Social Business News

The Next Economy: first experiences in a multiple-country programme

In May this year, our colleague Thijs Rutgers moved to Africa to work on The Next Economy. Till October he will collaborate with 1%Club, SOS Children Village, Afrilabs, and several African innovation hubs on a three year programme to empower youth and tackle youth unemployment in Nigeria, Mali and Somaliland. In his blog he shares his latest adventures.

A long, long way from home…

For the next coming months I’ll be travelling between Nigeria, Mali and Somaliland. I’ve worked in Africa before, and I am truly excited to be back.


The coming months I’ll be working on a programme that will be implemented in three countries. Our work focuses on getting local youth employed and supporting entrepreneurship among youth in Nigeria, Mali and Somaliland. We’re developing a programme where youth gather to follow trainings in which they can unleash their talents, build their confidence and hone the skills they need for a successful career in a job or as an entrepreneur.

Next Economy
Photo: FATE foundation

The programme consists of two main tracks: Make it Work and Grow Your Business. With Make it Work, youth is trained to start their own business or to find a decent job. Grow your Business is focussed on accelerating startups to the next level.

Last month we kicked off with 20 promising Nigerian start-ups in Lagos and Abuja (Nigeria). In Lagos we work closely with Co-Creation Hub Nigeria. In Abuja we work with ENSPIRE.

Dial a Nanny

One of the participating startups is called Dial a Nanny, which I think is definitely worth mentioning. The entrepreneurs created a solution to link trustworthy nannies (maids) in Nigeria to trustworthy Employers. As this sector is still very informal and doesn’t have clear guidelines, Dial a Nanny brings the sector wide in the open. On a mobile application nannies and employers can be rated. Moreover, Dial a Nanny is thinking of offering trainings to the nannies to equip them with more and more skills.

This week I arrived in Bamako (Mali), where I will be for the next 2 months to implement the same programme at Impact Hub Bamako. Over here we have selected 13 entrepreneurs who will participate in the same kind of programme.

Now the challenge is: how to design programmes that suit three completely different contexts/countries? How can we make sure the three programmes learn from each other?

Context Variation by Design

At Enviu we design social businesses with the aim to scale up to multiple geographical areas. We believe that through scale, we can truly change systems that currently keep (social) issues alive. 

Context Variation by Design, a solution design approach that was developed at the Delft University of Technology is very suitable for these types of complex boundary crossing challenges. Recently Enviu has therefore started to collaborate on applying this approach in practice. The Next Economy brings a great opportunity to bring this approach into practice.

When we kicked off The Next Economy with all partners, we started to design the programme outline by being open to insights from all the different contexts. The outline of the programme  has a common shared base while it explicitly leaves enough room for contextual variations.

I’m like a spider in the middle of the web

For me a consequence is that I try to cross-pollinate between the different locations, to help develop programme outlines that better take into account requirements from the different countries but do not use a one-size-fits-all version. In some cases I can now take lessons while they are still burning hot and ‘confront’ them in another context. And vice versa.

Photo: Co-creation Hub

At the same time, I’m collaborating with youth entrepreneurs on their businesses. Weekly I meet up with every single startup to discuss the progress that they make. It’s great to experience the enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs and partners I work with. All partners, and I mean all of them without exception; show tremendous enthusiasm implementing the program. It is easy to understand why.

A best answer was given by one of the youths that asked for my phone number. Youth: “hello Sir”. Thijs: “Hi, How are you? Will you be there again next week?” Youth: “Yes Sir… I will be there, I see the program as an opportunity I should never miss… So I will always be there”.

I still have a couple of months to go. But I already know that I’m going to miss this place. Luckily is still have some time left. Soon I will share more about my adventures over here.