A business advisory council is a group of stakeholders representing the private sector (e.g., individual businesses, chambers of commerce, trade associations) that provides guidance or support (in-kind, cash, or technical) to a youth project. Members should represent the informal and formal businesses that are relevant to job or self-employment opportunities for the project’s targeted youth population. Ideally, an initial labor market assessment identifies key sectors for growth. Businesses in those sectors can then be approached by the project to participate in the council.
Business advisory councils ideally should be established at the outset of a project and continued throughout the life of the project to have continual private sector contributions toward various aspects of the program, including program design, curriculum review, mentoring, job placement, and leveraging of resources.
Incentives are an important consideration for ensuring private sector engagement in a business advisory council. These incentives should align private sector members’ personal and professional interests with program goals. The most influential incentive for private sector partners is often their interest in strengthening the qualifications of potential job seekers to meet their industry’s workforce needs. However, some larger companies have corporate social responsibility programs that mandate their participation in social programming.
With these incentives in mind, there are specific strategies that can help to engage private sector committee members. Projects should clearly and consistently communicate expectations and requests for assistance to private sector members, providing them with focused opportunities to be involved that are realistic given their other time commitments. Projects should also make it as easy as possible for private sector members to participate, providing minutes from meetings on a timely basis and sending e-mail or hard-copy updates. Projects should provide opportunities for members to gain visibility for their involvement in the project, either in the press or at public events, as an incentive for working with the project.
Business advisory councils can provide relevant feedback and direct employment links in development programs. Private sector insight saves time and money in both the design and implementation phases of programs. In implementation, connecting private sector actors to development programs helps target skills training to actual job opportunities, while providing a network of contacts for future community leaders. Establishing a business advisory council can provide nonbiased direction to youth workforce and training programs while also providing the vital industry-specific knowledge, contacts, and market insight needed for successful workforce programs.
Inviting local businesses to participate on an advisory council may be better for the project than inviting national-level or even multinational businesses. Although international businesses may bring more immediate excitement and visibility, experience has shown that when a business is more connected to the community in which a project operates, it has more interest in the outcomes and thus in contributing to the project. Business representatives have a stronger connection to youth in their communities. In addition, the closer physical proximity of the business makes it easier to convene members for meetings and events. Finally, if businesses are positioned to benefit from supporting the project, business representatives will have a stronger incentive to ensure its success.
There are different roles for advisory council members during the course of a youth project. When a project is launched, high-profile executives with strong name recognition can bring visibility to the project and generate excitement in a community, encouraging other businesses to become involved. These same high-level executives have particularly busy schedules and are usually less available for meetings or for participating in other activities such as serving as mentors or helping in job placement. For this reason, it is important to identify a second representative from each business who has decision-making authority but who has more time to go to meetings and participate more actively.
Business representatives have busy work and travel schedules; their availability is quite limited. A project’s expectations for their involvement should be modest and focused on select activities. Projects should anticipate the need for frequent and regular communication with business advisory councils in order to keep them updated on the project and requests for assistance. Private sector partners can offer support, but the project should anticipate the need to continue to drive the activities itself, rather than expecting the private sector partners to serve in that role.
A report on the International Youth Foundation’s EEA Project worked to broaden education and employment opportunities for disadvantaged youth in strong partnership with stakeholders across the public and private sectors.
Development programs do not always have to think in terms of developing their own business advisory councils. Private firms, such as MEC International, regularly set up business councils to facilitate new opportunities in developing countries like South Sudan. The South Sudan Business Council is another way for on-the-ground development programs to tap into private sector expertise and provide more direct links to youth employment.
The USAID-funded Shaqodoon project established business advisory councils in seven strategic locations in Somalia to provide feedback about local market demand and skills needed by Somali youth to find work. Included in the project design, advisory council feedback helped the project to target interventions.
CARANA Corporation directly connects business advisers to a spectrum of youth development programs allowing local firms to hire new youth employees directly. To date, 3,100 El Salvadorian youth have completed certification courses linked to USAID’s Program to Improve Access to Employment.
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