Like many other states in the federation, Katsina State is confronted by the burden of youth unemployment, worsened by limited opportunities to boost entrepreneurship.
This challenge has exposed the state to the menace of an increasing crime rate among its young population.
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This realisation was the key motivator for Ismail Bello to start a youth empowerment programme in 2015. In the last decade, his Entrepreneurship Support Hub (YES – Hub) initiative has seen thousands of youths acquire various skills, becoming entrepreneurs and employers of labour.
According to him, Katsina State is blessed with a high concentration of brilliant and talented youths who have talents, skills, and potential to drive sustainable development, but lack access to enabling infrastructure to harness these capacities; compete for employment opportunities or start small-scale businesses, due to poverty, ignorance, and also lack of access to funding.
He said there is also a dearth of economic empowerment programmes, and a lack of access to technical skill development programmes to hone their capacities into skills needed for the workspace.
“Only two out of 20 youths could access entrepreneurship, technology, and employability skills, and this has influenced many to engage in wrongful ventures to earn economic opportunity.
“This social menace inspired me to create Youth Entrepreneurship Support (YES – Hub). It is a social enterprise connecting economically disadvantaged youths with entrepreneurship and digital skills as well as funding support, growth plan, and an enterprise training toolkit to build sustainable businesses,” he said.
The scheme provides economically disadvantaged teenagers in the state with access to financial support, enterprise training resources, and the technology and digital skills they need to start and grow successful businesses.
According to Bello, at the initial stage, the YES – Hub conducted training for 100 youths during which he selected young entrepreneurs and innovators with ground-breaking ideas for a programme that was designed to grow their businesses and prepare them for seed investment.
“I then developed the (YES–Hub) Accelerator/Incubation, which is a three-week programme to coach, train and mentor 100 youths, as well as incubated and launched 10 selected start-up ideas.
“Through collaboration and partnership, we selected promising civic-minded start-ups for this business boot camp, in which entrepreneurs and innovators received training in digital marketing that ensured they obtained digital marketing certification, business development services, and access to investor networks to better grow their businesses and ideas and be positioned to receive seed investment.
“I then teamed up with five business professionals, who served as a panel of judges, and business coaches, who mentored five start-up founders to win $25,000 Tony Elumelu Foundation grants. These created massive impact and improvements to their socioeconomic livelihoods while creating opportunities for decent jobs for unemployed youths nationwide.
“Over 30 per cent of all young people trained have started small-scale businesses that are creating decent income opportunities for them. Also, about 70 per cent of all our trainees are utilising their skills to access employment opportunities that would help create economic freedom for them.
“The impact has contributed to the reduction of unemployed youths in Katsina State by about 10 per cent by creating opportunities for them to access economic empowerment opportunities, earn income, secure decent jobs, start small-scale businesses, and grow their existing businesses,” he said.
Ismail said he was able to sustain and expand the programme through partnerships with some organisations, including the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF). Through that, he was able to give young entrepreneurs training in business development skills and entrepreneurial leadership training through a boot camp programme, as well as an opportunity to pitch their ideas.
He said he has also planned the Katsina Youth Dialogue on Entrepreneurship and Innovation which will bring together a diverse group of individuals, including financiers, investors, and leaders in entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership.
The youth dialogue concentrated on issues related to leadership, the degree trap, life vision, obstacles to success, and methods and recommendations for a successful business. Entrepreneurs and small business owners shared their challenges, and pieces of advice were given by experts.
Bello’s interest has now extended beyond youth economic emancipation as he is also involved in youth involvement in politics to enable them to chart a good future for themselves, and society.
Through Yiaga Africa, Bello said he contributed to the development of a policy framework that was presented to lawmakers in Nigeria that led to a reduction in the age of political contest to allow for participatory opportunities in civic leadership through engagement in public offices.
Bello said he was privileged to be mentored by an intelligent coach, which gave him the opportunity to access career opportunities after his university education.
“I was also able to actively volunteer in non-profit organizations, to learn various civic leadership, social innovation, community development, and design thinking skills that enabled me to create massive impact,” Bello said.
The United States Embassy in Nigeria shortlisted his impact in 2021 for a nomination at the prestigious International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP) on Human Rights and Civic Engagement for Youths in Washington, DC.
He was also appointed as a youth advisor in the EU Delegation to Nigeria’s Youth Sounding Board, where he worked with project implementation partners to develop and implement youth-focused strategies that gave young leaders the necessary tools to spark transformative leadership change for youth political participation in Nigeria.