Since 2014, MEDA has partnered with Cuso International in Nigeria on the Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) project. The Youth Entrepreneurship Business Support Plan (YEBSP) is just one of the many activities aimed at improving financial inclusion for young entrepreneurs in Cross River State.
The YEBSP was conceived on the premise that some youth entrepreneurs require small amounts of funds (approximately 100,000-300,000 Naira; CAD$350 – 1,100) to kick-start their businesses in the natural resources sector, and that demonstrating the effectiveness of small grants to youth entrepreneurs would increase the confidence of partner microfinance banks to provide loans to youth. It was thus designed and administered as a business plan competition for youth, between the ages of 18-351 , who have completed or are currently enrolled in the project’s entrepreneurship training program. To ensure shared risk between the entrepreneur and the project, all applicants had to provide a minimum 30% match to their business (this could include supplies, assets, equipment, etc.).
The entire process from launching the competition to announcing the winners varied from cycle to cycle but took approximately six months. There were four main screening stages, as outlined below:
Stage 1: Once applications were received, they were screened for completeness of information.
Stage 2: Completed applications were screened for business viability by the Grant Officer.
Stage 3: The most viable applications were reviewed by an Evaluation Committee comprising of internal and external members (e.g. market actors, entrepreneurs, and microfinance bank staff).
Stage 4: Reviewed applications were subjected to spot checks at their business location by the Grant Officer and other project staff, including MEDA Canada staff.
Over 4000 applications were received over the course of three cycles and 324 youth entrepreneurs (56% women) were granted funds for their businesses. The table below shows some statistics around the number of applicants, grantees (i.e. winning applicants) and other statistics.
There were many challenges faced and lessons learned from the first and second cycles. Each cycle has hopefully benefited from lessons of previous cycles, and adjustments have been made to various stages of the process. For example, the 3rd cycle launched the competition on the same date across all 18 local government areas (LGAs) to ensure everyone had the same amount of time to ask questions and submit applications. This meant that the YEBSP Grant Officer had to rely on the project’s extensive field staff and volunteers who all had to be trained to launch the business plan competition consistently and simultaneously across all districts.
The 2nd and 3rd cycles included pre-disbursement financial management training (including cash-flow analysis) for all winning applicants in response to observations of poor financial management discovered during monitoring of 1st cycle winners. Following data inconsistencies in Cycle 1, data collection and entry of all applicants was improved in subsequent cycles with the use of an integrated spreadsheet that allowed each stage’s results to automatically feed into the next. MEDA Canada brought its expertise of iFormBuilder to the YouLead team, which resulted in spot check and monitoring data being collected in the field via tablets. This ensured seamless syncing to spreadsheets; thus, eliminating the need for manual data entry as was done during Cycle 1.
Over the coming months, the project’s staff intends to closely monitor all winners and provide business development services as required to ensure the success of these young entrepreneurs. The project has started linking young entrepreneurs to market actors such as input suppliers in poultry and aquaculture value chains. This will ensure that these start-up entrepreneurs are able to source good quality and fair-priced supplies for their new businesses. We expect that the monitoring process will also inform our original premise that small grants provided through the YEBSP can in fact kick-start youth-led business and lead them to success. Only time and careful monitoring of the process will tell us more.
1 Government of Nigeria’s definition of youth.
2 As per exchange rates (June 2018), Naira 50,234,060 is equivalent to approximately CAD 179,400.