Millions of young people in India and Bangladesh are unemployed or trapped in low-wage, low-skilled or unsafe jobs. Youth entrepreneurship offers a viable alternative – empowering young people to break out of the poverty cycle, improve their lives and create jobs for others.
However, for many young people entrepreneurship feels out of reach and they lack the contacts, experience or practical know-how to turn their excellent idea into a thriving business. This opportunity-gap led Youth Business International (YBI) and IKEA Foundation to launch our joint initiative ‘Accelerating Youth-led Businesses in the Digital Era’ in 2019 to equip young people in India and Bangladesh with the skills and knowledge they need to start, grow and sustain a business.
Implemented by YBI’s local member organisations, Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) in India and Bangladesh Youth Enterprise Advice and Helpcentre (B’YEAH) over the last three years, the programme has:
The programme focused on two key components:
A digital accelerator, aimed at supporting young entrepreneurs to develop the digital skills they need to succeed in a digital economy
Decent work training to empower young entrepreneurs to become responsible employers who respect and honour the rights of their employees and provide fair and safe working conditions
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 and strict national lockdowns in India and Bangladesh made digital skills more important than ever for small businesses to survive and thrive. Micro, small and medium enterprises in both countries, which typically relied on face-to-face interactions with customers, were hit particularly hard by the restrictions on movement and had to deal with large losses in revenue. To support entrepreneurs through this unprecedented crisis, YBI members BYST and B’YEAH quickly moved their support services online and provided remote support through webinars, helplines, and chat groups. The key focus of the programme was to equip entrepreneurs with the skills and knowledge to move their businesses online.
One of these entrepreneurs is Ripa Akther from Bangladesh. The mother of two ran a thriving handicrafts business until Bangladesh’s national lockdown forced her to close her shop and all markets and fairs were cancelled. Ripa lost her income overnight but was able to quickly recover with support from YBI member B’YEAH, who provided her with e-commerce and Facebook commerce training as part of YBI’s and IKEA Foundation’s joint programme. Ripa created a website and Facebook page for her business with impressive results: soon after launching her pages, she received an order for 50,000 decorative flower items. This helped Ripa recover her financial loss and opened her eyes to the many opportunities and benefits of e-commerce.
Over 2,000 entrepreneurs from India and Bangladesh completed digital skills training provided through YBI’s and IKEA Foundation’s joint programme, with 72% reporting an increase in digital skills uptake.
At the end of 2020, YBI and its members BYST and B’YEAH launched the second phase of the programme, focused on making young entrepreneurs champions of decent work. This included training on how to set up written contracts for employees, fair wages and working hours, paid sick leave and holiday, non-discrimination, and implementing health and safety measures in the workplace.
Over the course of the training, it became clear that young entrepreneurs have a desire to operate a responsible business, both from a legal and ethical point of view. What was lacking was knowledge and understanding as to what decent work means as well as access to tools and resources —particularly financial resources — to put principles into action.
At the end of the programme, over 1,200 entrepreneurs from India and Bangladesh completed decent work training and reported intention to implement decent work principles in their business. One of them is Rahul Patil from India, founder of M/s BE ALL ICE CREAM. He says about the training:
“As a start-up founder, BYST’s decent work training was so insightful and encouraging for me. I learned about health and safety measures, non-discrimination policies, and social security, including fair and equal wages, paid sick leave and overtime – all of which I am now implementing in my business.”
Over the course of the last three years, Accelerating Youth-led Businesses in the Digital Era has supported over 3,200 entrepreneurs in India and Bangladesh to start over 1,200 new businesses and strengthen over 1,400 existing businesses – making a lasting impact on the lives of the entrepreneurs, their businesses and communities.