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ne year ago, Youth Business International (YBI) and the IKEA Foundation launched a three-year programme “Accelerating Youth-led Businesses in the Digital Era” in India and Bangladesh with a focus on developing the digital skills of young entrepreneurs. No one could have known that only a few months later a global pandemic would lead to national lockdowns propelling digital tools to the forefront of personal and business interactions – making our work more important than ever.

The launch of our Digital Accelerator activities as part of the programme meant that we had a head start on pivoting services to virtual delivery and to supporting young entrepreneurs to digitize aspects of their businesses. Working with our members Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) in India and Youth Enterprise Advice and Helpcentre (B’YEAH) in Bangladesh, we were able to quickly support over 500 youth in both countries, despite the global pandemic. 

The Digital Accelerator in India and Bangladesh, led by our partner Accenture and funded by IKEA Foundation, uses agile innovation techniques to support our member organisations in four ways:

  1. Assess their current digital maturity,
  2. Define a digital vision and strategy,
  3. Ideate potential digital solutions within that strategy,
  4. Flesh out the concept design and road map for prioritised solutions.

The programme’s initial design called for on-site consultant support over several months, but with the onset of the pandemic, the Accenture consulting team shifted to an accelerated timeline and fully remote methodology. Throughout the process, Accenture modelled the use of digital tools, which BYST and B’YEAH could apply to support their entrepreneurs. Both members moved all their training and mentoring services online with impactful results. Since 16 March 2020, BYST have supported over 400 young entrepreneurs in India through remote mentoring and advice on strategic planning, with up to 100 young people attending BYST’s weekly crisis support webinars between March and July. In Bangladesh, B’YEAH have made a lasting impact on the digital knowledge and engagement of the young entrepreneurs they support including 90% of them attended an online webinar for the first time.

Looking ahead to the second year of the programme, B’YEAH and BYST will further develop their digital support services for young entrepreneurs. B’YEAH will develop a new e-learning platform that can be accessed by entrepreneurs across Bangladesh. BYST will establish a digital helpline and outreach programme to better reach entrepreneurs across India. These innovations will further improve the reach and relevance of both organisations’ services for young entrepreneurs, especially those in rural or semi-rural areas who are often left behind or don’t have access.

The programme has allowed YBI to refine the digital accelerator model and make it easier to replicate on a larger scale. We now have a series of assets, such as the digital maturity assessment, design thinking workshops, ideation sessions, and prototyping, among others, that can be delivered as standalone sessions, or together as a full package, depending on specific needs of an organisation.

This difficult year has taught us how to navigate challenges of digital connectivity, especially for rural youth, and to seek long-term solutions that can be sustained even after the pandemic. An important lesson from this first year of the programme is the importance of developing digital tools in the context of an overarching strategy and having a diagnostic process that right-sizes the solution to the organisation and context. When digital solutions are designed in this way, the right tool could be as simple as an entrepreneur outreach and helpline call system.

As we begin the second year of the programme, we have a foundation on which to build ongoing digital services. Another focus of our work will be to support young entrepreneurs to create decent work for themselves and their employees. Decent Work training will be delivered to B’YEAH and BYST’s young entrepreneurs, helping them to embed decent work principles into their businesses. We will also be sharing insights and learnings with the YBI network to support our wider efforts to promote decent work across the countries where we operate.


YBI wraps up first year of our Accelerating Youth-led Businesses in the Digital Era programme with IKEA Foundation