-Ever imagined a BPO in rural Kenyan town, 350 km from Nairobi-
Africa “is on the move,” President Obama told the world from Nairobi while opening the Global Entrepreneur Summit July 25, 2015. This summit brought to Kenya’s capital international innovators, investors, business people and government officials. But there are those who don’t buy this hype and rightly so. First there is no single Africa. It is a collection of 55 different countries each uniquely challenged or endowed. Sometimes, they tend to be at odd with each other. But that’s for another day. Back to the ‘rising narrative’. Many reasons have been advanced, but one of the key one is the emergence of ‘tech hubs’ with the continent today boasting 90 of them. It seems our economic woes have inspired us to harness certain technologies with more zeal and in more innovative ways. The GES summit brought to the fore some of the amazing Start Ups from Kenya that are already changing the world from the mobile banking platform MPESA to crowd sourcing platform Ushahidi and to the ingenious Akirachix . We all agree Kenya is fast becoming a hotbed of ‘Innovation’ and not ‘a Hotbed of Terror’ as was once reported CNN. Today, Kenya has more cell-phone subscriptions than adult citizens and more than 80 percent of those with a cell phone also use “mobile money” or “M-PESA”. On the other hand, The IBM Research Lab focuses on providing solutions for African and global challenges such as the Twende Twende SMS system that helps local Nairobi commuters avoid traffic congestion.
So no question about this. The continent’s best route out of poverty and away from extremism is through entrepreneurship and innovation. The tech space between Africa and Europe is becoming smaller. But not everything is up, Kenya has challenges. The World Bank estimates that of the 800,000 plus young Kenyans who join the labor market each year, only 50,000 succeed to get professional jobs. With few opportunities in the formal sector and no safety net, many young people work in the informal sector or in small family businesses, and the ubiquity of mobile phones is creating clusters of digitally enabled entrepreneurship. But here is the paradox. For those lucky to get jobs, employers report significant ‘skills mismatch’ between jobs requirements and graduates’ display of skills in the workplace, from functional and industry-specific skills to soft skills in communication, IT, decision-making, critical thinking and problem solving. So then how can Kenya continue staying on the innovation highway? The stuff that we innovate, are they that amazing, and are they changing lives across our borders too?
Traditionally, the purpose of secondary education has been to select students for higher education. However, this has shifted to the preparation of students for a wide array of post-secondary learning opportunities, as well as workplace. Government data show one out of every three household enterprises in Kenya is led a young adult and up to 70% of them fail yearly owing to poor decisions on business location, lack of credit as most lenders require collateral, inadequate business skills from customer service to accounting.
But hey, one project is re writing this story, sote ICT. In year 2014 alone, we helped to educate 417 members of ICT Clubs at 10 secondary schools from Taita Taveta County in practical computer and business skills. Since 2013, students established and manage together 24 training companies that are registered in Practice Enterprise Network and do business locally and international with peers in Europe; Germany, Slovakia and 38 other countries all together bringing 7500 training companies. During the school year, students create brochures, video adverts, blogs, business plans and accounting documents , transact business and share them through facebook.com/Sotehub and slideshare.net/soteICT. The project has donated 200computers, projectors, laptops, cameras, copier machines and several multimedia equipment and all computers connected to internet. We have impacted over 5000students and 150 teachers. In April 2015, we organized the first ever and most successful student training companies trade fair in Voi attracting H.E Dr. Michal Mlynar, The Slovak Ambassador to Kenya and H.E John Mruttu, Taita Taveta County Governor as the chief guests. We have an amazing partnership with iHub who conduct outreach programs in our school. Essentially, Sote ICT is bringing start ups culture to Kenya’s rural schools.
There is a Chinese Proverb; ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’
Our next big goal is to create a startup hub in Red Elephant Centre, Voi in October 2015 to support our graduate students and the community. Known as Sote Hub, we will be partnering with iHub, Biashara Centre and Kenya Industrial Estate. Taita Taveta Biashara Centre is an initiative of The Government of Kenya, The County Government of Taita Taveta and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The objective is to promote inclusive economic growth and job creation at the county level through empowering Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs), small holders, youths and women to access and leverage economic opportunities. Sote Hub couldn’t have found a better partner as we have opportunity to influence policies for sustainability. The Kenya Industrial Estate will provide incubation spaces for our start ups at subsidised rates. The ultimate goal is to improve chances of employment and entrepreneurship for Sote ICT graduates and the communities through startup hub, impact sourcing, corporate volunteering, mentorship and micro-outsourcing. Also technical competences, such as digital fabrication, robotics and coding. So yes, we are having a BPO in Voi. In the next 24 months, we project at least 5 start-ups will leave the incubator, prove sustainable and create at least 20 full time jobs, and another 50 part time with multiple benefits and impacts to the society. Each of these businesses has an opportunity to provide real world solutions that have a global reach and perhaps the next big thing after Mpesa. So what did we say about Africa rising again?
Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. –Henry Ford
Kasigau Wildlife Trust (Kenya) and Pontis Foundation (Slovakia)
The writer is the Project Manager and can be reached on twitter @DavidOgiga or email firstname.lastname@example.org