This is guest blog by Joshua Bicknell, Founder and CEO at Balloon Kenya.
‘I really don’t know what our children are going to do when they finish school. They will have to find work but there are no jobs here. I fear some could end up back on the streets…’
This is what Betty, a manager of an orphanage of 115 children in Kenya said to me.
In the summer of 2010 I made a 6-week trip to Kenya to conduct research for my Master’s Thesis interviewing members of the different communities that fought in the 2007-08 post-election violence. What struck me the most was the impact of poverty and unemployment on Kenyan society.
Poverty played a central role in political violence; it was only the poor fighting. Some were being directly paid by elites to fight. Most were fighting for a better and more prosperous life for themselves and their families.
But it wasn’t just the direct results of poverty on the violence that were so troubling. It was the much wider influence – the anger and disappointment of the current generations and the fear of what future generations will do. I had heard the Kenyan Institute of Policy Analysis describe the situation as a ‘ticking time bomb’, but this phrase only took on real meaning when I had the conversation with Betty.
One perhaps surprising result of widespread unemployment is the entrepreneurial nature of the younger generations. Because there are no jobs available everyone is forced to sell something – second hand cloths, mobile phone top-up cards, tourist merchandise – this is the only way to survive. Through talking to many of these young men and women what was also inspiring was their future ambitions, ideas for future businesses and ways of expanding their current ventures.
But time and time again I heard about the same barriers. Banks and Microfinance Institutions won’t lend to start-up businesses as a matter of policy. So the poor are trapped in a situation unable to turn plans into reality.
I left Kenya with a strong belief that the most useful thing anyone can do is to support young Kenyans to start businesses. As a way of building peace and harmony in the country, to enable people to achieve their ambitions, to raise the standard of living. Guidance, encouragement, and eventually funding must be provided to create new businesses that provide jobs and tackle poverty.
When I returned to England in January 2011 I realized that similar problem exists in England. While the 22% youth unemployment in the UK isn’t anywhere near the 50% level in Kenya, young people here certainly experience the same problems. Jobs are scarce and especially in the social and charitable sector opportunities to build practical skills in entry level positions have all but disappeared, forcing many enthusiastic and talented young people with good intentions to settle for uninspiring careers that simply ‘pay the bills’.
And this is where BalloonKenya comes in. Clearly creative models for employment generation need to be introduced because the old methods aren’t working. We all need to be proactive in tackling this issue. At BalloonKenya we are working with young people to develop practical solutions and we have developed a model of support, mentor and fund young people to start businesses in both Kenya and the UK.
You can apply for our 2012 programme here. We will be taking 12 young British men and women to Kenya for 12 weeks to work with over 200 Kenyan youths to create sustainable new ventures that provide jobs and improve community wellbeing.
We’d also be fascinated to hear from others around the world who are pioneering new creative models to help young people into work.