Kenya, US should work together to address youth unemployment

Vendors sell US and Kenyan flags at Wakulima Market in Nairobi on July 24, 2015 in preparation for the arrival of President Barack Obama. PHOTO | NJUGI NGUGI |

What you need to know:

  • In Kenya, up to 80 per cent of 2.5 million youth are unemployed.
  • In the US, youth unemployment for those aged 16-19 is more than three times the overall jobless rate.

US President Barack Obama is already in Nairobi, where he will attend the sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit on Saturday. For him to address the summit is in many ways a perfect bookend.

Six years ago, in one of his first major addresses abroad, President Obama announced the creation of this summit with a focus on youth and entrepreneurship as critical components for greater economic development around the world.

That address in Cairo in 2009 came just as the world was reeling from the financial collapse that rippled across economies.

As he spoke, no one knew what the full impact the global recession would be on employment and opportunity, particularly for youth.

Now we do: youth all over the world were the hardest-hit group. Even today, youth employment rate is still very high.


In Africa, the employment crisis is compounded by the reality that the youth population is set to double to 400 million, as more enter the workforce than there are jobs.

In Kenya, up to 80 per cent of 2.5 million youth are unemployed. In the US, youth unemployment for those aged 16-19 is more than three times the overall jobless rate.

Early career opportunities are critical: research indicates that in the US, two-thirds of all wage growth an individual witnesses in the course of their lives occurs in the first ten years after of working age.

If young people do not have access to wages for several years, this can have a devastating impact on their overall lifetime earnings.

Given this global challenge, the summit comes at an opportune time for countries to share best practices and find common solutions.


President Kenyatta has made youth employment his priority and is working with the private sector to stimulate job creation.

When I visited Nairobi in March this year, the Rockefeller Foundation pledged to work with his administration to connect high potential but disadvantaged youth to jobs in ICT through our Digital Jobs Africa initiative.

The initiative seeks to improve 1 million lives across Africa through these job opportunities. We are working in Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt.

President Obama might consider a similar approach using his recently launched TechHire initiative. While currently focused on training Americans to attain high-paying technology jobs, there is a chance for him to also focus on getting disadvantaged youth into technology-based jobs.

Both countries are witnessing the value of public-private partnerships in addressing youth employment.

President Kenyatta has brought multinational and Africa-based companies to the table to hire more youth, through a practice called impact sourcing — the deliberate employment of high-potential but disadvantaged youth.

The government has also introduced a tax rebate benefit to employers who hire at least 10 new graduates and interns as apprentices for six to 12 months.

In the US, a consortium of 17 companies, led by Starbucks, Microsoft and Walmart, has pledged to create 100,000 jobs for youth between 16-24 in a plan they are calling “opportunity youth”.

This is a critical and the US government, alongside the initiative’s founders, must provide companies with the tools to make this a reality.

The writer is president of the Rockefeller Foundation.