Chemonics recently held an innovation contest to identify cutting-edge models for market systems and youth enterprise development. From robotics to river transport, the four winning models offer unique solutions from all corners of the globe to harness the power of youth and improve market systems.

Identifying solutions that work is a fundamental challenge in international development. To uncover effective approaches, Chemonics held the Market Systems and Youth Enterprise Development Innovation Contest in February and March 2018.

The goal of the contest was to find inclusive, adaptable, and sustainable models of market systems development and youth enterprise development. Entries were judged by peer voting as well as a panel of expert judges from USAID, the development industry, and Chemonics.

The winning entries feature a wide range of solutions — from motorbikes to river barges, robotics to school buses. Yet, each model has a common goal of connecting under-resourced groups to economic opportunity through creative means.

Track 1: Youth-Specific Enterprise Development Models

Youth on Wheels — Feed the Future Uganda Youth Leadership for Agriculture Activity

In northern Uganda, many smallholder farmers and other vulnerable groups do not have access to various public extension services. The Feed the Future Uganda Youth Leadership for Agriculture Activity has partnered with a local private sector seed company, Equator Seeds Limited (ESL), to train male and female youth to deliver agriculture extension services to selected youth producers. This private sector-led innovation has trained 65 youth to use their bicycles and boda bodas (motorbikes) to provide extension services to rural farmers in their spare time. The youth extension workers work with an average of 100 farmers each, delivering a complete support service structure while earning commission-based income calculated on the volume of seed delivered to ESL.

Educational Robotics: Access2Tech Careers — USAID Moldova Competitiveness Project

Moldova is in the grips of a migration crisis with thousands of youth leaving the country each year to seek employment. Yet there is an opportunity for well-paying jobs in Moldova’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector as demand for these services grows. The USAID Moldova Competitiveness Project’s educational robotics program targets youth via the education system to increase the supply of qualified ICT professionals. The program provides access to science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM)-focused curricula and activities. By providing an inspirational STEAM learning environment, the educational robotics program offers a pathway for Moldovan youth to engage in the sector and qualify for jobs in the ICT industry — and, in turn, encourages them to invest in their home country’s economy.

Track 2: Market Systems Development Models

WEinSPIRE — USAID Punjab Enabling Environment Project

In southern Punjab, female farmers who live in remote rural areas often earn a fraction of the returns their male counterparts earn. In these areas, women are less likely to have access to training, build market connections, or secure loans due to security challenges they face when traveling to the main city. The USAID Punjab Enabling Environment Project designed WEinSPIRE to reduce this inequity and help female farmers be more competitive by providing fully equipped mobile training school buses that offer training and market linkages to women at their doorsteps. Through this mobile training and support service, more than 2,000 women have received training; 6,000 women have gained access to veterinary services for their animals; 30,000 female farmers have acquired loans; and 10,000 women have gained access to competitive market information.

Be Like a Watermelon: Cruise the Dnipro River — USAID Ukraine Agriculture and Rural Development Support Program

Most of the companies growing watermelons in Ukraine are small enterprises with limited access to retail supermarket chains, largely due to insufficient supply and high transportation costs during the harvest season. Applying a market systems approach, the USAID Ukraine Agriculture and Rural Development Support Program revived a Soviet-era transportation channel to pilot a new model of supplying watermelons from southern Ukraine to large trading networks via riverways. When a video of a barge loaded with 250 tons of watermelon went viral, the pilot project attracted the attention of national media and Ukrainian citizens. Even though the pilot was not economically successful, this USAID initiative raised awareness of the need for improved transportation infrastructure, allowing the Ministry of Infrastructure to move forward with reforms. The pilot also strengthened market linkages among farmers in the region; the Kyiv-based Sil’po retail supermarket chain; and Nibulon, a large agribusiness operating a cargo fleet on the Dnipro River. Ultimately, the initiative proved that the region can supply high-quality products to retail networks throughout Ukraine and potentially Europe.

Developing market systems and improving economic opportunity for youth are critical priorities for development practitioners. Through this contest, Chemonics aims to continually learn, adapt, and share innovative approaches from around the world.