What if youth empowerment in Kenya was done differently?

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I don’t know if it is poor sampling, maybe you try it too. One morning, in traffic, I thought to casually observe how many young people were in official attire heading to Upperhill and it was only a handful. Pretty disappointing.

The numbers did not match up to the amount of times we use the term “youth empowerment” to score points. A telltale sign that it is all noise is the state of the public education system. Who thought it was a good idea to commercialize education? What next, will we have churches solely based on prosperity gospel? Even poor families in Kenya would rather overburden themselves with the additional cost of private schooling.

If youth education is poor, we should stop wondering at any sort lack of depth or breadth in skillset. There was a nice touch on this, for all of Africa, about how you​ cannot teach someone business using Fortune 500 examples and then be surprised at their struggle to deal with the small business environment – in all of my classes I’ve never heard talk of competitors selling things off the boots of their cars yet that happens, in the real world.

As “youth empowerment” pushes young Kenyans to become entrepreneurs, it is not just lack of requisite skill that is failing them. Another possible reason why 60% of new businesses in Kenya don’t live to see a third year is the mentality around it. Thanks to the conditioning at home and school, many still view business through the lenses of necessity entrepreneurship. You only start a business as a last resort.

The problem with this is that it limits your exposure to opportunities and networks. These don’t come by shamelessly promoting yourself but by being in the right place at the right time. If your business idea is also a great business opportunity then you’re on your way somewhere.

Think different

Contrary to all the memes, motivational posters, profile bios and status updates about being different, the actual thing is pretty exhausting. It also requires self-confidence bordering on arrogance. People will always question you, and you have to explain things to them (only if you’re working together). But this will happen if you want to start a business anyway. You don’t need “yes people” around you.

Youth empowerment can result in greater goals if we encourage different thinking. For instance, when they have room, young people can gain more from volunteering than piling on the latest hip professional course. They would gain skills first and network later (you don’t really think higher education is for learning, do you?). Presently, we mislead Kenyan youth to go cram add-on exams and proceed to FREE intership – free labor.

Thinking differently about youth empowerment in Kenya not only applies to jobs, but also entrepreneurship. It’s competitive but everyone can win because there is so much to be done. There is an endless list of manufacturing, trading and service businesses to start. There is also social enterprise.

We are blinded that entrepreneurship is about making money. Really, it’s about being good at what you do and being passionate about it does not hurt either. The money is a consequence of your effort. The same way the speed at which betting took hold in Kenya is a result of failed youth empowerment efforts.

Social enterprise is not different, it only puts people ahead of capital. And as you may have noticed, it receives plenty of financial and material support. It is pretty much the only type of business that receives a grant.

Only a few weeks back, Safaricom Foundation renewed its commitment to empower such ventures. The move will see it achieve greater impact by being proactive in shaping their investments. If young Kenyans were encouraged to consider avenues like this, we could solve a portion of the productive employment problem. Safaricom Foundation funding is there, and so is the willingness to  cultivate long-term partnerships  with the youth. But have we created awareness and readiness among young Kenyans?

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Web Content and stuff. You can reach me you know: editor@herbusiness.co.ke, malitrobert@gmail.com

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