Impact of Youth Empowerment Programmes in Low-Income Settings: A Systematic Review of the Qualitative Evidence




systematic review, thematic synthesis, qualitative research, youth empowerment, social development


The impact and sustainability of youth empowerment programmes is highly contentious in a context marked by significant levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Youth empowerment programmes play a role in supporting low-income youth. This article presents a systematic review of six studies that were conducted between 2008 and 2013 in poor, urban, semi-rural and rural communities in South Africa. The main goal of the article is to describe how young people have been impacted by participating in youth empowerment programmes in their communities. Themes on key development indicators, results-based transformation, and sustainable youth empowerment programmes, summarise the main factors that influence how youth empowerment programmes are perceived. The systematic review of the literature results provides a basis for further research into youth empowerment programmes.


Metrics Loading ...


Andersson, T., and F. Aspling. 2008. “A Future in Our Lifetime? Citizenship and Future Aspirations within the Youth of Khayelitsha.” BA thesis, University of Halmstad.

Attree, M. 2006. “The Social Costs of Child Poverty: A Systematic Review of the Qualitative Evidence.” Children and Society 20 (1): 54–66. DOI:

Chattopadhyaya, A. 2005. “Women and Entrepreneurship.” Yojana, a Monthly Journal of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting 5 (1): 123–156.

Chege, S. E. W. 2011. “Assessing Youth Participation in Decision-Making Processes in Community Development Programmes: A Case Study of the Spes Bona High School Dream2be Peer Education Programme.” Master’s thesis, University of the Western Cape.

Dipela, M. P., and B. Mohapi. 2021. “Barriers Affecting Effective Monitoring and Evaluation of Poverty Alleviation Projects within Waterberg District.” Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 57 (3): 278–301. DOI:

Dube, S., and R. J. Nicholson. 2018. “Youth in Agriculture: Securing the Future of Sugarcane Farming in South Africa.” South African Sugar Technologists’ Association 91: 114–119.

Francis, J., P. Mamatsharaga, B. Dube, and T. Chitapa. 2011. “Making Youth Voices Count in Development Programming in Makhado Municipality, Limpopo Province.” Journal of Geography and Regional Planning 4 (5): 297–304.

Hlagala, R. B. 2012. “Emergence and Future Status of Youth Work: Perspectives of Social Service Professionals in South Africa.” PhD diss., University of Pretoria.

Hlongwa, M., and K. Hlongwana. 2020. “Men’s Perspectives on HIV Self-Testing in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Qualitative Systematic Review Protocol.” JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis18 (3): 571–575. DOI:

Jennings, L. B., D. M. Parra-Medina, D. K. Hilfinger-Messsias, and K. McLoughlin. 2006. “Toward a Critical Social Theory of Youth Empowerment.” Journal of Community Practice 14 (12): 31–55. DOI:

Jhangiani, R. and H. Tarry. 2022. “Principles of Social Psychology.” 1st international H5P edition. BC Campus. Accessed June 13, 2023.

Jupp, D., S. I. Ali, and C. Barahona. 2010. “Measuring Empowerment? Ask Them Quantifying Qualitative Outcomes from People’s Own Analysis.” Book commissioned by Sida, Department for Long-Term Program Cooperation, Team for Bangladesh in collaboration with Secretariat for Evaluation. Accessed June 2, 2023.

Laverack, G. 2001. “An Identification and Interpretation of the Organizational Aspects of Community Empowerment.” Community Development Journal 36 (2): 134–145. DOI:

Leshilo, A., and M. Lethoko. 2017. “The Contribution of Youth in Local Economic Development and Entrepreneurship in Polokwane Municipality, Limpopo Province.” Skills @ Work 8 (1): 45–58.

Lombard, A. 2008. “The Implementation of the White Paper for Social Welfare: A Ten-Year Review.” Social Work Practitioner–Researcher 20 (2): 154–173.

Menyuko, E. D. 2011. “The Experiences of Participants in Income-Generating Projects in Atteridgeville, Tshwane.” Master’s thesis, University of South Africa.

Morgan, A. 2013. “An Assessment of Youth Development from the National Youth Commission to the Youth Development Agency.” Master’s thesis, University of the Witwatersrand.

Morrow, V. 2001. “Using Qualitative Methods to Elicit Young People’s Perspectives on Their Environment: Some Ideas for Community Health Initiatives.” Health Education Research: Theory and Practice 16 (3): 255–268. DOI:

Ngubeni, S. P. 2013. “Youth Development Performance Management in Municipalities: A Nkangala District Municipality Case Study.” Master’s thesis, University of Stellenbosch.

Nkosi, Z. E. 2010. “The Impact of Income Generating Project on Women at Utrecht.” Master’s thesis, University of Zululand.

Petticrew, M., and H. Roberts. 2006. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences. Oxford: Blackwell. DOI:

Plagerson, S. 2021. “Mainstreaming Poverty, Inequality and Social Exclusion: A Systematic Assessment of Public Policy in South Africa.” Development Southern Africa 1: 191–207. DOI:

Porritt, K., J. Gomersall, and C. Lockwood. 2014. “Step by Step Study Selection and Critical Appraisal: The Steps Following the Literature Search in a Systematic Review.” American Journal of Nursing 114 (6): 47–52. DOI:

Raniga, T. 2018). “Poverty Alleviation, Social Protection Policy and Sustainability of Economic Development Cooperatives: Voices of Women Residing in Bhambhayi, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.” Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 54 (4): 394–406. DOI:

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 1996. National Youth Commission Act 19 of 1996.

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 1997. White Paper for Social Welfare 1997.

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 2008. National Youth Development Agency Act 54 of 2008.

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 2009. National Youth Policy, 2009–2014.

Shamseer, L., D. Moher, M. Clarke, D. Ghersi, A. Liberati, M. Petticrew, P. Shekelle and L. A. Stewart. 2015. “Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015: Elaboration and Explanation.” BMJ (2015): 1–25. DOI:

Sovasi, N. L. 2009. “Assessment of the Role and Impact of the Eastern Cape Provincial Government Social Cluster on Youth Development in Buffalo City.” Master’s thesis, University of Fort Hare.

Stats SA (Statistics South Africa). 2016. “Vulnerable Group Series I: The Social Profile of Youth, 2009–2014.” Stats SA. Accessed June 13, 2023.

Stats SA (Statistics South Africa). 2022. “Quarterly Labour Force Survey 2020/2021.” Stats SA. Accessed June 13, 2023.

Stats SA (Statistics South Africa). 2023. “Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS), Q2:2023.” Stats SA. Accessed June 13, 2023.

Swift, C., and G. Levin. 1987. “Empowerment: An Emerging Mental Health Technology.” Journal of Primary Prevention 8 (1–2): 71–94. DOI:

Thomas, J., and A. Harden. 2008. “Methods for the Thematic Synthesis of Qualitative Research in Systematic Reviews.” BMC Medical Research Methodology 8 (45): 1471–2288. DOI:

Tong, A., S. Palmer, J. C. Craig, and G. F. M. Strippoli. 2016. “A Guide to Reading and Using Systematic Reviews of Qualitative Research.” Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation 31 (6): 897–903. DOI:

United Nations. 2003. “World Youth Report 2003: The Global Situation of Young People.” United Nations. Accessed June 13, 2023.

Wilkinson, R., and K. Pickett. 2009. The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. London: Allen Lane.

World Bank. 2022. “Report on Inequality in Southern Africa: An Assessment of the Southern African Customs Union.” World Bank. Accessed August 3, 2022.

Van Breda, A. D., and L. C. Theron. 2018. “A Critical Review of South African Child and Youth Resilience Studies, 2009–2017.” Children and Youth Services Review 91: 237–247. DOI:

Zantsi, S. 2021. “Why Do Agricultural Co-Operatives Fail to Attract Youth and Create Rural Employment? Evidence from a Case Study of Zanokhanyo in Butterworth, Eastern Cape.” South African Journal of Agricultural Extension 49 (1): 183–197. DOI:

Zimmerman, M. A. 2002. “Empowerment Theory: Psychological, Organizational, and Community Levels of Analysis.” In Handbook of Community Psychology, edited by J. Rappaport and E. Seidman, 43–63. New York: Plenum Press. DOI:



How to Cite

Sitshange, Madoda. 2024. “Impact of Youth Empowerment Programmes in Low-Income Settings: A Systematic Review of the Qualitative Evidence”. Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development 36 (1):20 pages.



Received 2022-08-21
Accepted 2023-11-30
Published 2024-02-27