People often ask me if it’s hard to work on an issue like youth employability in a nation where success in absolute terms can be elusive—and where the challenges too often outweigh the opportunities. My answer is: yes. It’s hard. But that’s no reason to stop doing everything possible to increase the odds for Palestinian youth, who deserve every chance to pursue productive, meaningful lives.

Six years ago, with generous support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission to the West Bank and Gaza, IYF launched Youth Entrepreneurship Development (YED), an ambitious initiative to improve the employability and entrepreneurship opportunities for Palestinian youth ages 14 to 29.

Through YED, we forged strong partnerships with youth-serving institutions (YSIs) designed to strengthen their capacity to support Palestinian youth and make these young people more employable—long after our work had ended.

Working with our YSI partners—and local and international companies, universities, and public sector agencies—we created an enabling environment where hundreds of youth workers and more than 16,000 young people benefited from high-quality employability training. Young job seekers and employers also now have access to ta3mal, a new youth employability portal made possible through our collaboration with Microsoft, Silatech, and the Palestine Ministry of Labor.

With a view to transforming systems over the long term, we worked with the Ministry of Education to train its staff in a new School to Career curriculum. Tens of thousands of secondary school students are poised to benefit annually. And with comprehensive career guidance services now available at 90 percent of Palestinian universities in the West Bank, more than 80,000 students will now have access to new tools and resources.

Reflecting on our experience, three factors emerge as critical to YED’s success:

  • Pursuing meaningful, whole-hearted local engagement: While development initiatives in Palestine frequently fall under the purview of highly-qualified expat staff, IYF established a local office and hired Palestinian nationals, including myself, to co-design and manage its activities. Team members built on existing relationships, establishing a genuine rapport with YED partners in which it was OK to disagree. Through this spirit of co-creation, our partners consistently went above and beyond (e.g., developing entirely new courses) in advancing goals we all shared.
  • Planting seeds of hope and confidence: With life skills training serving as the bedrock of our work with youth, we witnessed the difference it can make when young people have the chance to truly assess and build on their strengths. I’ll never forget being thanked by a mother whose once shy teenage daughter found her voice—and set a path to her future—through these trainings. Her experience repeated itself again and again in the lives of youth engaged in YED-supported activities, who now have a greater sense of purpose and possibility.
  • Strengthening systems over time: YED’s six-year duration gave us the time needed to transform university career guidance and job placement systems for the long haul. This deep-level work is highly dependent on having the training methodologies and curricula at hand that allow you to efficiently and effectively scale your impact. IYF offered a suite of tools, including our Passport to Success® life skills curriculum, Build Your Business entrepreneurship lessons, and IServe social innovation training, that have fundamentally transformed how YSIs and universities in Palestine support youth in pursuing their goals.

With committed, hard-working people seeking to create change in similarly challenging environments around the world, I hold YED up as an example of why it’s important to do what you can do well—and to maintain a clear-eyed focus on where you can make a difference.

When I see young men and women developing themselves through the tools, workshops, courses, internships, business opportunities, and jobs that YED helped to foster, I know we’ve left an enduring legacy. And to the many people and institutions that worked with us to create greater hope and opportunities for Palestinian youth, I offer our heartfelt gratitude.

Mohammad AlMbaid is Country Director, Palestine.