activity, particularly among urban street youth.  This program also tests two potential solutions experimentally: first an economic component of microenterprise development assistance; and second, a behavior change component.

Project Details: The intervention and research design aim to answer the following questions:

  1. Do the extremely poor have psychological and behavioral traits—including self-control problems, impatience, or risk attitudes—that increase poverty, or create a poverty trap?
  2. Do these same psychological traits—self-control problems, impatience or risk attitudes—also influence the propensity for crime, violence and other risky activities?
  3. Can counseling and cognitive behavior therapy change these underlying preferences and behaviors, and thereby alleviate both poverty and violence?
  4. Does behavior change lead to higher and more sustained levels of investment and poverty reduction?

The program provides (i) participation in a “behavioral transformation program” of cognitive behavioral therapy and life skills training, and (ii) micro-enterprise start-up assistance, including start-up capital and basic business skills training.  Both components are designed to be simple, inexpensive, and potentially scalable.  Each component is evaluated individually and in combination.

The behavior transformation component is the most novel one.  Based on a longstanding program conducted by implementing partner network for empowerment and progressive initiatives (NEPI), it is closely related to short-term interventions for addiction and impulse control, but adapted to the Liberian context with a focus on anger management, future orientation, and self-esteem.  The program seeks to raise aspirations among urban street youth and then equip them to realize their ambitions or goals.  In order to address the questions outlined above, this initiative is supporting the scaling-up of and study of 600 neglected and at-risk urban street youth, including 450 direct beneficiaries.

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