Finding Hope and Supporting Self-employment in Kenya

By Abdulalim Swaleh, CEO, Kenya Youth Business Trust Mombasa

Finding Hope and Supporting Self-employment in Kenya

My job is about finding and nurturing hope. As CEO of Kenya Youth Business Trust Mombasa, I spend a lot of time working with young people who have very little opportunities, and are struggling against barriers such as poor education and radicalism.

Having been focused on just Mombasa for many years, we are now – with the support of BG Kenya – expanding northwards, towards Malindi, and southwards, towards the Tanzanian border. Our partnership with BG, part of a global programme led by Youth Business International, is entering into its second year, and we have great plans for the next 12 months

Across the entire coastal region, the need is great. Only 25% of those in primary education will pass the exam to attend secondary education, which results in thousands of children with literally nothing to do. They cannot officially get employed, if they ever do, until 18, and so many of them fall into a life of crime and drugs or risk being radicalised by Al-Shabab, an extremist organisation operating in Somalia but with a network of cells in Kenya.

In addition, many people from the coastal areas feel concern that better educated Kenyans from upcountry are benefitting more than they are from employment opportunities in Mombasa and beyond. We need to show people that better connectivity between the coastal and upcountry areas of Kenya is a positive, not a negative, and stem the tide of separatist feeling on the coast.

Land rights, or the lack of them, are also a major problem, causing ethnic divisions, instability and the concern that there is a strong link between land and political power. Many coastal communities feel marginalised on resource allocation by consecutive Governments since independence and this has been perceived by many as the main contributor to the poverty prevalence and the vicious circle it creates.

So, by the time we start to work with them, young people have had a lot of their optimism squeezed out of them, and they may have very little hope that they can find work. But that’s our job – to support and give hope. Many of these young people have the potential to become entrepreneurs, and it’s our job to find these young people and provide them with the support that they need.

For those who are ambitious enough to consider starting their own business, we provide a three day training course which covers the business basics – topics such as sales, marketing and managing finances. Over the three days, we aim to give a young person enough insight to be able to complete a business plan, which they can use to present their idea to our selection panel at the end of the training.

As a result of the BG Kenya partnership, we have been able to expand from one training course a quarter to one a month – equipping hundreds of young people with valuable business skills.

Around one-third of these young people are then approved by the selection panel to receive funds to start their business. The kinds of businesses that are established range from a food stall, to a motorbike courier, and generally can be launched without too much capital.

An important part of the training is not just to see how the business plan can be developed, but for us to assess if they have the passion and the commitment to see their venture through. Many young people come to us thinking that they just need a loan, but finance is far from the most important ingredient for business success. Indeed, easy provision of finance can cause problems – if someone thinks that all they need is money, and they get the money, and the business fails, then what little hope that they had will be squashed.

We need to show people that it’s the know-how, and the attitude, that is more important. Sometimes, young people come to us thinking that their only impediment to success is funding, but on attending training realise that they actually can start on their own with the little they have.

This for us is a great result, and up and down the Kenyan coast, we hope to give many more young people the tools to launch their own business and break away from the notion that it is someone else holding them back from achieving their dreams.

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