Micro and small businesses are enormously important, serving as engines of economic growth in communities across the globe. In developing African countries in particular, small start ups, when successful, can play a positive role in the day-to-day survival of those living at the bottom of the economic pyramid. And when small businesses are able to grow, they can create much needed jobs in the community. Yet we also know that many young people seeking to support themselves and their families by starting their own business often don’t have the skills, confidence, or knowledge to be successful.

That is why I am so pleased that the International Youth Foundation (IYF), in partnership with Microsoft, is introducing Build Your Business (BYB), a comprehensive and inter-active training course designed to support aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs. This curriculum is targeted to meet the needs of young people, ages 16 to 35, who are either still in school, out of school, or in formal or informal training programs. It is designed to introduce them to the basic ideas, activities and skills needed to successfully launch and grow a small enterprise—from learning how to research the market to developing an effective sales pitch to obtaining start-up capital. And we believe it is a unique contribution to the field of entrepreneurship education.

How is it different? BYB uses an interactive and hands-on approach – using games, exercises, video clips, and case studies to clearly explain and break down complex business skills. Accessible online and on a DVD-ROM, this course uses a blended learning strategy in which skills introduced on e-learning modules are reinforced and enriched with face-to-face instruction. Facilitators play a key role in encouraging young entrepreneurs and supporting them throughout the start up process, and they receive their own Facilitator’s Guide to help them provide that support. Also good news, to encourage the widest possible use, this course is available free of charge to community-based and development organizations worldwide.

According to Lindsay Vignoles, co-developer of the course and an IYF staff member, the curriculum seeks to reach youth with different skills sets and experience. “BYB’s e-learning modules allow learners to interact with the material at their own pace," she says, "While the facilitator-led activities help them understand difficult concepts, share ideas with their peers, and check their progress.”

As part of its teaching strategy, BYB provides hands-on opportunities for learners to apply and practice the concepts introduced on the computer. For example, in Module 7, learners explore how to develop their sales skills by watching a video clip on why sales are vital to a business, developing a sales pitch that they practice in front of the class, and testing it on potential customers in their community.

BYB was recently piloted in Nigeria, and is already getting high marks from early users. Here’s how one Nigerian student assessed her experience: “As an entrepreneur, I have learned a lot from the program; it boosted my confidence to start my own business and provided me with practical information on the things to consider, know, and be aware of when starting out.”

Imagine what could be accomplished if hundreds of thousands of aspiring young entrepreneurs —particularly those struggling to survive in some of the world’s most destitute communities—have access to this kind of training and support. I hope we can enlist all of you in helping to make that happen.