Empowering African Youth Employment Through Entrepreneurship

A TechnoServe program increased youth employment in Africa through skills and training opportunities, enabling thousands to become successful micro-retailers.


Africa has more than 72 million youth who are not in education, employment, or training, according to the International Labor Organization. Read about a TechnoServe program that successfully created youth employment opportunities through micro-retail entrepreneurship for African youth in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Côte d’Ivoire. Pan-African Youth Entrepreneur Development (PAYED), supported by Citi Foundation, gave thousands of young people pathways to progress and new careers in the past seven years.

Why micro-retail?

A client of TechnoServe's entrepreneurship program stands outside her corner shop in Kenya, one of four countries where PAYED helped build youth employment in Africa.
Christine Moraa stands outside her corner shop in Kenya. (TechnoServe)

The corner shop was the cornerstone of PAYED. These small shops are vital to communities. A large majority of city residents rely on tiny shops like the one run by Christine Moraa (pictured above) for essential daily products around the developing world.

“We selected the sector of micro-retailers because when you look at youth in Africa, lack of employment opportunities is a major barrier. Starting businesses is usually a challenge, especially getting the right business to start,” said Alice Waweru, TechnoServe’s Director of Entrepreneurship in East Africa. “We worked with Citi Foundation to help youth build a pathway to progress and connect to a wider business ecosystem so that youth really drive and create employment opportunities in that space.”

PAYED worked with thousands of youth to run and grow their businesses, ultimately contributing to the economic development of their communities.

A growth mindset

TechnoServe recruited PAYED participants with a common set of characteristics, chief among them was a growth mindset that would enable them to make the most of the year-long experience. Youth entrepreneurs needed to operate a permanent brick-and-mortar shop for at least six months. They needed to be literate, have English language skills, and access to mobile technology.

As TechnoServe’s clients, they were part of a year-long program with a cohort that received training in modules like financial management, customer service, managing supply chains, government policies, and marketing.

Participants attended one online module and one advisory session every month. They also enrolled in PAYED’s online digital platforms so that they could learn at their convenience. Each module was offered for a month and advisory sessions helped reinforce the practice in their shops.

Our impact on youth employment

In the past seven years, PAYED worked directly with 9,671 youth micro-retailers, 59% were female. The program strengthened 21,000 jobs across Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Côte d’Ivoire. The program’s success in reaching many clients and strengthening employment opportunities highlights the positive impact it has had on local communities.

Peer referrals and social media in Côte d’Ivoire

A smiling woman sits in her shop next to a TechnoServe trainer who is pointing to a paper. They have ledger on their lap. The photo was taken in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Sound financial management was an important module of PAYED, a youth entrepeneur program in four  African countries.
A TechnoServe PAYED trainer meets with a micro-retail owner in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. (TechnoServe)

PAYED reached 2,191 clients in Côte d’Ivoire. The training and support provided have enabled entrepreneurs to enhance their revenue by 45%, demonstrating the tangible outcomes of the program.

The program realized that engaging younger people in entrepreneurship required a specific approach and tools. Outreach using social media like Facebook and YouTube proved effective in reaching many potential participants.

“It is very important to break the ice and to create a kind of climate of confidence, a climate of trust, with the youth you want to recruit to be part of your project,” noted Albert Bula, TechnoServe Côte d’Ivoire. “And in Côte d’Ivoire, we also took language into account by using pidgin to connect with youth instead of more formal language.”

Word-of-mouth and alumni referrals built trust and confidence, as skepticism about online opportunities is common. PAYED also used clear, cohesive, and appealing messages to gain the attention of youth. Participants were motivated by successful alumni stories and role models.

The use of an active learning journey and the creation of WhatsApp groups facilitated interaction and support. The PAYED app has also been instrumental in delivering content and modules, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Adapting to the COVID-19 crisis in Tanzania

A young man in his micro-retail store in Tanzania where he has successfully doubled his daily sales thanks to TechnoServe's youth entrepreneurhip program.
Emanuel Barosha Ndiwene at his corner store in Tanzania. The skills he learned at PAYED has helped him more than double his daily sales. (TechnoServe)

The supply chain, market, and operations of many small- and medium-enterprises in Tanzania were disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. This impacted their revenue and profitability. The team responded quickly by designing digital approaches to continue offering the program, including the PAYED app.

The team also used WhatsApp to build community, allowing clients to share pictures, videos, and updates of their businesses. Entrepreneurs received additional support in digitizing their businesses, leveraging online supply chains, mobile payments like M-Pesa, and social media marketing.

As a result of these efforts, the project recorded a 14% average increase in revenue for PAYED micro-retailers. An encouraging 24% of businesses created new jobs, and 36% maintained their workforce, despite the challenging economic climate.  

“In Tanzania, we also worked very closely with the government, and by doing so, our clients were among the first clients who accessed interest-free loans and even tax relief,” noted Tunsime Kyando, country manager at TechnoServe Tanzania.

By adapting to the new normal and providing critical support, PAYED was able to mitigate the impact of the crisis and contribute to the resilience of the micro-retailers in Tanzania. The program reached 2,581 clients, 49% of whom were women. Incremental revenue for participants grew by 41%.

Buy-in and sector formalization in Kenya

A before and after image of a micro-retail store owned by entrepreneur Winnie Yegon in Kenya who received training on product display and inventory management through TechnoServe's PAYED program.
Lupo Mini Mart before owner Winnie Yegon joined PAYED (top) and after she received training on product display and inventory management (below). (TechnoServe)

In Kenya, the program reached more than 2,500 micro-retailers, 59% were women and 94% were youth. Our support contributed to a 42% increase in revenue.

Over seven years, the program secured essential buy-in from key market actors within the micro-retail ecosystem, creating significant value for everyone. PAYED brought financial services, technology providers, manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors to interact with micro-retailers, creating a mutually balanced and beneficial ecosystem for all stakeholders. In Kenya, the program collaborated with financial institutions like Equity, KCB, and Unitas.

“Sector formalization with the formation of micro-retail business groups and associations was a big success,” said Elsie Njoki, PAYED program manager at TechnoServe Kenya. “It really validated their legality within the country, allowing our youth entrepreneurs to access new lines of government support and become entities that are eligible to transact with manufacturers and distributors and also financial institutions.”

Visibility and validation in Nigeria

In Nigeria, PAYED trained 2,300 clients, with a huge majority of women at 76%. The program attracted and influenced partners to increase support for entrepreneurs, ultimately leading to job creation and revenue growth. Partnerships with Citi volunteers were crucial in elevating the program’s visibility and impact.

“We were deliberate about ensuring our work was being seen out there by people that matter most,” said Kazeem Omiyale, project manager at TechnoServe Nigeria. “It was important for PAYED stories to be shared so that the impact of the program was in the hearts and minds of people.”

Best practices and lessons learned

Alice Waweru (standing far right) with PAYED team members and a micro-retail entrepreneur. (TechnoServe)

The lessons learned from PAYED have emphasized the importance of utilizing digital approaches like online learning platforms and social media marketing to support and engage youth entrepreneurs.

The program’s efforts to provide interactive modes of communication, equip entrepreneurs with digital skills, and strengthen engagement with stakeholders contributed to its overall success and the positive outcomes experienced by the clients. 

“One final lesson we learned was that such fantastic work was never going to be possible without a strong and passionate team, some who joined during the pilot phase and worked right to the end of the program in 2023,” remarked Waweru. “We embraced a lot of collaboration and teamwork, adaptability, commitment, and dedication.”

The future is full of opportunity

The PAYED program has been instrumental in empowering African youth to take advantage of micro-retail entrepreneurship opportunities.

TechnoServe is optimistic that PAYED has laid a strong foundation for future opportunities:

  • The program has inspired other collaborations in Africa and Latin America. 
  • Micro-retailers are also gearing up to be part of food fortification efforts as distributors of nutritious food. 
  • TechnoServe is proud to be a part of a new program targeting persons with disabilities with Sightsavers that is funded by the USAID.

Learn more about TechnoServe’s PAYED program and entrepreneurship efforts