Millennial Wisdom: We are changing the narrative in various sectors

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What you need to know:

  • Having spent their entire lives immersed in technology, young people possess prized technical skill sets that can help transform the world.
  • Their fresh perspectives and headstrong values can bring about more efficient operations in any sector.

Young people are often touted as the future—future policymakers, future practitioners, and future leaders. Their mastery of innovation and gift of creativity can aid in resolving some of the challenges we face in our society today. Here are stories of four young people who are changing the narratives in different sectors using their skills and gifts.

Joseph Nguthiru is the founder of HyaPak, a Kenyan-based startup that is transforming the invasive water hyacinth weed into biodegradable alternatives to single-use plastic products.
Photo credit: Pool

Joseph Nguthiru, 25, HyaPak

Joseph is the founder of HyaPak, a startup that seeks to eliminate the water hyacinth menace that has affected more than 20 hectares of waterways in Kenyan lakes. He uses the weed to make items like wrappers, straws, tumblers, and party plates, to serve as biodegradable alternatives to single-use plastic products.

The inspiration to start HyaPak came when Joseph and his classmates took a trip to Lake Naivasha while he was still a student. During their visit, they were trapped in the middle of the lake by hyacinth for several hours.

“It was a very frightening experience. It was also sad to watch fishermen who had been in the waters all night struggling to exit the lake due to the weeds,” he remembers. 

Joseph and his classmates, who were engineering students, decided to take action. They decided to kill two birds with one stone by using the weed to make alternatives to single-use plastic items. That way, they could reduce the numbers and amount of water hyacinth, while at the same time controlling the use of plastics.

After graduation, however, they gave up on the concept and each pursued separate internship and employment options. Thankfully, they jointly submitted an entry into the TotalEnergies Startupper of the Year award, and they were selected to join the programme.
Through mentorship from the Chandaria School of Business and Innovation, Joseph learned how to manage a business, and in 2022, he left his internship to launch HyaPak. 

“Our aim is to create jobs while protecting the environment. The water hyacinth is harvested by fishermen in Lake Naivasha, and transported to our facilities at Egerton University where it is dried and crushed into fine powder. From there, we use machines and additives to mold the weed into the final products,” he says.

Joseph and his partners work in collaboration with government agencies such as the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI), and National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), Kenya Industrial Research Development Institute (KIRDI) and Kenya National Innovation Agency (KENIA).

HyaPak was recently awarded The Best Innovation in Water, Food, and Nature Systems at COP 28. Before that, the startup was also awarded the Best Manufacturing Startup in Kenya, and is ranked among the top 30 startups in Africa by Yale Africa Startup Review. It is also the Total Start Upper of the Year. 

Joseph is a graduate of civil and environmental engineering at Egerton University.

Deborah Kisongochi is the founder of Bungoma Rentals, BR Advertising & Marketing Agency.
Photo credit: Pool

Deborah Kisongochi, 31 
BR Advertising and Marketing Agency

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Deborah Kisongochi ran an MPesa shop and boutique, and her business was greatly affected.

During the lockdown, as she aimlessly browsed through social media, she had an epiphany – why not create a social media space where people in quarantine in Bungoma County, her hometown, can buy and sell locally-made goods? After all, they had the products, but they were unable to open their shops to clients.

Her next thought was, “What about those who are looking for houses and properties?”

This led to the founding of Bungoma Rentals, BR Advertising & Marketing Agency, an advertising and marketing firm with its headquarters in Bungoma County. She started the business in 2020 as a digital marketplace that provided business owners and real estate enthusiasts with an online marketplace for buying and selling goods.

Through this platform, which began as a Facebook Page, Deborah has conducted several programmes in Bungoma, including digital marketing, where they collaborate closely with businesses to give them an online presence, and equip entrepreneurs with digital skills on how to run their business safely online. 

She also advertises products and services from Bungoma County to the world and was the first woman to host the Bungoma Trade Fair in 2022. The second edition was held in April 2023 in partnership with the Ministry of Trade, Bungoma County, and its third edition in April 2024. She won the Champion of Young Entrepreneurs.

Deborah was also recognised with a Zuri Award in the Media Category for her creative support of female entrepreneurs and young business owners in her county.

A journalist by profession, she also teaches digital marketing skills to multiple organisations in Bungoma, works as a virtual assistant managing social media platforms for businesses and individuals to maintain a professional online presence, and mentors young girls on issues related to sex education.

Deborah is a project manager who oversees the Girl Child Advocacy Mentorship Programme in five primary schools in Sirisia Constituency of Bungoma. The goal of the foundation is to ensure that young girls have access to mentorship programmes that will empower them to remain in school.

While acknowledging the difficulties she has faced as a young woman running a business, she finds inspiration in her love for mentorship. 

With five employees, BR Advertising and Marketing Agency tailors their costs to fit the budgets of their clients. Therefore, their services cost between zero shillings and whatever a client can pay for.

Her ambition is to grow her company into a reliable partner for businesses in Western Kenya, enabling them to exhibit their goods and services online and offline to increase sales and visibility.

Benaiah Wepundi is the founder of Payd, a startup that provides gig workers in Africa with payment aggregation, gig management tools, analytics, and insights.
Photo credit: Pool

Benaiah Wepundi, 21, Payd
Benaiah quit law school, attended a software engineering boot camp at Power Learn Project and Moringa School, and then established Payd, a Kenyan-based startup backed by Mozilla Africa that provides gig workers in Africa with payment aggregation, management tools, analytics, and insights to transform their hustles into sustainable income sources.

While creating Payd, Benaiah’s desire was to develop a platform that would serve the dynamic gig economy, which includes young people with variable revenue streams engaged in a diverse range of occupations.

He was also a member of the gig economy and had experienced great difficulty in keeping track of payments and documentation, so he understood the difficulties small businesses and individuals faced in the digital arena.

Payd offers clients access to sensible, secure payment options that are tailored to their needs.

The startup was fortunate to acquire a Sh4.5 million grant from Mozilla, which has been their primary source of finance. They had also raised Sh400,000 through bootstrapping.

Elizabeth Mwangi is the CEO & director of Gwiji for Women, a social enterprise aimed at empowering low-income women from the slums.
Photo credit: Pool

Elizabeth Mwangi, 32, Gwiji for Women
Due to lack of formal education, many women who live in the slums of Nairobi are unemployed. Because of this, most of them opt to offer cleaning services to well-off households to earn a living and support their families.

Elizabeth Mwangi observed this and thought of ways of making it easier for such women to find clients. Together with three others, Elizabeth, created a smartphone application named Gwiji for Women that facilitates real-time communication between cleaners and potential clients instead of spending hours every day knocking on doors in search of cleaning jobs.

Elizabeth is a trained architect, advocate for women’s rights, marketer, and volunteer with extensive experience working in the slums, and is the CEO and Director of Gwiji for Women. This is her contribution to help female cleaners from the slums find consistent work.

The app is being used by about 800,000 women from the slums. By finding work, these women are able to stay away from vices such as prostitution, crime and drug abuse.

Elizabeth had a selfless reason for founding Gwiji. While growing up in the slums, she watched her mother get up early in the morning to go hunt for work, any work she could find to put food on the table. But she would frequently come back home empty-handed.

As she grew older, she came to understand that hard labour, even with willingness and determination, is pointless without good opportunities. This is why she decided to create more opportunities for women so they can take care of their families.

As fresh graduates with no substantial savings, the trio set out to look for funds to kick start their business. Luckily, entrepreneurship was receiving a lot of outside backing at that time in the country and throughout Africa.

African Impact Initiative, a Canadian-based angel investor that funds early-stage African entrepreneurs all over the continent, gave them $5,000 (Sh668,000) to launch Gwiji. They added donations from family and friends and created a website in 2021, before introducing their services to the market the following year.

So far, Gwiji has served more than 10,000 clients and has garnered both local and international recognition.

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Charles Oduk is the founder of Beba-Beggie, an automated smart locker technology providing affordable, accessible, secure, and convenient short-term storage for packages and luggage.
Photo credit: Pool

Charles Oduk, 31, Beba-Beggie
In 2013, Charles witnessed theft and fraud situations in Nairobi’s CBD while running errands with a friend. While riding in a public bus, his bag containing his laptop was stolen. The pain of losing his valuables made him think of ideas on how to offer dependable, affordable, and easily accessible short-term storage solutions.

He conducted extensive research, and after five years, he came up with Beba-Beggie. This is an automated smart locker that uses technology to provide affordable, accessible, secure, and convenient short-term storage for packages, luggage, and similar items for commuters in Nairobi.

Oduk says the lockers are stationed at various places in Nairobi, including at Reinsurance Plaza, Kenya Cinema Plaza, Mepaluz Plaza, and Head Office Africas Talking 23 Apple Cross Rd Lavington. 

“The system is simple to use. Once at the lockers, a user selects either the store or the retrieve option depending on whether they are initiating a storage session or ending one. After deciding on the size of the locker with the store option from small, medium, large, and extra-large locker sizes, a user inputs a valid MPesa number that will be used to send the user a message with a one-time-password and billing during checkout. The locker will then automatically pop open, allowing storage of your valuables,” he says.

The product has now served over 700 consumers and has grown quickly since then. 

Because of this innovation, Charles was named among 16 finalists in Africa handpicked to represent the continent at the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation (APEI) programme by the Royal Academy of Engineering in London-United Kingdom.