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Kabul Youth Incubator: Accompanying youth from innovative ideas to becoming business leaders in their communities

We support youth in urban areas – displaced or likely to move – to bring their ideas to life, building businesses, markets and communities

Photo of Ruta Nimkar
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

According to UNHCR, 58% of displaced people are displaced within their own country rather than across international borders. The majority of these people go to urban areas, since cities often offer improved physical security, economic options, and educational opportunities. When conflict forces people, particularly youth, to move to urban areas, the challenges are easy to identify. The displaced have trouble finding jobs, as their skills are not appropriate, and they may have limited education and access to capital. The cities struggle to cope with inflows of people due to poor infrastructure, housing shortages, limited formal employment opportunities, and inadequate services. However, migrant youth also represent an untapped resource. Youth have ideas and motivation to establish better futures for themselves and their communities. Youth engagement can bolster the small business sector, in turn helping other displaced people. Currently, youth, particularly migrant and displaced youth, in conflict affected urban areas have limited capacity to build their own futures by starting businesses. This is due to lack of access to capital, networks and skills. Meraki Incubator is piloting a business incubator for youth in Kabul - we are currently in the prototype stage and will scale up to pilot with support from Building Bridges. (1) Inspire. We will work with university students - displaced and host - in Kabul to ideate. To develop ideas and fully fledged business plans. (2) Develop. We will ask youth to fundraise capital from their community, and we will match the community investment - for a minority shareholding status. We will, as investors, work with entrepreneurs to develop hard and soft skills. We will support them with a series of 0% interest loans. We will act as a for-profit mentor. (3) Connect. We will encourage young businesses and entrepreneurs to work together - to form an entrepreneurship ecosystem to support themselves and others.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Meraki Incubator targets Kabul, Afghanistan due to: (1) high level of internal displacement from rural areas into Kabul, (2) improving regulatory environment for businesses (ranked as one of the most improved by the World Bank), (3) availability of educational opportunities , and (4) presence of a local (often grey) market. Meraki Incubator has Afghan team members based in Kabul with extensive connections within universities as well as previous work with and connections to migrant communities.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Internal migrants are seen as a drain on resources and unwelcome competition for low-wage informal work. Meraki Incubator will help internally displaced youth to realise their own ideas and potential; the establishment of successful businesses will contribute to the community by creating fair jobs and improved access to goods and services. The incubator includes migrant and host community youth, thus developing an ecosystem of entrepreneurs in which youth on-the-move build bridges with hosts.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Youth in Kabul have limited opportunities to realise their own dreams – they have limited access to education and the labour market, and if they want to start businesses, they are restricted by lack of capital and access to networks. By nurturing and growing businesses, providing access to capital, developing a network of entrepreneurs, and providing skill development, Meraki Incubator will meet basic needs but will also have a broader impact. Youth will gain the skills and confidence they need to feel fulfilled. Migrant youth will gain confidence and improve social networks, thus building social capital required for long term success as well as psychosocial well-being. Youth will be able to realise their own dreams and ideas, thus building hope, encouraging dreams of others, and laying the foundations for lives with greater dignity. By integrating socially responsible business practices, such as fair wages and opportunities for the vulnerable, the project contributes to well being.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

The incubator will establish impact at different levels: (1) At an individual level, youth will gain soft skills (business ideation, confidence, negotiation) as well as harder skills and benefits (finance skills and access to capital). The combination of hands-on skill development and the community-centered approach will support youth in building businesses and in engaging with their environments (2) At a community level, Meraki Incubator will support an entrepreneurship ecosystem in Kabul, which is limited due to decades of conflict and instability. Capital will become more widely available, the benefit of socially-responsible business will become clearer, and communities will have greater access to financial resources through successful businesses launched in this program. (3) At an inter-community level, links will be established between migrant and urban youth. These links will build social and network capital; this in turn will help migrants navigate and thrive in urban areas.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Abdullah, a Meraki founding members, met a migrant youth living in Kabul who had an idea: “Afghan students write standardised national exams , but the quality of teaching is uneven. Students rely on teachers to prepare for exams. If you have bad teachers, you have bad results, and your future is ruined.” The young man wanted to start a business selling high-quality independent educational aids at a low cost, to students. Similar businesses had been successful in Iran, where he grew up. To realize this dream, he faced challenges. Humanitarian agencies would only support tailoring and mobile phone repair businesses. He had no means to access capital. He did not know other entrepreneurs doing work at a similar scale. He wanted to address a clear market gap but he had no one to go to for support. Founding members have come across several ideas that could be profitable, developed by youth with the capacity to be entrepreneurs. Meraki Incubator works with these youth and their dreams.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Meraki staff have been working with migrants in Kabul since 2015. One staff member is based in Kabul. We conducted interviews with youth and business owners and are already piloting. Critical dynamics are as follows: (1) Migrant communities. Internally displaced and rural-urban migrants live in small enclaves within the city with poorer quality infrastructure and basic education. Some settlements have been present for over 20 years. They are culturally diverse. (2) Desire for education, skills, and meaningful work. Youth, particularly displaced, often invest and sacrifice for education. They can succeed in doing this with low cost, but have little employment options afterward. (3) Capital. Youth have ideas, but do not have access to capital. Interest on microfinance is prohibitively expensive. Humanitarian agencies neither offer sufficient funding nor long-term support. They are often sector-restricted. Informal credit is expensive. (4) Kinship networks form social capital

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Meraki Incubator leverages community strengths in several ways: (1) Co-funding. Meraki Incubator will co-invest with youth . Youth will raise money from within their communities; this investment will demonstrate community buy in to the ideas, and commitment on the part of youth to engaging with communities and leveraging their strengths. Meraki Incubator will match the money raised by youth. (2) Ecosystem development. Meraki Incubator aims to work with entrepreneurs to create links among different groups of migrants and between migrants and host communities. By providing a platform for exchange and joint investment in common projects, the incubator will help to build on existing assets. (3) Expanding economies. Currently aid agencies invest only in certain sectors, but communities and youth have diverse and innovative ideas that show great potential to contribute to their communities. By remaining open, the incubator will support problem solving and innovation.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Meraki Incubator partners with ImpactShakers. Impact Shakers builds and scales ventures tackling societal challenges through entrepreneurship. They do this together with underrepresented or ‘underestimated’ founders - those who beat the odds before and will do so again the future. They have experience in entrepreneurial ecosystem development in Europe and the US. Anticipated future partners are: (1) Kateb University. Kateb has a high proportion of internally displaced youth enrolled as students. Meraki Incubator would like to enter into a formal engagement with Kateb University. (2) Danish Refugee Council Diaspora. Diaspora offers a potential for investment and mentorship; Meraki Incubator would like to strengthen links between diaspora and youth businesses through the DRC diaspora program. (3) Bright Future Kabul. This is another incubator program recently started in Kabul; we would like to build the ecosystem together with them.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Other

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

Meraki Labs

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Meraki is a Canadian company, founded in December 2018, whose vision is that people affected by displacement have the capabilities and opportunities to design a sustainable and dignified future. Our mission is to design, pilot and scale the solutions displaced people choose for themselves. Meraki was founded by humanitarian workers with experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and others. ‘Meraki’ means ‘to put part of yourself into your work’ – all our founding members do this daily. One of the founding members is Afghan, based in Kabul. We have lived experience with displacement and as humanitarians implementing projects that do not always reflect the visions of displaced people. We want to do better. We have 3 platforms. Our consultancy platform provides services on migration programming for organisations including DRC and Tdh. Our research platform generated evidence for ODI, IOM and Oxford publications. Our innovation platform aims to bring the ideas of the displaced to life.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a For-Profit Startup or Startup Social Enterprise

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State


1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Ramatu Issaka

Hi Ruta Nimkar, thanks for sharing your idea and thanks for joining Bridgebuilder 2019. We encourage you to keep pursuing great ideas.