In the United States, roughly 4.9 million youth ages 16 to 24 are not in school or working. This figure translates into one in seven young Americans. Youth disconnection profoundly impacts individuals and society, resulting in unfulfilled lives and staggering social costs. The challenge of youth disconnection reach even greater proportions across the globe, with one third of the world’s 1.2 billion youth neither employed, nor in education and training. We refer to this group of disconnected youth as “opportunity youth;” a term they choose for themselves to bring focus to their potential.

Recognizing that solutions to global challenges transcend national boundaries, in 2016, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) launched (Re)Connecting Youth: Exchanging Global Lessons. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), this two-year initiative sought to identify and share innovative global approaches for increasing youth connection with practitioners, policymakers, and funders across the United States. Ultimately, the goal was to foster learning and energize support for holistic solutions aimed at providing millions of youth in the U.S. who are not in work or school with opportunities to lead healthy, productive lives.


(Re)Connecting Youth had three goals:

  1. Learn from global innovations and proven practices to enhance U.S. stakeholders’ ability to improve connectedness and resilience among adolescents and young adults
  2. Identify practitioners, policymakers, and funders who are receptive to and could benefit from global learning experiences and provide them with opportunities for dialogue and exchange to encourage the incorporation of more holistic and effective approaches to positive youth development
  3. Implement and learn from approaches to successfully facilitate cross-country learning exchange, so that global ideas can inform approaches within the U.S.


The U.S. project team prioritized global approaches that were holistic and that incorporated at least one of the following thematic features: 

  • Young People as Assets  Youth who have experienced disconnection from education, employment, and other systems often possess insights that could contribute to finding solutions. Unfortunately, many programs and policies are designed without consulting the very youth they are meant to serve and, as a result, fail to achieve high levels of impact.

    The (Re)Connecting Youth team prioritized approaches that promote peer-led programming, youth leadership, civic engagement and movement building, and demonstrate the impact that youth voices can have in helping youth connect to opportunity pathways.

  • Social-emotional Learning  It is not enough to equip young people, particularly those facing barriers to employment and opportunity, with technical skills. To set them on a path to healthy, productive futures it is critical to integrate non-cognitive skills such as grit, persistence, empathy, and good decision-making (skills collectively known as social-emotional skills) into second chance, job-readiness, vocational training and other programs serving opportunity youth.

    The RCY team prioritized organizations from around the world that are integrating social-emotional learning into their youth reconnection efforts and highlight how these strategies can transform the lives of youth participants and communities.

  • Creative Engagement and Recruitment  Youth that have disconnected from education, employment and other systems are often difficult to reach through traditional outreach and recruitment efforts. Approaches for youth reconnection that utilize creative engagement and recruitment strategies involving sports, play, or culture can be effective in helping more youth access and stay on opportunity pathways.

    RCY partners demonstrated models that have used innovative outreach and recruitment efforts to effectively engage and retain opportunity youth, ultimately leading to increased employability and education outcomes.

  • Labor Market Analysis and Employer Engagement  The most promising opportunity pathway approaches include strong partnerships between employers and workforce training providers.

    The RCY team gathered lessons from promising global employer engagement strategies that are equipping youth with the skills necessary to succeed in the workforce, while helping businesses develop their talent pipelines.

Learn more about the (Re)Connecting Youth Framework, Themes, and Learning Exchanges by digging into lessons learned through the final report, Lessons Across Borders: The Role of Young Protagonists in Fostering Youth Reconnection.

For more on (Re)Connecting Youth, Contact Giovany Delgado.

Support for this initiative was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.