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Youth Unemployment in Kenya

Youth unemployment is a significant problem in Kenya, where almost 60% of the population is under the age of 35. The country’s GDP per capita is US $375. Kenya’s economy is currently dependent on agriculture, but youth are moving to urban areas in large numbers; therefore most new entrants to the labor force must choose between working in small-scale enterprises and being self-employed. These factors have led to high levels of youth unemployment: it is estimated that 64% of unemployed people in Kenya are youth.


An effective way of addressing the challenge of unemployed youth is to help them develop their skills in entrepreneurship and small business development. Business literacy helps young people to envision ways of getting out of poverty and doing something to help themselves and their communities, and eventually ensuring sustainable economic self-reliance. Furthermore, the language of business is universal and a tool for communicating and exchanging both products and ideas. It opens people to the world of markets, and promotes exchange and interaction.  


Social Entrepreneurship 101: Africa

The Sauder School of Business, through a student initiative, designed the Social Entrepreneurship 101: Africa (SE 101: Africa) program to help Kenyan youth develop small businesses. Based on a program designed by Sauder faculty, and piloted with residents in the downtown eastside of Vancouver (the poorest neighborhood in Canada), SE 101: Africa was first delivered in August 2006 to Kenyan youth. The project helped Sauder faculty and students understand how to effectively exchange knowledge and ideas across cultural borders. Through extensive research and support from the Sauder community, the students involved in SE: 101 Africa designed the course to be practical, applicable, and sustainable in the local context.


How I Became Involved

It was in 2008, while I was in my MBA program at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia (UBC), that I became involved in the Social Entrepreneurship 101 (SE 101): Africa program in Kenya. I wrote a series of blogs about my experiences teaching a three-week business planning class to a group of 35 aspiring youth entrepreneurs in Nairobi, Kenya. In re-reading the blogs, I more fully appreciate how far the program has come along. Indeed, what a difference a year makes.


What a Difference a Year Makes

Upon returning to Vancouver, Canada last year, Professor Nancy Langton and I met with the Dean to discuss the program achievements. While he was pleased with the progress, he wanted to see an expanded three to five year business plan for the program (now that the program had been running for three years) before giving the go-ahead for the 2009 program. We then spent the next few months developing the SE 101 business plan, and presented it to the Dean in December. He liked what he saw in the business plan and consequently allowed us to proceed with the 2009 program.


Professor Langton and I started recruiting the 2009 Sauder team in January and eventually selected a team of 5 undergraduate and 5 MBA students. Starting in February and continuing to July, the team developed and executed fundraising business plans, reviewed, refined, and taught the curriculum, and presented topics about Kenya. Fundraising is always a challenge, and more so this year given the economic downturn but with some creativity and perseverance, the team managed to meet its goal. In late July, we arrived in Nairobi en masse with a mixture of giddish anticipation, trepidation, and clarity of purpose. The first weekend was spent finalizing arrangements and meeting the Strathmore University (in Kenya) students who were co-teaching the program at three locations: Kibera (the largest slum in East Africa), Friend’s Church (just outside Kibera), and International Christian Center (also in Nairobi).


Social Entrepreneurship 101: Africa, 2009 Program

Unlike last year, my role this year was as a Project Coordinator, not as a teacher. I spent the first few days at different sites to help ensure the program got off to a good start, and while there were some issues with the resource materials and logistics, the UBC and Strathmore University student instructors ramped up remarkably well and quickly. I was impressed by their enthusiasm, breadth and depth of knowledge, and creativity in delivering the curriculum to over 80 student participants. Classes started at 8:30 a.m. and typically ended around 2:30 p.m. with a few breaks in between, and cover strategy, marketing, financial management, and operations to name a few of the modules.


Judging from the participant feedback we received at the end of the program, I was not alone in my assessment. In fact, many students told me that they wanted the program extended to at least four weeks: the appetite for learning was at times voracious. What accounts for the positive response? Unlike many other educational programs in Kenya, SE 101 emphasizes a collaborative approach versus a “tallking heads” approach. UBC students have as much to learn from the Kenyan students as they do from us. We can also be proud of the comprehensive curriculum that has been developed and refined over four years. One participant remarked that he learned more from this free three-week program than he did in a six month program costing around $1,000 U.S.


While the team was teaching the business-planning program, Professor Langton and I met with a number of micro-finance institutions and banks, to figure out how to make funding more accessible to those participants with viable business plans. What I received from the meetings was a crash course about micro-finance. More about what we learned in my next blog.


For more information and videos about the SE 101 program, visit the official site.

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  1. Former Member
    Hi Kirby,
    It’s always nice to read blogs of how SCN community members engage in projects to help others around the world.  Teaching social entrepreneurship really does make a difference, as your b-school and other organizations have proven.  Thanks for sharing.   


    1. Kirby Leong Post author
      Thanks Claudine for the nice comments. When I first became involved in this project, never did I imagine that I would still be involved nearly two years later. Such is the strength of the SE 101 vision and mission. I’m looking forward to sharing with the community the exciting plans we have for the program, in hopes that other community members could help these plans come to fruition.

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