Digital entrepreneurship on retail platforms: A way to formalise employment for young people in Nigeria and the UK

Aymikun Idowu, Monica Richards and Jacqueline O'Reilly (2023), International Organisation of Employers

This study investigates the opportunities and barriers digital retail platforms offer to enable young people’s entrepreneurship as a sustainable and formal income stream in Nigeria and the United Kingdom (UK). This innovative comparison sheds light on how these platforms might alleviate high levels of youth unemployment and provide sources of more formalised sustainable income and skills for them in the future. It also illustrates how these developments are becoming part of a wide entrepreneurial ecosystem in each country which can cross over between different platforms and the boundaries between the personal and public personas of the sellers involved.

The study found that, like any entrepreneurial endeavours, success and income depend on the sellers’ degree of engagement in terms of time and resource commitment. In Nigeria, this offers young people a sustainable source of income at different levels. Students make themselves independent while they study and plan to scale up after graduation; others have moved into selling full-time. In the UK, only those who can break through as “top sellers” feel it is sustainable; others see it as a part-time role and a way to supplement their income, but they are not confident in transitioning to a full-time role without a guaranteed income. Evidence from Nigeria and the UK illustrated how for some young sellers, there was the possibility of building full-time careers and transitioning from online platforms to establishing physical stores and/or creating their successful e-commerce websites; for others, this remained a marginal side activity.

In both countries, young people’s involvement with digital platforms offers the opportunity to acquire new skills (business, core work, and socio-emotional skills), develop existing ones and pursue personal growth. Some of the business skills they developed include marketing, budgeting/accountancy, international logistics, problem solving and customer service. Some of these skills were supported by the platforms, and others they learned independently. The benefit of this study for a broader community indicates the nature of skills acquisition from these platforms, and policies that could be used to make these more resilient and sustainable depends on this broader evolving digital ecosystem between platforms that are becoming more evident.

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