Kenya should unlock talent in counties

Thursday August 25 2016

US President Barack Obama (left) talks with Michael Wanyonyi, the chief executive officer and founder of Mibawa Suppliers, at Power Africa Innovation Fair, an initiative to increase the number of people with access to power in sub-Saharan Africa, on the sidelines of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at the United Nations Office at Nairobi's compound on July 25, 2015. PHOTO | SAUL LOEB | AFP

US President Barack Obama (left) talks with Michael Wanyonyi, the chief executive officer and founder of Mibawa Suppliers, at Power Africa Innovation Fair, an initiative to increase the number of people with access to power in sub-Saharan Africa, on the sidelines of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at the United Nations Office at Nairobi's compound on July 25, 2015. PHOTO | SAUL LOEB | AFP 

By MICAH SHAKO
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Nairobi has been touted in several forums as Africa’s Silicon Savannah, one of the central hubs for innovation and entrepreneurship. This has brought an increased interest in the Kenyan entrepreneurial ecosystem, best evidenced by the city’s hosting of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit last year.

Nairobi has seen an inflow of investments by both private and public sector organisations. Multinationals have invested in innovation centres. Many creative spaces have been set up. The government has also moved in to support local innovation and entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship has the potential to offer solutions to the perennial problems facing African economies, particularly youth unemployment. With young men and women graduating from universities and high schools annually, the situation does not seem likely to improve soon. Social entrepreneurship will be crucial in addressing some of the social, cultural, and environmental problems facing African societies.

According to the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship refers to the practice of combining innovation, resourcefulness, and opportunity to address critical social and environmental challenges. Social entrepreneurs focus on transforming systems and practices that are the root causes of poverty, marginalisation, environmental deterioration, and the accompanying loss of human dignity.

The primary objective of the for-profit or not-for-profit organisations that they set up is to create sustainable system change. Therefore, these individuals contribute to the achievement of the global sustainable development goals and the progression of their countries’ developmental agenda.

MAJOR CITIES

However, most initiatives that support these entrepreneurs have been concentrated in the major cities, leaving a high number of high potential entrepreneurs and innovators unsupported. Incubation and accelerator hubs have sprung up in many of the major cities in Africa. In Kenya, many of the hubs are concentrated in Nairobi, with a few now coming up in Mombasa and Kisumu.

Entrepreneurship training has also been concentrated in Nairobi-based academic institutions, most of which offer the courses as a graduate qualification, not as an entry-level programme. This has left many innovators in the smaller towns and counties with limited access to critical training, networks, and facilities to bring out their full potential.

Moving to Nairobi to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams may be antagonistic to the new disposition of devolution, therefore, limiting the establishment and growth of successful national, regional, and potentially global ventures in other counties.

Developed economies such as the United States have built successful global businesses that began as entrepreneurial ventures. Though many of these are still concentrated in the major cities and innovation hubs such as New York and the Silicon Valley, a few others have their headquarters in small towns. An example is Nike in Beaverton, Oregon. Such global organisations uplift the profiles and economies of these small states. Therefore, there is a need to encourage entrepreneurial ventures in every Kenyan county to tap into the unrealised innovation potential across the country.

Kenya has the potential to establish great businesses, particularly social ventures, across the country. Entrepreneurs and innovators across this great nation only need the necessary support to begin.

Therefore, the emphasis should be on making strong and relevant support systems and training available in the counties to enable entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses and become the world-class businessmen and women that they believe they can be.

 

Micah Shako is the chief executive officer of Tsavo Innovation Labs; [email protected]