Supporting young entrepreneurs to upscale their business is key to addressing unemployment

According to an article that was shared widely on social media a few weeks ago, hundreds of university graduates showed up for interviews at EKA Hotel in Nairobi, shocking interviewers and visitors at the hotel.

Only five vacancies had been advertised and the employment agency recruiting for the hotel did not anticipate a huge turnout.

However, on the D-Day, job seekers started streaming in as early as 5am and by 8am the hotel was full, to the extent that some of the job seekers were forced to sit outside due to lack of space.

The hotel's management was forced to close the door to most job seekers who were later told to go home and wait for further communication.

What happened at EKA is not an isolated incident; it is replicated every day in companies throughout the country whenever employment opportunities are announced.

The huge turnout of young people chasing limited employment opportunities is a sobering reality in a country that has about 800,000 young Kenyans entering the job market every year. 

According to a 2018 World Bank report (Kenya Poverty and Gender Assessment), youth unemployment is almost double that of the total population; 18 per cent versus 10 per cent.

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600,000 new jobs

In addition, many young people are underemployed and work in low productivity jobs. According to a report by Overseas Development Institute, Kenya needs 600,000 new jobs each year until 2030 in order to provide opportunities for young people entering the labour market.

Research by Central Bank indicates about 46 per cent of small-medium enterprises close within a year of founding, and another 15 per cent in the year after.

This happens despite Kenya being ranked 61 out of 190 economies in the ease of doing business. This begs the questions; why is it that small businesses seem not to enjoy a similar reality? Where is the mismatch?

One of the main challenges facing young entrepreneurs in Kenya is the lack of financial capacity to start and upscale business ideas to the next level which is critical in sustaining their businesses.

Over the years, many young people have come up with brilliant and innovative ideas, but sadly, the ideas have not been incubated and harnessed into scalable strategies with the capacity to create employment opportunities.

As a result, many innovative business ideas that have the potential to spur job opportunities die at their formative stages, or at later stage due to a myriad challenges.

It is for this reason that the Government has partnered with the World Bank to launch a national business plan competition meant to support and spur youth entrepreneurship.

The competition was borne out of the realisation that many young people have innovative ideas, but they are bogged down by the prohibitive cost of doing business, among other myriad challenges.

Dubbed “MbeleNaBiz Business Plan Competition”, the competition will run throughout the 47 counties and will award 750 successful entrepreneurs grants of either Sh900,000 or Sh3,600,000 to upscale their businesses to the next level and create employment opportunities.

A cohort of the successful applicants will also be provided with training on business plan preparation.

The competition is an initiative of Kenya Youth Employment and Opportunities Project.

It is being implemented by the Micro and Small Enterprises Authority and the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs. KPMG has been brought on board to manage the competition.

The competition will accept applications from new and existing youth-led business enterprises. Applications from young Kenyans living in the diaspora will be accepted if their proposed businesses operate in Kenya.

A key criterion in the evaluation of the applications will be their potential for job creation among youth. We are encouraging young entrepreneurs with great business ideas to enroll in the competition and share their ideas.

It could be the one great opportunity that they have been waiting for to take their business to the next level.

By investing in young entrepreneurs whose ventures will generate employment opportunities and earnings for other youth, the competition will contribute to the development of an inclusive economy that provides opportunities for as many Kenyans as possible.

Mr Rithaa is the CEO, Micro and Small Enterprises Authority. [email protected]

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Youth unemploymentsmall-medium enterprisesKenya Youth Employment and Opportunities ProjectMbeleNaBiz