What you need to know:
- Some of the most hard-working Kenyans in this nation are its youth, yet they continue to be let down by the very institutions that should be at the forefront in supporting them.
- Kenya is an extremely youthful country; the median age is estimated to be about 19 years and 80 per cent of Kenya’s population is below the age of 35 years.
On Thursday morning as I was perusing through Nation.Africa, I came across a complaint from Ms Rachel Mwangi in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section. The letter is directly addressed to President Uhuru Kenyatta, imploring him to come to the aid of young Kenyan entrepreneurs who won in the #MbeleNaBiz World Bank-funded youth project but are yet to receive their monies, four months later.
Ms Mwangi, who I assume is a young entrepreneur, built a case on behalf of fellow youths in a most poignant fashion: “I beseech President Kenyatta to come to the rescue of the youths, who have chosen to be part of the economic development of the nation as diligent entrepreneurs…the President should act now and save the youth from depression…they don’t want to push a wheelbarrow as an economic pillar.”
It is this type of treatment of Kenyan youth that makes my blood boil. Some of the most hard-working Kenyans in this nation are its youth, yet they continue to be let down by the very institutions that should be at the forefront in supporting them.
We cannot talk about Vision 2030, a strong economy and shared prosperity without including young people. Kenya is an extremely youthful country; the median age is estimated to be about 19 years and 80 per cent of Kenya’s population is below the age of 35 years. Any economic planning that excludes the youth is dead on arrival.
Success stories such as Israel have under-girded their success on a robust start-up culture in which the government is the biggest investor in young people’s businesses.
Fostering innovation capacities
Through the Technological Innovation Incubators programme, Israel funds its young businesses in their early stages with grants of up to 85 per cent of the budget and provides physical space, infrastructure, legal advice, access to investors and business guidance.
They encourage young Israelis to innovate around engineering, technology, food and energy and provide increased funding where need be. It is this culture of supporting young people that turned around the economy of a relatively small and under-resourced country.
When it comes to fostering innovation capacities and ecosystems in any economy, government support should not be underestimated.
The government needs to be more strategic in its innovation activities by aligning the innovation support to national priorities such as manufacturing, access to education, food security, universal health coverage and affordable housing.
Government needs to heavily invest in start-ups and entrepreneurial ventures that help us achieve our strategic national goals, and this assistance should be an equal opportunity for all, not forgetting, merit-based.
In short, government must move beyond lip service and truly support innovators with funding, business training and, most importantly, eliminating government red tape and the legal hurdles that make it impossible for Kenyan entrepreneurs to thrive.
Dr Chege is the Director, Innovation Centre, at Aga Khan University; [email protected]