How can North Macedonia keep a new generation from leaving?


by Arber Kuci, Consultant

Youth participation has been demonstrated as vital to the success and sustainability of development efforts. When Navanti was commissioned by USAID in North Macedonia to conduct a cross-sectoral youth assessment (CSYA), to understand the drivers of out-migration and potential incentives to stay or return, the company based its research design and methodology on the Positive Youth Development (PYD) framework to optimize results. The results of the research were designed to feed into the Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS).

In applying the PYD approach to its project design and implementation, Navanti hired and trained youth enumerators and facilitators to interview their peers in a national, quantitative survey, as well as lead focus group discussions and key informant interviews. The CSYA was able to identify concrete concerns and recommendations that youth felt comfortable expressing to members of their age cohort, and simultaneously built the skills, agency, and engagement of North Macedonian youth through the research process itself.

First, several of the most notable findings of the CSYA’s quantitative, national survey of 1,042 youth:

  • 37% of all respondents plan to migrate in the next 1-2 years. LGBQTI youth expressed the highest desire to migrate (57%), followed by Roma youth (46%), both of whom are historically marginalized groups.

  • 77% of surveyed families said that the primary reason for their child’s migration was to find work.

  • Only 28% of Roma, and 38% of people living with disabilities (PLWD) believed that their education prepared them to get a job, and structural problems in the educational sector were one of the key drivers behind youth migration.

Comfort with their peers

Focus group discussions led by trained youth facilitators provided a comfortable format for participants to express their opinions in front of their peers, even on highly sensitive topics. While youth respondents avoided giving clear answers during the quantitative survey regarding what subjects they would have liked to learn in school but did not, focus group discussions yielded several actionable suggestions, including: sex education, mental health support, strategies to address school bullying, computer and media literacy, and financial literacy.

Another sensitive finding that emerged from peer-led focus group discussions was lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) youth saying they feel unsafe in North Macedonia, with all of them reporting having been physically attacked at some point in their lives. Notably, 80% of LGBTI youth said they intended to leave the country in the next 1-2 years. An interesting finding of the CSYA was that, possibly in response to these conditions leading to increased donor-supported initiatives among this cohort, LGBTI youth demonstrated comparatively greater agency and higher levels of engagement in civic life than other research participants.

Building skills and contribution

One key domain of the PYD framework is contribution, which aims to improve youth engagement in various forms, including participation in community service, and opportunities for youth decision making in various levels of government. Results from the CSYA quantitative survey, backed by focus groups and interviews, indicated that youth, particularly those from marginalized groups, feel excluded from government decisions and distrust government institutions in North Macedonia.

Roma, LGBTI, and PLWD measured higher in feelings of exclusion than the national average, with unemployed Roma respondents exhibiting the highest sense of social exclusion. Only 1 of 100 Roma respondents agreed with the statement “people in power care what I think,” and only 40% of youth overall believed that their vote matters.

The CSYA found that employment status correlated with social belonging. As a result of unemployment, research showed that 72% of youth aged 15-29 live with their parents, which undermines their financial independence and ability to make decisions for themselves. As focus group participant Maja Atanasoska noted: “we are in need of jobs so that we can live independently.”

In order to help bridge the gap and encourage communication between youth-led civil society organizations and relevant government authorities, at the onset of the CSYA project, Navanti set up a Steering Committee comprised of 12 members led by our partner, the National Youth Council of Macedonia (NYCM). This body of youth experts helped ground the CSYA findings and ensure their relevance.

In summary, the participatory research design adopted by Navanti empowered local actors and allowed for the collection of sensitive information, which youth respondents felt comfortable expressing to their peers. This research represents a model for engaging youth in the decisions that will shape their future. It is one step on the road towards self-reliance and creating an environment where youth will opt to stay in North Macedonia rather than seek a better future abroad.