What you need to know:
- Grace too belongs to a group of millennials who continue to trigger wide-ranging disruptions at the workplace, by actively engaging and challenging their leaders rather than merely taking instructions from them.
- “Young people appreciate communication that is multidirectional – both top-down and bottom-up communication,” Grace notes.
- She insists that equity is critical today because “despite our different circumstances, everyone must be empowered to succeed.”
In response to the effects of globalisation, tags and identities are becoming more and more fluid. However, it is millennials who have been impacted the most by globalisation. Their behaviour, mannerisms and attitudes have greatly been influenced by their unique interests, technology and the ensuing circumstances. Today, millennials are like a tribe to themselves.
But, how exactly do Kenyan millennials fit in the global society? What specific values identify them? What do they stand for?
To Grace Wangari, a public relations professional, the current generation is driven by a burning quest for social change and accountability.
“We are a generation that chooses not to settle for the status quo. We are courageous enough to question things,” she says. “In addition to believing in the possibility of change, optimism defines me as a Kenyan millennial.”
The workplace is a classic example of where young people find themselves fighting for their place. Brand strategist Naserian Kantai says she is constantly struggling to keep up with sociocultural demands, large age differences and strict religious practices at the workplace. She also has to be mindful of those who makes decisions at the workplace.
To find her place, Naserian’s approach to all facets of life is characterised by a go-getter attitude, and she is not apologetic about this.
Like millennials elsewhere in the world, Naserian, 27, is confident and ambitious, but also open-minded.
“I am highly adaptable. I am always aiming to break the glass ceiling, to defy norms and to change the socioeconomic and political narrative,” says she.
Grace too belongs to a group of millennials who continue to trigger wide-ranging disruptions at the workplace, by actively engaging and challenging their leaders rather than merely taking instructions from them.
“Young people appreciate communication that is multidirectional – both top-down and bottom-up communication,” Grace notes, insisting that equity is critical today because “despite our different circumstances, everyone must be empowered to succeed.”
She emphasises: “Levelling the playing field is necessary now more than ever before.”
When it comes to equity and creating change in their world, Kenyan millennials take the front seat. Lawrence Matunda, for instance, mentors high school and university students. That is his contribution to moulding a more informed generation.
“This engagement has allowed me to use the skills I have acquired so far to impart knowledge to other young people to help them achieve their goals. This allows those who hope to join the corporate world as professionals after school to understand the complexities involved, and to prepare better for the future,” says the young banker.
But besides teaching others, there’s an awful lot that today’s young people from around the world learn from each other. Justus Mutunga, a lawyer, says that he always seeks to understand values and the motivation that drives other millennials whenever he’s interacting with them.
Says he: “I am conscious about empathy and I am willing to see the world through the perspective of others.”
Ivy Nyaguthii, a business analyst, says she’s a global millennial, based on her ability to relate to a myriad of youth experiences.
She explains: “I share the sentiments of other young people around the world on issues such as capitalism and the need to re-evaluate it, and I also prefer flexi-time and remote working. I advocate for a five-day work week, and gender balance too.”
Ivy adds: “I don’t feel obligated to fit in, but I feel obligated to be empathetic.”
Naserian says sometimes there’s always pressure to fit in.
“The world has become very small. Behaviour and perspectives can spread very fast. While these mannerisms are generally accepted, it doesn’t always mean that they are appropriate.”
For Justus, his relevance as a Kenyan millennial in a global society is based on the ability of other millennials elsewhere to identify with his socioeconomic circumstances, especially his experiences of the pandemic year.
Being a young advocate is difficult, he says. At the beginning of the year 2020, Justus had expected to get admitted to the bar and to start his legal practice. He was excited.
“My friend took me in to partner with him in his law firm at the start of the pandemic. Fresh as I was in the industry, I would sit in the office for months with neither clients nor money.”
When Covid-19 hit and ravaged the industry and country, his struggles were compounded.
“For nine months, I got only two clients who paid me Sh45,000.”
Justus says as a member of the Gen Y, his consumption of pop culture is minimal and conscious. Not his friends, though.
“Young people around me take up whatever they see in the media and adopt it in their daily lives,” he says, adding that movies aren’t his cup of tea.
He does admit, however, that pop culture has had a substantial impact in his life. “It has taught me that individual voices are valid. We are also living in a world where privacy is increasingly becoming an illusion.”
Globally, millennials possess a wide range of values, competencies and attitudes. They are more ambitious than any other generation in history, collaborative and confident. But, it is being tech savvy that makes them even more agile.
These millennials concur that technology has significantly altered their relationship with the world.
For Lawrence, being present on Twitter and LinkedIn allows him to access his content of choice, for his professional and social growth.
“By using these platforms, I’m also able to contribute to the agenda I’m passionate about,” he says.
Tech has made it easier for Grace and her peers to express themselves more fiercely by providing different tools of expression.
She notes: “There are just so many possibilities. It is possible to connect with like-minded people in the world and to share ideas through different online avenues.”
But it is the ability to create content on social media and to share it freely, without the fear of being judged or reprimanded, that feels like the greatest win for Grace.
“Creative work, unlike before, is today considered a career just like any other. Technology has been at the centre of this mindset change.”
Grace observes that the shift has also made it possible for creatives and professionals in “more formal sectors” to “work together for a common goal.”
Even with this interconnectedness, Ivy says she’s often felt at odds with events around her, notable among them the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
“At the beginning, populations of major world economies had registered numerous cases of Covid-19 while Africa had none and everyone was wondering why,” she recalls.
Then there was the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria where youth came together to campaign against police brutality.
Says Ivy: “At the time, Kenyan youth were being brutalised, and even murdered, by the police.”
Sexuality, fashion, politics are some of the ways in which today’s youth express themselves. A Taurus, Naserian says her sexuality and sense of fashion are some of the identity elements that she expresses fiercely.
“My vibrations are mostly earthy, sensual, stable, determined and resilient. Sexually, that puts me in a sex-indifferent category, or a graysexual.”
Her fashion sense, she adds, is predominantly defined by elements of colour, weather and her temperament.
“I grew up in an arid area with lots of sunshine and savannah grassland and shades of brown and green. These influence my sense of style.”
So, to what extent, if at all, has technology and chaos in the world fortified or eroded human values among Kenya’s millennials?
Justus says that while he is practical in life, he is equally empathetic, insisting the need to place humanity at the centre in spite of global identity chaos and other disruptions.
“Greek philosopher Socrates’ exhortation of “know thyself” remains as applicable today as it was then. We must always remember that we are rational beings and, therefore, always act rationally.”
“I consider myself very expressive. I don’t bottle up whatever is bothering me, whether financial, social or career-related,” says Justus.
Communicating one’s feelings and being self aware, he observes, is a critical tool.
“Having a progressive mind has allowed me to navigate different situations more smoothly. I also live a stress-free life.”
Often, young people in Kenya have been accused of being out of touch with global issues such as politics, human rights, development and climate change. Arguably, there isn’t any tangible social revolution that the youth in Kenya can lay claim to.
Says Lawrence: “For many years, Kenyan millennials were passive spectators of our politics. This made it difficult to realise real youth-driven change. We also lagged behind in innovations, but this has significantly changed as more young people take up leadership in different aspects of life.”
Are millennials entirely detached, though? Hardly, as these youngsters demonstrate.
Says Grace: “I identify with sustainable development. My generation isn’t solely driven by profitmaking in business. To that extent, I strongly believe that by achieving all the sustainable development goals, we’ll be able to create a sustainable future for all.”
This young woman is also a disciple of the gospel of a “purpose-driven life.”
“To live a meaningful life of purpose, taking risks isn’t an option. I have an appetite for risk because at this point in my life, I can comfortably take risks without putting a lot at stake.”
Like their counterparts globally, millennials in Kenya have a strong social media presence. They are also abreast of local and global politics. But to Lawrence, this is just the start.
“We need to voice our opinions on these platforms more actively. It is the best bet to contributing meaningfully and creating a lasting impact.”
Naserian, however, admits she is different. “I consider myself passive politically.”
But why do global issues matter to young Kenyans?
Ivy argues that as Africans, we are affected disproportionally by issues such as vaccination inequality, world peace and climate change.
“Africa contributes only about four per cent to the global carbon footprint. Yet the continent stands to experience far worse effects of global warming than other parts of the world.”
She notes that as seas rise globally, it is Africa’s coastal areas that will bear the brunt of rising water levels.
“We must speak up about these issues.”
Then there are fundamental challenges that humanity is battling, such as job insecurity, that has millennials, particularly, constantly clutching at straws.
“Before, people could work consistently for more than 10 years for one employer. Those days are long gone,” she laments, arguing that the current environment is sometimes too fast-paced to keep up with.
She notes: “You’re always thinking about your next move even before the current one has taken off owing to instability and uncertainty in life.”
Grace says this situation isn’t helped by growing levels of unemployment, student debt, the high cost of living and mental health challenges. “Dealing with these issues isn’t easy and can take a toll on anyone.”
Justus agrees, saying that vulnerability among humans is growing in the current world order. “The future is looking to be more uncertain than our present moment.”
On disruptions in career, Justus says he had made a conscious decision not to go back to employment, but as things spiralled south in 2020, he found himself reevaluating his choices. He, however, held on.
He adds: “In the midst of it all, I realised that I had to adapt to different circumstances, to be liberal and be ready to learn and relearn different survival tactics while staying focused on my goals as a young professional.”