POSTED June 23, 2021
How are we supporting youth-led small businesses during the pandemic?
Find out how young women, like Francis, are building brighter futures
By Gersán Vásquez Gutiérrez, monitoring, evaluation, learning and knowledge management officer, Nicaragua
It’s sad to see how small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in low-income countries, including where I live in Nicaragua. Here nine out of 10 enterprises are classified as SMEs, and the impact of the pandemic has driven down our economy and increased the push factors that compel many youth to leave our country and migrate elsewhere — often irregularly and through dangerous means — in search of better opportunity.
At Children Believe, we’re continuing to support income-generating activities and SMEs during the pandemic, improving the livelihood of youth, so they feel like they have a future in Nicaragua and don’t have to leave their communities and families behind.
If not for a Children Believe-supported project, Francis, a 22-year-old entrepreneur from Matagalpa in northern Nicaragua, may have looked to another country for opportunity.
Instead, Francis won a seed-fund contest held in her community, an in-kind funding opportunity where young entrepreneurs prepare business plans and pitch them to an expert panel.
The event was part of an employability initiative to fund equipment and materials for new youth-led business ideas with the potential for sustainable growth. Francis won sewing machines, fabric and other materials, which have been crucial to increasing the production and sales of her clothing workshop, Stilos Alhondra (Alhondra’s Styles).
We’ve helped support youth-led small ventures like Francis’ during the pandemic, thanks to the Global Affairs Canada-funded Preventing Irregular Child Migration in Central America (PICMCA) project. PICMCA was designed to improve the well-being of youth at risk of irregular migration. During PICMCA’s implementation, 36 young entrepreneurs — 69 percent of them women, from four rural and urban areas of Nicaragua — benefited from in-kind donations.
The unique nature of the pandemic has also provided an opportunity to adapt Francis’ business model. She recently started sewing face masks: “I had an order to make 1,300 face masks. I hired two more people, and we could complete the order in five days … I feel like I am contributing to the cause (protecting people) in some way. Despite the virus, I have been receiving many orders, I feel happy and grateful,” she adds over the phone.
Francis has also continued improving her business skills through online educational platforms. She, along with the 93 other youth who participate in PICMCA, learned how to use social media to promote and sell products online during the pandemic. This has strengthened the communication and technological skills of many young people, while keeping them safe from COVID-19.
Despite the challenges, Francis is eager to help others. In fact, she recently shared her experience with her peers in a virtual youth panel discussion called ‘Starting a Business During Hard Times.’
It’s clear this is just the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey. “My [plan] is to grow my business every day based on effort, discipline, and responsibility,” she tells me, proudly.
Francis is now better equipped to reach her goal, without exposing herself to the risk of irregular migration. “I know closely the experiences of people who want to migrate due to lack of employment opportunities … I want to show that in our community and country we can get ahead (without migrating) — just as the PICMCA project has shown us.”
ABOUT CHILDREN BELIEVE (formerly Christian Children's Fund of Canada):
Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60 years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.
Preventing Irregular Child Migration in Central America (PICMCA):
Children Believe is leading a $15.2-million regional project in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua, designed to improve the well-being of children and youth who are at risk of irregular migration. The Government of Canada is contributing $12.6 million to the four-year project. The initiative addresses a number of the root causes that fuel irregular migration — from high levels of crime and violence, limited employment and educational opportunities, to social exclusion and a lack of information on the inherent dangers of migrating without following the normal immigration procedures. For this project, Children Believe is partnering with two non-governmental organizations: ChildFund International-USA and Educo.
About ChildFund Alliance:
A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of 12 child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in more than 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.