Giving poor people cash is a good idea. Giving entrepreneurs cash might be a great one
By Dan Kopf
If you’re a young person in Nigeria, there’s a good chance you’re out of work. A whopping 40% of people between the ages of 25-34 were unemployed in 2017, according to the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics. As the country’s population continues to grow—the median age of in the country is only 18—the economy is struggling to create jobs at a sufficiently fast pace.
Faced with an overwhelming problem, the Nigerian government dreamed up a radical measure seemingly inspired by reality TV. It created YouWin, the largest business-plan competition the world has ever seen, awarding cash to young entrepreneurs. Contestants had to be under age 40 to apply; judges based their decisions on who had the most viable business plans that were most likely to generate jobs. From 2012 to 2015, the Nigerian government gave away $100 million to over 3,000 entrepreneurs, all of them under age 40. “When I told people we were doing a business plan competition in Nigeria, they would keel over laughing.” said Michael Wong, an economist at the World Bank who helped design YouWin.
The contest was unlike any government program that had been rolled out before. But it was incredibly successful—so successful, in fact, that the idea is spreading across Africa, and helping to change the way that economists think about alleviating poverty.
Photo courtesy of Adam Rozanas.