PERSONALITY OF THE WEEK: Ronald Osumba - Daily Nation

Youth need a system that accommodates innovation and creativity

Friday April 27 2018

Ronald Osumba is the chairperson of Youth Enterprise Development Fund. PHOTO| COURTESY

Ronald Osumba is the chairperson of Youth Enterprise Development Fund. PHOTO| COURTESY 

By JAMES KAHONGEH
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Ronald Osumba is the chairperson of Youth Enterprise Development Fund

What is the role of the Youth Enterprise Development Fund?

The role of the youth fund is often misinterpreted. We are not a financing entity, rather, an enterprise development organisation and an investment consultant for youth-owned businesses. We mainly create market linkages and provide affordable commercial trading spaces such as sheds and stalls for young entrepreneurs.

We also train the youth in bookkeeping skills, sales, tendering and business registration, skills that most youthful entrepreneurs lack. We hope to put up bigger spaces such as innovation centres and incubation hubs at a cost of Sh1 billion in the next financial year.

What are some of the notable successes of the fund?

Ruai Family Hospital is one of our biggest success stories. We financed the health facility with Sh1.8 million. It started as a small clinic in 2014, but today, they have four major branches across the city, with the fifth one in the offing.

The youthful entrepreneur behind this business has built a five-storey building with a 150-bed capacity, whose launch is due in a few weeks’ time. There are many other success stories, from grocers to transporters, some who took as little as Sh100, 000 but are now running multi-million shilling grocery stores and fleets of motorbikes. 

Has the response to the fund among the youth been satisfactory so far?

The uptake has not met our targets. Development is largely debt financed, but this concept is largely misunderstood by most young people.

They imagine that loans pit them against auctioneers, hence the resistance. There are also cultural issues, where Islamic communities, for instance, avoid loans due to religious reasons.

Twelve years since the fund was set up, only two in 10 young people know about the fund. I challenge more to come forward and apply for the loans. A truly determined entrepreneur goes out of his way to look for funding, but more importantly, money follows unique ideas.

Why do you think Kenyan youth prefer employment to entrepreneurship?

In its current structure, our system does not accommodate innovation or creativity. Risk-takers and those who fail are punished. Listing people with non-performing loans on the Credit Reference Bureau (CRB) and auctioning their property demoralises other would-be risk-takers. We need to celebrate young people who take risks and encourage those who fail.

There is positive failure, or spectacular failure, where you fail fast and fail forward and pick up important lessons necessary in your entrepreneurial journey. By providing an enabling environment for the youth to freely experiment with their innovations, take risks and learn, we will promote the culture of innovation.

How does the fund deal with cases of default?

Not all businesses are able to break even and thrive. Some fail, pushing the owners into debt. The fund is considering rescheduling such debts to help investors resuscitate them and get back in the game.

What are your most valued attributes?

Integrity is the greatest value you can ever possess. Honour your commitments and avoid negativity - malpractice will always return to haunt you. Hard work is the surest way to success. The cliché that smart work as opposed to hard work is what matters is a completely misguided mantra.

Whereas you need to be smart about what you do, nothing will ever substitute the hours you put in to practice. Learn and network. Loyalty is essential too. Most professionals earn appointments and promotions in their organisations as a reward for their allegiance to the business.

What was the Youth Dialogue KE held earlier this month about?

This is a platform that promotes intergenerational networking in the understanding that every generation has a role to play in making this country better.

The youth have innovation, creativity and the energy to drive the economy while the older generation has the resources necessary to finance such innovations.

Mentors, owners of capital, the youth and leaders need to know their space. If they are to succeed, young people must network across all these spaces.

It was a successful forum where the youth showed enthusiasm to learn and to be challenged by the captains of industry and senior government officials who mentored them.

Which person has greatly influenced your life? 

My schoolmaster at Starehe Boys Centre, Dr Geoffrey William Griffin, was easily my biggest influence. He constantly reminded me that I was destined for greatness. Thanks to his encouragement, I developed a high appetite for success, which I pursue with tenacity.

You vied for the position of Deputy President in the 2013 General Election. What is the relationship between politics and youth-related problems in Kenya?

The majority of youth in Kenya do not have a sense of ownership of the country. They don’t own property or businesses. They are not owners of capital and they don’t sit in decision-making organs.

As such, I felt obligated as a young Kenyan to give the youth a stake in our national affairs. That is why I enthusiastically tossed my hat into the ring when Peter Kenneth asked me to deputise him. We put up a youthful, robust and suave campaign hoping to attract young people to evaluate our manifesto, which was more representative of the youth aspiration.

We played our part in attempting to provide alternative leadership to the country, but obviously Kenyans were thinking differently.

How differently would you have addressed youth matters had you clinched the deputy presidency?

Our youth agenda was centred on two main concepts, the first was youth mainstreaming, where issues related to the youth would be spread across government departments.

This model would ensure better utilisation of resources and coordination of activities. The second was Affirmative action, where we would create a youth-specific ministry to address all matters of young people.

We also hoped to promote national cohesion by bringing together youth from diverse backgrounds on a single platform to dialogue, to bridge gaps in aspirations and to address their fears.  

From your experience in politics, what political role can young people play?

Law-making by Parliament and budget-making by Treasury are transparent processes. None of these is passed without public participation, scrutiny and input.

The youth cannot, for instance, simply escort a budget that is financed through their taxes and later complain that the money was not put to the right use.

I challenge them to attend public hearings to offer their contribution and voice their concerns. The National Youth Policy is currently under review countrywide, but youth participation has been dismal in most of the sessions that we have held, which is disappointing.

The youth must actively engage in civic matters.

What do you do for recreation?

I occasionally play street soccer with my friends from Kibera. I also read a lot – fiction, biographies, books on nature and magazines.

My favourite magazines are Newsweek, Times and New African. I find classical music by Mozart and Beethoven nourishing of the mind and spirit.

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