Investing in street youths: Generation Enterprise

Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi, Lagos Community Manager
Lagos, 12 February 2015

Given Nigeria's median age of 18.2 and 23.9 percent unemployment rate — more than half of which is unemployed youth — population explosion, urban sprawl, and youth unemployment are increasingly at the fore of labor policies and discourse. Lagos has the second highest percentage of youth in the nation. Tackling youth unemployment has been addressed from multiple angles and at all levels of government through tax breaks, vocational training, and business funding grants. However, the issues are overwhelming and constantly require new forms of intervention. Introducing a new dimension to the fight against unemployment and poverty alleviation for youths is Generation Enterprise.

Generation Enterprise can best be described as a social enterprise and business incubator generating youth employment and opportunities. The organization, founded on the dire reality of urban slum-dwelling youths, was inspired to create a model that transforms a potentially "lost generation" into an enterprising and empowered generation serving as agents of economic development. The organization's co-op structure model creates an avenue for youths to earn a living while building marketable skills — moving from poverty to independence and community leadership.

Generation Enterprise creates and runs businesses in conjunction with street youths, who are brought on as employees who learn on the job and receive ongoing training. The youth therefore earn an income, assume greater responsibility, and ultimately take ownership of the entity if desired. The organization is able to launch and grow businesses with partners in key industries and government, which reduces market risk. Program participants can buy out an enterprise at a pre-set level, allowing them to be more financially sustainable while providing them true ownership via the co-op structure.

The results of this model have shown visible impact. Since 2009, Generation Enterprise's global team has been operating SMEs and training youth in Lagos, with programs in neighborhoods of Surulere, Agege, and Alimosho. The organization has screened over 250 applicants and trained 150 young people as Fellows. Furthermore, its enterprises earn an average of $750 per month, with a number of businesses transitioning from microenterprises to SMEs. Success stories include the Timilehin World of Entertainment, specializing in movie rentals, which was able to increase income by 51 percent and create jobs. Zest Cleaning, a corporate cleaning service company, created seven jobs and increased their income by 28 percent. His Grace Music World, an entertainment enterprise providing services ranging from music lessons to record sales, was able to create three jobs and also increase income significantly.

While success has been recorded, sustainability of the model is a challenge. Issues such as the length of time before a participating fellow/"co-op" employee can afford to buy out, how participants are selected, and how the sense of ownership required for long term commitment to such ventures is instilled come to mind. The model might not be perfected yet, but it is definitely an innovative introduction to the employment and poverty alleviation intervention sphere.

Photo: i Hub

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