Living in worlds our questions create: finding the answers to assist the youth explore business models, potential partners and local solutions.

September 7, 2022

Some of the Youth Lab delegates from 8ste Laan during an experiment at UN House

In 2021, the Accelerator Lab Namibia established a Youth Lab in 8ste Laan, one of Windhoek’s informal settlements. This is an initiative which puts the youth at the centre of our learning questions and aims to connect them to stakeholders from different sectors across Namibia who are passionate about solving ‘wicked’ and ‘complex’ problems using participatory and community-based methods and approaches in informal settlements across Namibia. The Youth Lab is premised on promoting a culture of inclusive and sustainable innovation through learning, action, collaboration, and scaling of solutions generated from “a bottom-up” approach, meaning involving the youth from the informal settlements in co-designing proposed solutions.

Our 1st cohort and sample size comprise 10 youth who are between the ages of 18-25; all have expressed a desire to find solutions to some of the challenges they encounter daily. Through a process of co-creation, we went through various phases of exploration, finding questions to answer through social listening, conversations and photo journaling as a way of introducing the Accelerator Lab and our participatory methods to their community. Through this collaboration we seek to generate new opportunities by marshalling the youth’s ideas and turning them into tangible prototypes while equipping them with the tools to create their own future.

Since the inception of our journey with the youth, we have found a few challenges which include finding partners to assist them through their various challenges. While navigating these challenges, we found ways of taking the group through a design thinking workshop, developed personas to get a deeper understanding of the challenges they face and through this, zoomed in on the areas they would like to address. In order to do this, we conducted a mapping exercise which included the layout of the community and the key areas and the needs of their community. At the end of that process the group communicated their passion in entrepreneurship that is specifically aimed at addressing commercial service gaps that their community faces.

The following is a list of the projects / ventures that the youth have identified that they would like to test:
• An Internet cafe – we found that in the community, there aren’t many options to access internet especially for school going children.
• A Beauty shop – Challenging misconceptions, and while people may be experiencing poverty, we found that there is still a demand and need for manicures, hair care which is affordable options in the community
• A Community Butchery – Our mapping exercise illustrated that there is a monopoly, with one informal trader selling cuts of meat, possibly from a farmer passing on the surplus. Hence the meat cuts are not always consistently available.
• A Kindergarten – this was surprising since we found that almost every third house was a make-shift kindergarten or day care place. We did however realise that while the mothers and parents are at work (usually in the city, far from the informal settlement, there is no-one to leave the children with).
• A Game Shop to keep the youth off the streets and to venture into some form of entertainment while introducing them to information communication technology.
• A Barber Shop – like the Beauty shop, we found that the barber / client relationship is a sub-culture. Camaraderie and community are important, and it is necessary to build a client base based on kinship ties before establishing a sound business.
• A Tyre Repair shop was an unusual business, but we understood that due to the absence of tar and maintained roads, cars would get stuck and damage their wheels, especially during the rainy season.

Thus far we have explored a few pathways to collaborate with stakeholders in the hope for this various business to be funded as part of an experiment to support unbanked, and informal businesses but we have not found the right ‘fit’ or potential partner yet. We believe in the concept of “be found doing” while we trust the process to lead us the “right” partner, the ten youth were given access to MSME training delivered by Business Financial Solutions, in partnership with UNDP Namibia to set the foundation of understanding the basics of business operation. The training consisted of a two - day learning program during the months of October and November 2021 to solidify the structural enterprise soundness and allow growth in the fundamentals.

The training addressed the following areas:
• Developing capacities for preventing and managing business risks due to COVID-19 and other emergencies, external shocks, and environmental risks
• Record keeping and financial reporting
• Financial management
• Understanding the use of digital technology to enhance business activities
• Human Resources management (Time, Stress, Employees etc.)
• Creating business linkages

Through our learning cycles, we have found that partnerships take time to cultivate and that the grand “miracle of microfinance” or the right kind of business training solutions may not necessarily exist. We do know that there are various approaches such as the participatory ones which the Accelerator Lab are using and appear to work better than others: crowdfunding and experimenting with partners keen to test unusual business models; supporting the development of businesses owned by males may be simpler compared to those of their female counterparts. These emerging findings are already illustrating some important themes for the future of policy and youth in informality.

We’d like to end this blog with some of our learning questions: How might we best support the youth in informal settlements to establish their businesses, knowing that access to capital and start up-funds are their biggest challenge? How might we best build on their ideas and aspirations to embed innovation, prototyping and experimentation as part of their solutions without being seen as time-wasting, or diluting their dreams? And finally, how do we continue to develop a sense of hope and purpose during times of despair?

If you’re curious about answering these questions and would like to share ideas, resources or leads, do join us on our learning journey while helping our Youth Lab grow to meet Namibia’s complex development challenges!