Community Economic Elevator Program
"We’re creating role models"
In Kenya Wamuyu Mahinda trains with her organization The Youth Banner young people to become entrepreneurs. Since 2012, Siemens Stiftung has cooperated with The Youth Banner, a program that offers entrepreneurship training and mentorship for young Kenyans in rural regions and provides them with economic and social opportunities. For many school students in the country, this is often their only chance to get ahead, and when they successfully complete their training, they serve as a source of inspiration for entire villages to become more involved.
Mrs. Mahinda, you have given up your position in the private sector to train and mentor young Kenyans on how to realize their own businesses ideas. Why?
I’m incredibly motivated each time I encounter graduates of our training program. In fact, I just met such a graduate, a young man named Jeremiah, who has meanwhile started his own fish business. He was quite proud to approach me on his silver motorcycle.
Wait a minute. Did you say he stuck his own hard-earned money into a motorcycle?
Yes, exactly. The motorcycle is an important tool for him. It allows him to serve customers in a much larger area than he could if he had to go by foot. At the same time, he serves as a role model for his immediate surroundings: People see that he is doing well and want to emulate his success. In many parts of Kenya, parents are incredibly motivated to be able to provide their families with three meals a day. Others are proud when their children wear clean school uniforms or can afford a haircut.
Why do young people need special training before they start their own business?
The education system in Kenya provides no special training to prepare young people to be successful entrepreneurs. In our program, we’re focused on young adults who have eight years of school behind them, some even with 12 years. They have English and math skills, so the lack of these isn’t a problem. But no one has taught them anything about bookkeeping, marketing, customer loyalty, and even the economic law of supply and demand. Nor have many of them ever worked on a computer. For us, it’s important that young people who participate in our program acquire personal skills, believe in their ideas, think critically, and are focused on solutions.
So how does your training program operate?
First of all, we look for participants to join the program, about 100 each time. They are recommended to us by the Chiefs and local leaders who know everyone, or by other local organizations. The training takes place once a week for six months. We have two sessions every year. We have meanwhile established a mentoring program in which experienced businesspeople mentor the young people, often via the Internet because of the long distances.
And after the training, the young people start their own business?
Exactly. For instance, many graduates today sell fish in a town near Lake Victoria. Others tend to open hairdresser shops, operate small hotels, become bookkeepers or sell soup. Their businesses target mostly local customers. But some are even successful internationally. One graduate, for instance, trades fish maw, produced from discarded fish bladders. He sells the product to distributors in Uganda, who convert it into fish oil for export to China.
What about the young people who don’t participate in your program?
That’s the bad part: They have hardly any other opportunities. Many young people in Kenya are unemployed: They just kill time. Many of them fall in with a bad crowd and become criminals. When we are able to accept them, they view this not only as training but also as an opportunity to finally do something, and that gives them hope. That’s also why we have far more applicants for the program than we can accept.
Wamuyu Mahinda is the founder and head of The Youth Banner. The Kenyan organization, which is a partner of Siemens Stiftung, equips young people with necessary skills to run a business. The program focuses on basic business proficiency while also promoting personal capabilities. Mentors later walk alongside the graduates on their way to becoming entrepreneurs.