• Opinion
  • September 18, 2019
  • 6 minutes
  • 0

A postcode should never determine your luck in life

Opinion: We can give rural youth the opportunities they need through public-private partnerships

By Katie Raymond, Program Director-US, and Sheila Kinkade, Storytelling Consultant, International Youth Foundation. For more like this, see our resilient rural communities newsfeed. 


Youth in rural America experience higher rates of poverty than their urban peers, with far fewer resources available to them when it comes to mental health services, career exposure, job preparedness, and more.

As the debate continues over how to bridge growing rural-urban divides, not enough is being done to ensure rural youth have what it takes to build stronger, more resilient communities. Yet this is precisely where public-private partnerships can play a critical role.

School systems, in particular, can benefit enormously from creatively partnering with nonprofits to make much-needed resources available to students, and private sector investment can help make these enhancements possible.

Over two years, the International Youth Foundation (IYF), with support from BHP, has engaged over 70 companies, schools, government agencies, and nonprofits in rural Texas and Louisiana to connect young people with the skills to succeed. Building on our experience in expanding rural youth opportunity in contexts as diverse as Colombia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, we’ve identified four key ingredients for success:

1. Identify public sector champions and policies in need of additional resources.

In every community, resourceful and reform-minded individuals are willing to go the extra mile to ensure that youth realise their potential.

In South Texas, Cuero High School Principal Paul Fleener knew that expanding opportunities for his students meant building bridges between the school and wider community. Together, we organised an event that brought nursing, construction, accounting, law enforcement, and other professionals to campus to share their life experiences and career paths with students.

One of the best ways to start building skills and leadership for the future is by investing in young people

After hosting similar events in nine Texas school districts, we repeatedly heard plans to do it again. Adults welcomed the chance to connect with students struggling with big questions about what to do after high school.

2. Elevate youth voices, and build youth leadership skills, to better inform policy and practice.

Young people are experts about the issues that affect them, yet too often they’re excluded from decision-making. To elevate youth voices, we formed a Teen Advisory Committee (TAC) in Northern Louisiana, training its 30 members in organising, advocacy, and leadership skills. Based on their recommendations, local decision-makers are now learning about, and acting on, youth-led solutions. “Youth have a vibrant drive for change and political action,” says TAC President Bhavani Tivakaran. “We need to change the system, instead of working within a flawed system.”

3. Integrate wrap-around services within rural schools.

In remote communities, teens have trouble accessing mental health and wellness services; mentors; career fairs; and support in overcoming educational, financial, and emotional hurdles. By engaging local and regional partners, it’s possible to bring these services to schools.

In West Texas, we partnered with Communities in Schools, which embeds trained staff within schools to offer counselling and dropout prevention services. We also worked with local high school administrators to make bilingual teletherapy services available to students.

4. Leverage proven curricula and tools to fill gaps.

Rural schools and teachers often lack access to quality tools and training opportunities to ensure that students have what it takes to succeed in a fast-changing world.

First-time job seekers can especially benefit from acquiring soft skills such as effective communication, teamwork, goal-setting, and critical thinking. By training teachers to deliver a proven life skills curriculum and equipping youth with leadership skills, we’re making investments that will continue to reap benefits far into the future.

No doubt the challenges facing rural communities are great, especially when it comes to stimulating local economies and creating environments where entrepreneurship can take hold. One of the best ways to start building skills and leadership for the future is by investing in young people. After two years, we’re already seeing a difference. Laura Alderman, Executive Director of Step Forward, our partner in Northern Louisiana, notes our collaboration has “already influenced policy and practice changes within organisations, K-12 systems, and higher education.”

These deeper, more systemic shifts are what make long-term change possible. — Katie Raymond and Sheila Kinkade

To read more about the challenges faced by rural communities, and the innovative policy solutions that are bringing change to those that need it the most, read Apolitical’s field guide about regenerating rural communities

(Picture credit: Death to the stock photo)

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