Crowdsourcing Innovation to Reduce Unemployment and Build Sustainable Economies

A product research essay on frameworks and principles that improve hireability, reduce unemployment and grow the economy with a focus on Nigeria

Unemployment in Nigeria is at its highest. Data published by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts the current unemployment rate at 23.1% (Q3 2018); up from 18.8% in Q3 2017.

Why does this matter?

When workers are unemployed, their families lose wages, the country loses their contribution to the economy in terms of the goods or services that could have been produced, crime rates increase and the market value of all the final goods and services produced in the country (GDP) drops. People leave the country for greener pastures and quality of living in the country becomes a nightmare.

There is a belief that creating more opportunities (jobs) will solve this (unemployment), but vacancies still exist in business, technology and service areas that cannot be filled.

The recent Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Skills Gap Assessment report say the lack of required skills is one of the key factors in the rise in unemployment.

With 250,000+ graduates entering into the Nigerian labour market every year and the size of Nigeria’s labour population increasing quarterly, there is a strong need to solve this problem.

In thinking about solutions, the university system and companies like Andela still leave space for improvement. Admission slots are limited and training programs are cost-intensive.

MOOCs like edX.org, Coursera, Udemy and Udacity are getting popular locally, but they require a lot of internet data to use and one-one support is not as engaging.

Community-based organisations like Data Science NG and AI-Saturdays are doing an awesome job, but other non-technical skills like design, management and marketing are left unattended, and students need to be in a fixed location to learn.

I like Hotels.ng’s remote internship, admission is free and open. The quality of the learning resource is great. However, everyone is expected to learn the same way and to always be online. Slack channel discussions are helpful only to some extent. It is a good starting point but there is still so much more that can be done. Especially on self-sustainability

Empty chairs in a classroom — Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Researching for a solution

Community-based learning

In 2015, Seth Godin founded the altMBA. It’s an online leadership and management workshop with a 96% completion rate. 96% is key because studies show the average completion rate of online courses is 4%.

The program uses digital tools like Slack, WordPress and Zoom to engage more than 100 students at a time in an intense four-week course. In 2016, students from 27 countries and 85 industries worldwide participated.

altMBA Students interacting via Zoom — Photo from Psychology of stuff

Learn anything in 20 hours

In 2013, Josh Kaufman gave a TEDx talk at the Colorado State University on how to learn anything in 20 hours.

He broke the learning process into 4 steps:

  1. Deconstruct the Skill
  2. Learn enough to self-correct
  3. Remove barriers to practice
  4. Practice for at least 20 hours
Screenshot of a tweet on Josh Kaufman’s process

As we can see from this tweet dated October 2018, Josh Kaufman’s process is still in use, it works.

This process reduced the time to learn a skill (TTLS) from 10,000 hours to 20 hours. And 10,000 hours became the time to master a skill.

A solution?

After spending months synthesising insights from all of these, local market research and other resources, I realised my team and I had created something much more than a way to help people learn and reduce unemployment. We realised we had created a self-sustaining ecosystem-generating system. After explaining it to Sean (COO of Ingressive), he called it The Innovation Engine. I call it the Growth and Innovation System.

The Growth and Innovation System

Is a smart system designed to crowdsource Africa’s ingenuity to solve our challenges locally while enabling shared prosperity.

With the Growth And Innovation System…

  1. Communities create social impact solutions to shared pain points in the community,
  2. Use accessible media platforms, offline-ready apps, bots, machine learning models and blockchain-based systems to automate synergy and communication,
  3. Improve on and monetise the solutions using proven frameworks to create scalable and investable homegrown products and services,
  4. Communities learn and profit as they build products and services from these solutions.

The Growth and Innovation System at work

The System and its parts | Designed by o_.ke

Explaining/Breaking down the System

The mechanism that powers the System | Designed by o_.ke

The first part of the System takes a problem the local community shares as a pain point and guides its members through a design exercise.

After the exercise, they come up with different solutions that are combined into 1 crowdsourced solution.

Using Agile principles and a few other product development frameworks, the community members build out the solution into a profitable and scalable product/service while learning new skills. The skills they can learn vary with the projects they work on and the roles they play. From project management to teamwork, learning happens as they work.

And because the product is built to solve a local problem by the local community, it is locally-relevant and relatable. It carries with it the local culture.

Jobs, wages, goods and services created from this helps grow the community while they innovate and learn. This also contributes to the GDP of the larger community, country or continent. Thus building the community into a self-sustaining ecosystem, where the community grows, creates and gives back to itself.

A pictorial representation of the System growing sustainable economies, skilled labour and scalable businesses | Designed by o_.ke

Using it we helped a community of undergraduates and learners improve their skills while creating a solution to a shared pain point; Waste.

Because of the unique combination of various processes in the System and leveraging on the power of the crowd, learning and creating happens faster.

In short, the System creates:

  1. Fast, scalable, trustless and distributed education, skill acquisition and capacity building
  2. Sustainable business and economic development
  3. Increased GDP through revenue generated from homegrown products and services to local problems
  4. Evenly distributed access to growth-focused opportunities

We have spent the last year building this System at Frintern, making it automated, smart and easy to use. We have made considerable progress.

We have built programs to allow the solution and product creation happen virtually via IM and media platforms (like WhatsApp and Slack), offline-ready apps, bots, machine learning models and git-based or blockchain-based systems.

We have built a personalisation system that leverages on individual’s affinities to create connections to skills they’ll naturally be good at. This makes the product building and learning happen faster. The data from here is what we will use to train our ML models.

We have built a microlearning management system to ease the creation and distribution of the informational resources that help the local community contribute.

We also took Josh Kaufman’s process a bit further.

Deconstructing the skill

First, we started by deconstructing various work skills. For this, we used the first principle. Along with insights from interviews with skilled professionals in various work fields.

The first principle is a way to break down scenarios into basic elements. And then reassemble them from the ground up [via fs.blog].

This helped us create mental models of these work skills. Mental models are your thought processes about how things work in the real world. They are the most basic form of any skill.

Platforms like Farnam Street help people learn complex topics fast using mental models. This reduced the Time To Learn A Skill (TTLS) by some amount. Let us call that amount X.

Learning enough to self-correct

To help people learn enough to self-correct, we curated free learning resources and arranged them in a way that let people learn the mental models of various work skills and frameworks. These resources were then broken down into bite-sizes and hosted on our microlearning management system. This made learning and assimilation easier.

Learning tools like Duolingo use microlearning principles to help people learn fast. This also reduced the Time To Learn A Skill (TTLS) by some amount. Let us call that amount Y.

Removing barriers to practice

Fishes are good swimmers, the same goes for people born in riverine areas. If a random riverine dweller decided to become a professional swimmer, it would be easier compared to others. Same is true for mountain dwellers who want to become professional marathon runners.

Using this pattern, we built the personalisation system for learning and career paths.

Personalising the learning experience removes a lot of learning barriers, and it reduced the Time To Learn A Skill (TTLS) by some amount. Let us call that amount C.

Practising for at least 20 hours

To allow individuals to practice fast, we designed Learning Labs and Sprints. These allow practising these career skills using micro-content, micro-tasks and micro-interactions.

Learning in sprints also prepares the learners for real-world work experience. Especially as they work on real-world projects in these sprints.

Sprints also improve execution and learning speed by some amount. Let us call that amount D.

The New Time To Learn A Skill (TTLS)

Based on the explanations above, the Time To Learn A Skill (TTLS) becomes:

TTLS = TTLS — (X + Y + C + D)

Such that whatever the new TTLS (Time To Learn A Skill) is, it is much shorter than 20 hours.

In our pilot workshops that ran from March to May 2018, we found that people could learn a skill and use it to create something in 2–3 hours. We are still testing this, but for now, using our process puts TTLS (Time To Learn A Skill) at 2–3 hours.

And all of these systems work interconnectedly.

A pictorial representation of how the community learns and works together in a mesh network | Designed by o_.ke

Using it we helped a community of undergraduates and learners improve their skills while creating a solution to a shared pain point; Waste.

The solution is called Wipe. To see how we used the processes in the System to create Wipe while helping the community learn, read the project’s wiki.

Through working on it, the community members have learnt:

  • Research
  • Ideation
  • Teamwork
  • Empathy
  • Project Management
  • User Experience Design
  • And are still learning.

We still have more to do to make it fully functional. We believe in using it, we can empower our local communities to solve our local challenges themselves. Thereby evenly distributing the opportunity to succeed and thrive.

Join us!


Frintern is an impact-first organisation, with a strong focus on building value before profit. If you like what we are doing and want to help out, sponsor or support us, we would love to read from you. You can send us an email at frinternng@gmail.com and copy hello@frintern.com.

If not, some claps and a share would be nice :).

Also, in the coming weeks, we will be running a boot camp/workshop we call Growth Sprint to help individuals and businesses learn how to use this System to grow their businesses. It will be for free.

If you or your organisation will be interested in participating in the boot camp and workshop, please indicate your interest here.