Ideas & Debate

Harness the energy of young Kenyans to drive Vision 2030

University students during a youth conference in Eldoret. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA
University students during a youth conference in Eldoret. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA 

I wish to confirm to readers of this column (as if you don’t already know) that Kenya is bursting with positive, confident and optimistic millennial energy. What makes me say this?

The experience of spending a recent Saturday morning with a dozen such stars, as they reflected on who they were, who they thought they could become, and how they would make a positive impact on the world around them.

They were all either long-serving contributors to our management consulting firm or newcomers to our community, and we were meeting for one of our periodic Facilitation of Facilitators (“FoF”) workshops, our adaptation of Training of Trainers (“ToT”) programmes.

For in our kind of consulting work, helping organisations with developing and implementing their strategies and cultures, we do not describe ourselves as trainers but rather as facilitators.

When we develop facilitators we cannot do so with a “training” mentality, or at least not in the way one trains people to acquire technical skills.

The role, the style, of those who develop facilitators is to help them develop themselves, so that they in turn can stimulate others to develop and so perform better, individually and in teams.

That, therefore, is why we talk about “FoF”. And the key to being a facilitator rather than a trainer is that while trainers typically talk and then allow “trainees” or “students” or “audiences” to ask questions that they (the mwalimus, the knowledgeable ones) answer, facilitators mainly ask questions of “participants” that stimulate and challenge them. And much of this is about provoking deep and purposeful reflection.

Our Saturday morning therefore launched with a session on self-exploration, where the participants paired up to talk about their identities and their aspirations.

They then drew images that revealed the spirit of those identities: a soaring confident eagle, an equally high-flying falcon, both able to survey the broad view below; an infinity sign, signifying endless learning; an octopus, reaching out and sharing knowledge in multiple directions; a flower that touches hearts and brightens people’s lives; an apple offering medicinal benefit; a currency note that never loses value. And mine, a giraffe spreading calm and positive energy.

After each revealed their image to the group, they shared how they had explored their past, their present and their future.

We heard about the determination to expand their comfort zone by learning and boldly trying out new and ambitious things; about migrating from narrow city streets to broad highways; about being an energiser, like the bottle of Lucozade; about reducing fear and building confidence, both in oneself and in others; about feeling younger every day and having fun; about showing others they can be what they never imagined possible; about being curious to learn and to understand; about being a catalyst, accelerating the learning of others.

Later we went outside, for the group to have a go at one of the activities we put our clients through, to experience for themselves how it feels to plan and to struggle and eventually to triumph – and meanwhile of course to study how the facilitator (one of the group) briefs and guides them, and then, at least as importantly, how the reflection is conducted on the way they performed.

What should they feel good about? Where would they do better if they could repeat the activity, or put themselves through another one?

Almost without exception, when we observe groups engaging in our outdoor activities they do a poor job planning, and rush prematurely into action. Not here though.

Usually too, the one who emerges as leader is the first to call out how to proceed. The difference with the leader here though was that he also listened openly to ideas from others – which were many and constructive – and incorporated them into a continuously improving plan.

So, these were 12 bright young Kenyans, women and men, coming together to learn and grow, cheerfully and confidently. They inspired me more than words can tell, as young Kenyans so often do, making me feel young at heart myself.

There’s much talk about how difficult millennials are, how entitled and in an undue rush for excitement and fulfilment.

But there are so many others, no less ambitious, who understand that nothing comes easily, yet that with seriousness of purpose and through living healthy values, much can and will be achieved – for oneself and for others too.

In September I will have lived in Kenya for four decades. I came as an “urban pioneer”, proselytising the then still novel and uncomfortable message of computerisation.

Ever since then I have been interacting with talented and dynamic young Kenyans, the brightest and the best, people who would thrive anywhere in the world.

My life here has not been focused on safaris and wildlife, or on oceans and beaches. Far from it. I have obtained my joy from interacting with Kenyans.

Since the mid-80s I have been a Kenyan; since the mid-90s I have been married to a Kenyan; and for sure I will live out my days here, as this is my home.

Please do not, however, imagine that I view the Kenyan scene through rose-tinted spectacles. Just because I recognise the positive about my adopted country, do not conclude that I am naïve.

Throughout my time here I have consistently felt and stated that Kenya is not fulfilling its extraordinary potential. We have under-achieved.

We could and should have done much better. So much energy is devoted to neutralising the energy of others. There’s so much wasted energy, there’s such a waste of resources – through an outdated education system, through bureaucracy, mismanagement, greedy ostentatious consumption and of course corruption.

But if the young Kenyans I was with on that Saturday morning are allowed to fulfil their potential, along with their many other like-minded age-mates, then our Vision 2030 will indeed be achieved.

Kenya will not only become a serious middle-income country, but one of shared prosperity.