How Shujaaz Inc supports young micro-entrepreneurs through peer learning, networking, and mentoring
Peer influence can be an important motivator for all ages, but especially for young people. So it is no surprise that Shujaaz Inc, creator of East Africa’s biggest youth brand, relies on the power of peers to support young informal micro-entrepreneurs to learn new skills, build their networks, and transition their informal micro-enterprises into thriving small businesses. Storytelling is core to Shujaaz Inc’s approach, especially with a focus on authenticity, grit, and inspiration.
Shujaaz Inc was founded in 2009 when they launched a youth-facing multimedia platform and namesake first venture, “Shujaaz.” Shujaaz follows the story of a 19-year-old radio DJ and influencer living in the outskirts of Nairobi. The platform, which evolved originally from a comic book, brings young people together to talk about their experiences and the challenges they face. More than a decade after its founding, Shujaaz (which means “hero”) reaches 7.5 million 15- to 24-year olds — including 56% of young Kenyans and 24% of young Tanzanians.
Shujaaz Inc is guided by a central value, which they call “Player First.” In every decision, Shujaaz Inc puts their fans first, believing that they hold the solutions to overcome the barriers they face. Additionally, Shujaaz Inc’s in-house research team, with international research partners, has found positive evidence of the behavior change impact of Shujaaz on fans’ lives. For instance, research found that young people who were exposed to Shujaaz digital platforms for more than one year earned KSH 2,096 (US$20.9) more a month than those who were not.
Using peer-to-peer video-based learning to build skills
Building on the Shujaaz community, Shujaaz Inc. then launched Shujaaz Biz, a multi-platform digital tool that gives fans access to over 750 peer-to-peer training videos, where they can learn directly from entrepreneurial young people across the Shujaaz Inc network about how they’ve set up and run successful micro-businesses.
For Shujaaz, the decision to use peer-to-peer learning came from their knowledge that both the story and the storyteller were equally important at reaching people and driving behavior change. “[Young entrepreneurs] can be preached at until the cows come home by [international organizations]. But you know, they haven’t lived their life, they don’t know where they come from, and they can’t see the world as they see it — [so] they don’t believe their advice,” explains Rob Burnet, CEO of Shujaaz Inc, adding that somebody who has experienced the same struggles and overcome the same problems is the best person to provide advice.
As of April 2021, the Shujaaz Biz online training program has engaged over 250,000 young entrepreneurs through peer-to-peer learning.
Increasing opportunities for young people through networking and mentoring
Last year, Shujaaz Inc launched their latest venture, MESH, an online community for entrepreneurs in the informal economy, currently in beta mode. MESH combines skills training and tools with networking, role-model mentoring, and access to opportunities and services (for example, financial services or a work opportunity) that are tailored to members.
MESH is part of Shujaaz Inc’s ongoing work to break down the barriers that prevent young entrepreneurs from taking control of their futures, connecting them to the support and opportunities they need to increase their earnings, support their communities, create work for their peers, and become the stabilized bedrock of the informal sector.
On the MESH platform, members can access the Shujaaz Biz “business basics” course, which relies on the extensive Shujaaz library of peer training videos. As part of MESH, new members create a profile and connect with other members or peer mentors on the platform who have complementary skills or interests.
Members can also join a variety of groups, where particular topics are discussed and lessons shared. “Everybody can have a mentor, but everyone needs to be a mentor too,” explains Burnet. “Everyone has got a kid brother who’s looking up to them … so it’s a requirement of the platform that if you’re going to ask for advice, you have to be willing to give it.”
Trusting the wisdom of the community
For other companies looking to integrate peer-to-peer learning and mentoring into their own training programs, Burnet says his biggest piece of advice is to trust the community you’re trying to reach. “As much as possible, we ask young people to make our content. Trust that the kid in the barbershop has a lot to teach and that he’s a better teacher than the professor from the business school. That’s about really having confidence in the wisdom of the community — not just as learners but as teachers too. To me, that’s really fundamental.”
Through a grant from Strive Community and building on the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth’s prior initiative supporting Kenyan Jaza Duka retailers, Shujaaz Inc will work in partnership with Arifu to enable a multi-channel, mobile-first approach to small business digitization training. With this project, Shujaaz Inc will also offer micro-retailers in their network peer-mentoring opportunities and access to new digital tools.