A GEN Social Mobility Enterprise is a youth skill and leadership development organization that’s disguised as a high growth services business.

High-skilled Generation Enterprise venture developers build and fund a services or manufacturing business, with a built-in focus on professional development and a career path out of poverty for employees. We hire low-skilled but high potential youth. While on the job, they learn skills while earning a living wage. The more skills they learn and demonstrate on the job, the better they are able to serve their customers and the higher they can move up the career path, from frontline worker to team leader to manager to equity owner.

Young people start out as trainees and employees in a formal business with health, retirement, and professional development benefits. This reduces risk for the young employees – they get a job and a safe space to build skills and savings. But it preserves the entrepreneurial opportunity: the hardest working youth will rise to become managers, at which point they can buy equity in the business through payroll deductions. By the time they become owners of a thriving formal sector business, they’ll have worked their way up the ranks and developed the necessary skills to shoulder this responsibility.

If you’re an employee at an SME, you’ve got a great job, with a steady living wage and attractive benefits. You’re earning, but you better also be learning. Every month, your manager sits down with you to review your progress against the company’s posted career path. You always know exactly where you stand because each step on the career path comes with a posted performance based contract laying out the expectations of the role.

In any given month, you must work on learning new skills and demonstrate these skills on the job. We’re developing a tool, called SkillNav, to help you capture your manager’s feedback and track the skills you’ve already got. Once you have mastered all the skills associated with a given role, you will qualify for promotion to the next step on the career path (which comes with a pay raise and new benefits!).

The most ambitious and hard-working youth can follow this path out of poverty and into leadership and equity ownership in a thriving SME. 

As far as we can tell, this is pretty unique. We’ve seen plenty of training programs, but none guarantee a well-paid job and upwardly mobile career path if you master the training (this is a big barrier for young people who don’t have the resources to take time off and invest in their skills for uncertain payoff). The best programs (like WAVE in Nigeria) do try their best to place you in a job, but the best practice really is to get employers to pre-commit to hiring a trainee if they successfully complete the program (that’s the idea behind McKinsey’s Generation initiative).

Meet our "Generation": SomE of our Zestars

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Hamidat Akano

Hamidat (21) is a young manager of 40+ employees at Zest. She is one of the pioneer Zestars and has overtime acquired skills in customer service, people operations etc. Her performance has earned her promotions and awards including Zestar of the year, 2016.

She aspires to get a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy and to become a successful business owner/entrepreneur.

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Helen Onyeabor

Helen (27) is an outstanding Zestar who has won the heart of clients for her warm demeanor on jobs. Also, one of the pioneer Zestars, she has earned several promotions and now coaches upcoming Zestars on the job. She manages Zestar scheduling and plays an integral role in the service delivery arm of the company.

Helen’s goal is to eventually own a franchise after gaining ample experience at Zest.

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Azeez Ahmed

Azeez (22) is a friendly and accommodating young man who carries out his duties without fear or favor. His very jovial personality and approach to his work has earned him the title of ‘most loved Zestar’ especially to the trainees whom he supervises on the field. He also handles scheduling and posting of Zestars to jobs.

Azeez is passionate about the media and entertainment industry, which prompted him to start a news blog in 2016.