Do you take social entrepreneurship seriously?


In this country, we’ve never really solved the debate of what vehicles our Waheshimiwas should drive. At public expense. Considering the two vehicles made in Kenya, one for African terrain and the other priced for African wallets, there shouldn’t even be a debate. This issue of proper allocation of resources is just one reason why entrepreneurship makes so much sense for Kenya.

We see it as the solution for a lot of our problems. We need us to mobilize resources, to be innovative and competitive. Youth in Kenya are also asked, over and over, to just go ahead and start businesses to sort their unemployment problem. Stats from the International Labor Organization reveal that 26% of youth in Kenya are unemployed. If they could just shift their mindsets everything would be peachy.

We don’t need to look far to find evidence that commercial enterprise works. Once Moi’s gatekeeping regime was toppled, in 2002, Kenya witnessed a private sector boom never experienced before. Unfortunately all that came to a halt in 2007 – oh, we were so close to double-digit growth. Unfortunately, too, most of that gain went to the service industry. It doesn’t create jobs like agriculture and manufacturing, which we have allowed to stagnate then atrophy. We were supposed to dump goods in East Africa, not import fish and maize.

Social entrepreneurship

Opening Kenya to imports brings up a dilemma. One that makes the push for everyone to become an entrepreneur seem mistaken. Are we really going to favor small business owners over consumers? Is it worth it? Cheap imports are cheap. Example, we don’t make mobile phones but they are ubiquitous. Let’s be honest, if we closed shop to allow only Kenyan-made phones then we will be buying overpriced ones with regards to specs. Samsung and iPhone users understand, but ignore it.

My prediction is that this is going to happen to all product categories. We’re importing our staple food after all. The only way for us, it seems, is to wait out foreign investors.

This also means everyone cannot be commercial entrepreneurs. We knew that. We suggested proper entrepreneurship education, also because the skillset would make for better employees. Why can’t everyone win? You need enough money to start a business. In as much as you should start with what you have, there is that thing called minimum viability. There is the danger that if you miss that line you’ll be stuck forever at informal or unable to ever scale. Nightmare stuff.

So, unfortunately, if you don’t already start out somewhere you won’t become a successful entrepreneur. I’m not being mean, negative or whatever. The individuals who literally did it with nothing have lessons for all of us. But they will remain survivorship bias tales. Does this mean the majority of Kenyans should just forget entrepreneurship?

No. We need to preach from different scriptures. Poverty in Kenya isn’t just whether your imported top is mtumba or mall-new. There is the lack of opportunities and endurance of squalid living conditions. Unfair. Everytime I see a stretch of paved sidewalk in Nairobi, I deem it Instagram worthy. Kenyans born before 1980, what is this country you’ve built?

Anyway, we’ll have to grow up and accept that the traditional enterprise will never solve majority of these problems. Where we’re at right now, neither will the Government. Social entrepreneurship can. This is why we need to condition it as as (English is silly) much a fulfilling career path. The competencies needed to be a successful commercial entrepreneur remain true for social entrepreneurs. The difference is that positive social impact is much of the mission.

We can’t ignore it

Even if you don’t like it, it’s the future. Governments, including ours, will only get smaller. Kenyans are not interested in a presssing tax burden. We will be arm-twisted to accept privatization of parastatals and retrenchments. Social entrepreneurship will be an alternative for who to pick Government slack in its duty of public welfare.

The best argument for this direction to be taken is that social entrepreneurship has a lower barrier of entry. There are way too many requirements of starting a food processing business in Kenya, for example. If a social enterprise is not dealing with physical products, then the resource requirement is lower. No surprise then that the British Council found, in a 2016 report, that half of social enterprise are led by Kenyans under the age of 35. Heck, if you picked the right business structure you will pay less taxes as a social entrepreneur.

Because of the mission and nature of social entrepreneurship, the sector has avenues of funding not available to the rest of us. You’ll be in luck to come across anything like a grant as a commercial entrepreneur. Yet it’s another fun Friday for social entrepreneurs. It doesn’t mean they are showing off money, like Willy Paul did (yikes). Money is obviously designed to be scarce and slippery on your palms. But the opportunity for proper financing is real.


Global Impact Investing Network (GINI) found that 50% of all impact funding to this part of Africa is given to those in Kenyan. Access to that money is still competitive. Entrepreneurs have to meet cut-offs like measure of impact and scalability. That is just another day in entrepreneurship.

Need for greater consideration of social entrepreneurship by Kenyans, therefore, proves itself. The experience of individual players in the sector is a different matter. For another day, obviously.


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