Forty percent of Azerbaijan’s population is under the age of 25, but less than a third of Azerbaijani youth are employed. This is partly due to economic policies that have restricted the private sector, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, leaving many young people to regard the government as their only path to employment. Topics such as free market economics, democratic governance, and entrepreneurship are largely absent from university curricula, and many young Azerbaijanis are not even aware that starting their own business is even a possibility, let alone a viable career option.
Since 2011, CIPE together with the Entrepreneurship Development Foundation (EDF) and its partner the Baku Education Information Center (BEIC) have trained 92 young Azerbaijanis on economics and business topics – and this number will be more than doubled as the training programs are scaled up in 2014-2015.
Participants, ranging in age from recent university graduates to mid-career professionals, attended weekly seminars over a ten-week span, tailored to the local context, based on CIPE’s Development Institute materials which were designed to improve young people’s understanding of the core democratic values underpinning entrepreneurship and the functions of a free market economy.
To compliment the knowledge gained during the economic seminars, CIPE led sessions to improve the communications and advocacy skills of the youth participants. Topics such as effective leadership, preparing written and verbal presentations, and conducting stakeholder analysis were part of the workshop agenda, which also included open forum discussions and interactive exchanges between participants.
Putting it all into practice, CIPE and EDF launched a call for proposals open to all program participants, requiring them to develop small, two-month-long projects based on the knowledge and skills acquired in the areas of economic reform, leadership, and advocacy. Six out of nine proposals were funded. All six winning proposals focused on transferring knowledge to peers either through seminars or training programs at universities or workplaces.
One of the projects, in particular, established a Youth Training Center at the University of Architecture and Construction to teach classes on entrepreneurship and free market institutions. This small grantee was even inspired to continue the initiative independent of CIPE funding, frequently inviting successful entrepreneurs to share their experiences creating and operating small businesses.
As CIPE and EDF enter the fourth year of their partnership to foster youth entrepreneurship in Azerbaijan, interest and participation is at an all-time high. Responding to the increased demand, CIPE and EDF are scaling up program activities to reach even more young people, including those outside of the capital, and encouraging the creation of entrepreneurship clubs and mentorship opportunities.
Regardless of nationality, young people everywhere are eager to take their futures into their own hands; all they need are the tools and support to realize that it’s possible.
David Mack is an Assistant Program Officer for Eastern Europe & the Caucasus at CIPE.