Impact-Sourcing, Demographics, and the Details of Youth Unemployment

Hilary Nicole Zainab Ervin, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 4 February 2015

Youth comprise roughly 70 percent of Kenya's population and 65 percent of the nation's workforce, yet they face the highest rate of unemployment — nearly three times that of other countries. The fertility rate has declined everywhere in the nation except Nairobi, where it continues to climb. Youth 15-24 represent over 24 percent of the city's population, which is the largest share of youth population in any province nationwide, due in large part to migration in search of employment.

Dubbed the Silicon Savannah, Kenya — and, more specifically, Nairobi — has been at the forefront of a rapid rise in the services industry. Companies like DaproIM, Nairo Bits, and AkiraChix are just a few examples of firms that are leveraging a large youth population and the rapid evolution of information and communication technologies to achieve targeted development priorities.

The continued growth of Nairobi and subsequent rising slum populations pose complex challenges to the East African economic powerhouse. Social enterprise and innovation have grown alongside a burgeoning population; however, more needs to be done to ensure that these impact opportunities are more widely available. Youth continue to comprise the bulk of residents in informal settlements and the unemployed in the capital. Empowering the nation's youth is critical to avert rising levels of crime and increased radicalization that is occurring in the country, a reality that has direct negative impacts on GDP and livelihoods.

The founder of DaproIM, Steve Muthee passed away late last year. An Ashoka fellow and early advocate of promoting professional services for disadvantaged youth, Murthee was a heavyweight in the push to promote impact-sourcing to tackle persistent poverty and inequality among Nairobi's youth. Founded in 2006, today the company boost 100 full-time and 400 part-time university employees, currently providing a wide range of data services to multinational companies, government institutions, media outlets, and others. A testament to his legacy, the company led the way for indigenous business-process servicing companies — and are still going strong and taking on new clients as they continue to practice what they preach.

Nairo Bits brands itself as a Digital Design School, and has a track record reaching back ten years. The company identified early on the growth potential in leveraging the technological savvy of a large youth bulge in Nairobi's informal settlements to have a direct impact on livelihoods. Nairo Bits equips youth with knowledge and skills in web design, IT skills, creative deployment of multimedia, and entrepreneurship. The curriculum goes further, incorporating elements of character development and general life skills that increase the chances of employment and the potential for innovation. They have an employment rate of 90 percent among their graduated students, a decidedly positive indicator of their programming.

Akira Chix is a disruptive social impact company nurturing the next generation of female technologists and empowering them with the education and technical skill to develop innovative solutions to address Africa's most pressing challenges. The group provides training, mentorship, and outreach programming that increase the positive impact of women in their community while building hard skills in technology. They have successfully enrolled three classes and just took on their 2015 students as they gear up for another year of coding, development, and technology innovation — targeting a demographic that is critical if achieving and sustaining equitable development is to be realized in Nairobi.

What all these companies have in common is a dedication to innovation and a knowledge that leveraging youth and Kenya's comparative advantage in technology services are critical to pushing the nation forward. As Nairobi embraces a new year of opportunity, a recent announcement by the Global Social Benefit Institute Accelerator program welcoming two local entrepreneurs and social impact organizations, Youth Banner and ICT for Development, gets the local innovation and technology community off to a good start.

Photo: Internews Europe

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