Case Studies

/Coaching Programme to support youth entrepreneurship in fragile settings
Case Holders:
Nat Clegg & Lenni George

Coaching Programme to support youth entrepreneurship in fragile settings

Promotion of Youth Employment in Fragile Settings

Background & Context

This assignment was to develop the capacity of local Afghan coaches so that they can help young women and men in rural areas to start and sustain business activities.

According to the Afghan Central Statistics Organization, in 2014 almost 47 per cent of the country’s 27.1 million people were under 15 and 37 per cent between 15 and 39. The participation of women in the labour force is low – only 29 per cent of women are economically active. Around 66 per cent of this female labour force is engaged in agriculture and 24 per cent in manu-facturing.  One of the greatest challenges is to create jobs and business opportunities for the nearly 400,000 people entering the labour market each year.  Approximately half of the Afghan population is underemployed or unemployed, and the lack of work particularly affects women; consequently women-headed households are the poorest in the world.


The Problem

a.       Short description of the root of the problem – what we want to solve

It is clear that alongside strategies for creating jobs, there must also be strategies for creating new businesses that will, in turn, create employment.  For those young people living in fragile states, seeking decent employment or entrepreneurial opportunities is an even greater challenge. Help is clearly needed for starting and sustaining a business and even more so a business in fragile circumstances.

Many business start-ups often fail for the following reasons:

  • Lack of focus on practical solutions.
  • Lack of motivation, commitment and passion.
  • Too much pride, resulting in an unwillingness to observe or listen.
  • Lack of advice from the right people.
  • Lack of good guidance.
  • Lack of general and domain-specific business knowledge.
  • Lack of financial support, or financial over-commitment.
  • At times repeated failure leading to psychological instability such as depression, stagnation and resignation.

All of the foregoing focuses on the decision-making skill of the entrepreneur and general business knowledge, and this can be a lonely process. Currently there are many training programmes on the market on the subject of entrepreneurship but the gap in this regard is that little post-course support is available.


The objective of this project is to develop coaching and any appropriate follow-up services.  The intention is that these can play a critical role in aiding entrepreneurs, in particular young entrepreneurs, in addressing the challenges they will inevitably face in starting a new business. This is especially true for young entrepreneurs in rural settings where provision of business development and business coaching services is even harder to find. In fragile states such services are even scarcer.  Key issues are:

1. Training for business coaches is not available and, where it does exist, the quality is variable.

2. The lack of follow-up after training makes it difficult to assess the quality and scale of the provision of coaching services.

3. Coaching is not provided by local service providers and it subsequently becomes expensive and unsustainable.

4. Potential coaches do not have credibility and are not linked to local institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce.

5. Potential coaches cannot access high-quality or accredited coach training that utilizes the most up-to-date tools, techniques and approaches.

Value Proposition & Activities

Coaching has proved a valuable contribution to stimulating sustainability for start-up businesses and growth. Coaches who work in business are aware of entrepreneurship skills and can help a client achieve sustainability and success over an agreed period of time. Coaching obviates a need for more training or mentoring as it can accom-modate most individuals’ needs across a range of work practices.

In addition to this a skilled coach can often recognise any clues that the client is suffering from psychological stress. Today a good qualified coach would be able to focus on simple positive actions with their client so as to remedy negative feelings and direct a client towards more appropriate professional support. This would be important for young people living in conflict-ridden or post-conflict fragile situations.

The aim of this assignment is to work in partnership with the ITCILO, the R2J project and CHAMBERS OF COMmerce in Mazar-i-Sharif (BCCI) to increase the provision of business coaching services for young entrepreneurs in rural settings.

This is a bespoke training event:

1. It is designed for the specific context of coaching young entrepreneurs in a rural setting, recognizing that many of the taken-for-granted services provided by governments in less fragile settings may not be present.  This takes into account the challenges facing young entrepreneurs in rural settings, accessing services and support for business ideas.

2. Most training in coaching events does not offer post-training support and follow-up to increase the application of learning to real-life situations.  Such training is designed to provide a high degree of follow-up and support, with the aim that not only the targeted young entrepreneurs will be more successful in starting and growing their businesses. The trained coaches will have the opportunity of increasing their own business activities by providing high-quality sought-after services promoted through BCCI  (Balkh Chamber of Commerce)

3. The issue of gender is addressed, with both women and men trainers providing training for the participants and discussing some of the cultural boundaries faced by coaches.

4. The issue of the psychological impact of stress and anxiety facing entrepreneurs living and working in the high degree of risk and uncertainty characterized by conditions in fragile states is addressed.

The Activities

  •  The development of a training programme and training materials
  •  The delivery of face-to- face training of coaches
  •  The development of an e-learning campus of the ITC-ILO
  •  Two face-to-face training events
  •  Coaching “Bite Size” guides
  •  A Procedure Guide
  •  A short guide for coaches

Learning & Results

  • Main lessons learned (social perspective, environmental, economical
  • Results achieved

Two of the original pool of 13 have left the programme, one due to seeking refugee status and the other due to other commitments and family pressures.  It is important to have a large enough pool of aspiring coaches and to find as many as possible in the business community who are not working for NGOs or donor agencies. Further key issues include the following:

  • It is important not to over-burden partner organisations.
  • In fragile settings in can be difficult to find good local partners for specific activities.
  • It is important to invest some time and effort developing their organizational and individual capacities, and to ensure that any projects and initiatives are aligned with the organisations’ wider objectives and mandates so as to support the legitimacy of the partners.

In many fragile settings there are so many donors and projects that the market for business development is skewed and as a consequence there is an expectation that business development and training is provided free of charge and  –  even worse  –   with cash incentives for participation.  This has a long-term negative effect on local organisations that cannot compete with donor-funded initiatives, with local people no longer expecting to pay for these types of service.   As a consequence, more innovative strategies for funding locally-led initiatives are required; in this instance asking donors and local business people to sponsor the coaching hours provided for start-up and youth entrepreneurs is a potential solution.

The time required to maintain the momentum of aspiring coaches is significant and it is easy to under-estimate it.

Some feedback from participants to date:

“All of the above-mentioned models remain really supportive to me. For instance network map, which I used in my first session, truly helped my client to identify what his network covers and where he lacks person to access. After sharing this map with him, he showed interest in expansion of his network and which he did.”

“I was pleased to see the positive changes in her company, to be honest I have a great feeling. I didn’t think I could be so helpful for someone but I realized nothing is impossible and if real effort shown everything is possible. What I realized was that success brings self-confidence. I feel I was to build that trust which needs to between a coach and a client.”

“Thank you so much for the very positive feedback. I’m also using these points in my life not just using them for the clients and day by day I’m feeling more positive in life.”

Complexities of working in a fragile setting

The course content was constructed from a variety of well-grounded coaching methodologies and some practice in mindfulness and positive psychology. The clients were able to grasp these methods and concepts. The most significant request from participants concerned how coaching could contribute to amelioration of negative feelings, particularly those relating to starting and sustaining a business in a high-security environment. This was revealed during an online discussion and a webinar as part of their online learning. The response to this formed a thread of inquiry and discussion between participants and tutors for the rest of the course. New skills were included in the course material, particularly more elements of Rogerian principles of “unconditional positive regard” for coaching clients and empathetic coaching responses that would help the client reveal more purposefulness and fluid responses to their business practice.

Conclusion & any future variation

All the trainee coaches have conducted coaching sessions with real business people from the community.  The final face-to-face session will take place in November 2017, and the coaching service will be launched in December 2017.

The competence of the participants has, to date, been better than we expected. This meant that we have encouraged participants to work more in depth on their responses on the e-campus platform. We also noticed that there were more prospective women coaches than men. This provided more feedback on how women coaches could operate in their country setting and the gender-related considerations of who the coaching clients would be? Generally speaking women would be expected to coach other women outside the city and men would be expected to be able to coach either men or women.

The use of English was acceptable, which meant that all the materials could remain the same. However, the Coaching Logs revealed that some phrases and terms used were misused at times and, because of this, there had to be some allowance for misinterpretation of coaching intentions by the tutors assessing the written submissions.