Nigeria's YouWin program gives away free money for economic development : Planet Money Nigerians heard a radio ad offering millions of dollars for people with business proposals. They thought it was a scam. It wasn't. | Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.
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Nigeria, You Win! (Update)

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Nigeria, You Win! (Update)

Nigeria, You Win! (Update)

Nigeria, You Win! (Update)

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/974687156/975732686" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Lariat Alhassan had lots of great paint to sell but no office where she could meet clients. And then she heard an ad on the radio that seemed too good to be true. Courtesy of Lariat Alhassan hide caption

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Courtesy of Lariat Alhassan

Lariat Alhassan had lots of great paint to sell but no office where she could meet clients. And then she heard an ad on the radio that seemed too good to be true.

Courtesy of Lariat Alhassan

Note: This episode originally ran in 2016

Lariat Alhassan owned a tiny paint business in Abuja, Nigeria. Things weren't going great. She had no office. She was selling paint out of the trunk of her car. But one night, while Lariat was listening to music in her room, she heard an ad on the radio. At first, she was sure it was a scam. It said that the Nigerian government was offering millions of dollars to businesses, practically no strings attached.

It was no scam. This was an experiment that the Nigerian government was taking on. A contest meant to help the country's tiniest businesses get bigger. If it worked, it could help solve Nigeria's massive youth unemployment problem. And it could also point towards solving a big economic puzzle in the developing world: How do you get a small business to become a medium sized business that could grow to become a big business? Solve that, and you'll create jobs and wealth and all kinds of other benefits.

There are tons of entrepreneurs who want to grow their businesses in the developing world, but most of their businesses can't grow past one or two employees. The big thing they need is money--but if you're a bank looking to make a loan, how do you tell a good two-person paint company like Lariat's from a bad one? How can you predict who will use the money wisely? Those loans end up looking really risky, and so banks often don't lend at all, or if they do, they charge a ton.

But if someone could figure out how to differentiate the tiny businesses ready to boom from the ones about to go bust, they could help solve those big puzzles, like unemployment and help fight poverty.

Nigeria had a plan. They'd hold a massive nationwide contest. They'd give out piles of cash like nobody else had before. And Lariat was in.

Music: "Family Summer Reunion," "Po' Boy," and "Yoruba Funk."

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