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Change tack on youth enterprise programmes

Youth are increasingly getting frustrated with the many entrepreneurial interventions being developed to mitigate against the scourge of unemployment.

Why? Interventions, especially from past and present governments, have either failed or taken too long to implement.

Yet the unemployment time bomb is ticking. Governments (National and County), donor communities and other private sector interventionists must change strategy.

There are at least five reasons why the current intervention strategies must change.

These include: failure to subject interventions to public participation before implementation, poor decisions in selection of opportunities to exploit, lack of passion to follow through the interventions, politicization of development and complex procurement laws.

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First let’s examine some of the big initiatives like Kazi Kwa Kijana (jobs to the youth) and the National Youth Service (NYS).

In spite of constitutional requirement for public participation, most of these initiatives pop up only to fail as quickly as they were conceived.

It is possible that the outcome would have been different if public participation had played a part towards their introduction.

Instead, the two projects did not yield sustainable employment, leading to wastage of opportunity and resources that did not bear any returns.

A myriad of opinion pieces and talks in conferences seem to converge on the idea that the resources should have been applied to more productive initiatives to ensure sustainability of employment. For example, Kenya is a net importer of food.

The country is food insecure. Why were NYS resources not used to expand production of rice, wheat, or even maize to cover the deficit and help improve the country’s balance of payments? This could have been done while employing the youth who needed jobs.

Secondly, the implementation of youth and women enterprise funds failed to achieve the desired objectives simply because entrepreneurs did not first explore the opportunity as is common practice in entrepreneurship before seeking to borrow funds.

They sought the money before establishing an opportunity. In the end, there was very little substantive activity on the ground.

There were no mechanisms for training or incubation of new enterprises. Perhaps there are good lessons to learn from past failures and develop new entrepreneurial strategies that are more responsive and that provide a sustainable solution to unemployment in Kenya.
Thirdly, nothing succeeds if there is no passion, commitment and leadership to see through the plans. In Kazi Kwa Vijana, there was more ridicule and criticism of the intervention than the logics of this initiative.

Once more, failure to get the buy-in from the public derailed the project. Although NYS and Youth Enterprise Fund are bogged down by corruption, there was no definitive person with fiduciary responsibility and the passion to see through the project.

Passion begets responsibility. Corruption will be minimiszed the day passionate senior public servants begin to seriously take responsibility for actions within their dockets like in most advanced countries.

Fourthly, Kenya’s political class interferes with virtually every well-intentioned entrepreneurial intervention that is introduced to fight unemployment.

They amazingly have a common mindset of always diverting resources to expendable projects.

No single MP has ever spent their constituency development fund on entrepreneurial capacity building to improve their constituents to enable them to effectively exploit programmes like Youth Enterprise Fund.

Instead, they put all their money in construction projects where there is kickback galore.

Lastly, the procurement law is a very unfriendly law to the youth. The recent policy directive on Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) notwithstanding, the youth still cannot access real opportunities.

The policy directive does not have the mechanisms to accommodate startups in especially new applications that would enhance service delivery in the public sector.

Implementation of Enterprise Kenya that was supposed to facilitate incubation centers and ease of startups to access government has delayed in spite of Presidential directives to have the program start as soon as possible.

In as much as governments may argue that they need no help from the public to design projects, it is important to get their buy-in.

Unemployment remains a big security risk for the country and given the fact that some of the interventions have either failed or delayed, there is urgent need to change tact and begin to address the problem much more differently.

Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur once said: ‘Unprecedented technological capabilities combined with unlimited human creativity have given us tremendous power to take on intractable problems like poverty, unemployment, disease, and environmental degradation. Our challenge is to translate this extraordinary potential into meaningful change.’

Let’s take on this problem of unemployment by leveraging technology and entrepreneurship to effectively diffuse the time bomb.

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.

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