Kenyan start-up MESH, the country’s first online community for young entrepreneurs in the informal economy, today announces it has reached 150,000 members.

Launched to the mass market in November 2021, MESH connects young entrepreneurs and small business owners to vital networks, tailored training content, and for the first time, access to opportunities and services in the formal economy. This new growth milestone follows a one-year partnership with Mastercard Strive Community, a philanthropic program of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and Caribou Digital, which provided early-stage grant funding and technical support to develop and scale MESH.

With additional early-stage investment from Shujaaz Inc and funding from TRANSFORM, MESH was founded with a mission to unlock the potential of the informal economy in Kenya, which, it’s estimated, is where 41% of the country’s GDP is generated. New research also shows that  95% of young Kenyans work in the country’s informal sector, with 15-24-year-olds adding USD 520 million to the Kenyan economy every month.

But young entrepreneurs in the informal sector face significant barriers to growth. Often loans, services and work opportunities in the formal economy are out of reach, their networks are limited to family and friends, and they don’t have access to the relevant tools and training they need to start up and scale up their businesses. Meanwhile, major corporations – from multinational fast-moving consumer goods companies (FMCGs) to telecommunications providers and financial institutions – say they are struggling to reach this sizeable consumer market and tap into the potential of these entrepreneurs.

With the backing of its early-stage supporters, including Mastercard Strive Community, MESH is changing things by challenging traditional conceptions around employment and redefining what the future of work looks like in economies like Kenya’s.

Anuj Tanna, Co-Founder and CEO of MESH commented: “The early stage grant funding and support of Strive Community has been instrumental in enabling us to build, start-up and scale MESH. We’re so proud that MESH is now connecting 150,000 young entrepreneurs – and for the first time, to valuable gig work and training opportunities with our growing community of commercial partners. In particular, the partnership with Strive Community has been instrumental in helping us to refine, test and scale our innovative learning models that are enabling thousands of small business owners to build the real-world skills they need to thrive.”

The funding from Mastercard’s Strive Community has supported MESH in testing, designing and scaling its innovative training model, enabling young people to learn in bite-sized, peer-led, digital-first formats – in their language and on their terms. The skills programs available through the platform also enable MESHers to build their digital ID and directly unlock new valuable work and service opportunities with MESH’s commercial partners.

Natasha Jamal, Vice President of Social Impact, Strive, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, said: “Facilitating access to networks for entrepreneurs is core to the work of Strive Community; the early success of our collaboration with MESH highlights the impact we can have when we combine this access to resources with the transformative power of digital technology. The milestone MESH has achieved in reaching 150,000 entrepreneurs in Kenya is proof that we can bring life to economies across the globe by empowering small business owners with digital solutions that meet their needs and help them progress toward their biggest goals.”

MESH is also demonstrating sustainable demand for its product, as a range of commercial partners from multinational corporations to local start-ups joins the platform to unlock direct access to the growing MESH community.

“We are ambitious – we have goals to achieve. But after school, most youths have to opt into hustles. We don’t have an option. That’s the way it is. MESH is a great platform – young people connect, exchange ideas, and share their skills. There are products that I get from Unilever that I get through MESH, that I can sell to my friends, at work, and even some retail shops. I’m hoping for the best from MESH. Maybe one day, it will be the game changer.” – Brian Amwayi (27), MESHer, Nairobi

“As much as school is the key to success, which success? Business is for financial security. Even in high school, I would go with biros and sell them to my friends. Then I saved and saved, and rented a stall, but business has challenges, you need skills. Then, I found MESH. I use the app on my phone to connect to other young people, find products, and then if you are applying for a loan, what to look out for. MESH helps people connect to businesses that are not even within Kenya. Since I found MESH, my business has improved.” – Violet Otieno (28), MESHer, Nairobi.

About Strive Community

Strive Community is a global philanthropic initiative – developed by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and Caribou Digital – that aims to support the resilience and growth of five million small businesses around the world. The initiative will enable these small businesses, many of which have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, to reach their full potential as catalysts of inclusive growth by supporting them to digitalize their operations, unlock their access to financial services and more effectively participate in digital markets. By partnering with the private sector, civic, and government organizations from all over the world, Strive Community will employ a digital and data-first approach, helping small businesses increase their use of digital technology and boost their economic potential. Strive Community is funded by the Mastercard Impact Fund. The Fund is administered by the Center for Inclusive Growth which advances equitable and sustainable economic growth and financial inclusion around the world.

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