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YouWiN Connect: Looking Like Government 419

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Remember YouWiN? Sorry, it’s now YouWiN Connect.

YouWiN began as a National Business Plan Competition initiated by the Federal Government under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. It set out to encourage enterprise, help grow small businesses and create jobs. It invited young Nigerians to submit their business plans online, and these were evaluated by a panel of judges who selected the most promising ideas. Successful candidates under the YouWiN scheme received start-up or expansion funds in the form of grants or concessionary credit, and supported with training and mentorship services.

When the Muhammadu Buhari administration inherited the scheme, it re-christened it YouWiN Connect. Under YouWiN Connect, aspiring entrepreneurs indicate their wish to participate in the scheme by registering at an online portal. Qualified and shortlisted applicants then undergo online training in entrepreneurship, with special concentrations in business planning, access to finance and markets. After the online training, successful participants proceed to industry-specific masterclasses, after which they are awarded certificates of participation. They round up with the submission of business plans for starting and/or expanding their businesses.

Preferred industries include, but are not limited to, fashion, manufacturing, retail, construction, information and communication technology, agriculture and agro-processing.

Whereas the Buhari administration changed the name of the programme from YouWiN to YouWiN Connect, current participants are under the distinct impression that the grant funding component of the scheme remains.

This, however, has become contentious. YouWiN Connect graduates are saying the Buhari government is not funding their business plans as promised. And the Buhari Government is saying it did not promise start-up grants to YouWiN Connect participants at the end of their training.

The climax of this dissonance is the raging controversy between YouWiN Connect ‘beneficiaries’ and the Ministry and Directorate responsible for the programme. A group that calls itself 2017 YouWiN Master Class Attendees, and claims to represent 5,000 participants, now describes YouWiN Connect ‘’a monumental government-sponsored scam.” The group staged a protest march at the offices of the Federal Ministry of Finance in Abuja on July 31, 2018.

They had joined the programme in 2017, completed training last March and, beyond receiving certificates of participation, nothing has happened since then. Specifically, they say that, despite what they were told at the beginning of their training, successful participants are yet to receive the promised one-year business development funding support for their start-ups or similar funding to expand their businesses.

And what’s the Federal Government saying?

Embattled Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, in a YouTube video on the YouWiN Connect website, refers to the programme as a re-brand of the youth enterprise scheme inherited from the Goodluck Jonathan administration. She says the Buhari government will support YouWiN Connect businesses through equity funding.

Hear her: “Equity funding is where government is saying it will come in with a fund manager. It will invest. It will take a share in the business. As you grow, you buy us out and we take that money and invest in the next person.”

While the option of equity participation in YouWiN Connect businesses is one way to go, that seems to be different from what successful trainees will want to hear. They repeatedly say they were promised grants and soft loans, which are not the same as equity. Simply said, grants are free monies, outright gifts, from government, not to be re-paid, while soft loans, disbursed at next-to-nothing interest rates, are next to free money.

To say it differently, YouWiN Connect participants will not be able to access grants or soft credit, as they claim to have been promised, and was generally believed by them. They will now, willy-nilly, have government as their business partner, under the equity option being proposed by Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun.

Troubling as the Ministry’s equity option may be, what should be more worrisome is that the YouWiN Connect Directorate is not in a position to start implementing it. According to Premium Times, the Director of YouWiN Connect, Dennis Chukwu, says the Buhari administration removed grants as a funding option, which was part of the programme under President Jonathan. Reason: Lack of money to give grants, which involved giving money without expecting people to pay back.

Fair enough. But one questions remains: Why can’t the equity investment option begin, if the grant option has been scrapped?

Hear Dennis Chukwu: “Yes, things are being delayed, because of the way things work (bureaucracy). But, I think some people (the youth) are just impatient. Nobody has changed anything. The process of setting up a fund cannot be done overnight. It has to follow the public procurement process.’’

Really? Why enlist 5,000 participants in the programme when there is no funding plan to support them? What would be the value of the enterprise education and capacity building being offered by YouWiN Connect if the Federal Ministry of Finance, its Directorate and, indeed, the Federal Government, are taking forever to put their money where their mouth is?

Somebody, somewhere, should tell us another story. This one does not add up!

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