Wamuyu Mahinda is catalyzing entrepreneurship among Kenya’s rural and urban youth by focusing on re-designing the entire infrastructure that these youth-led businesses need to grow to scale, while inspiring youth from disadvantaged groups to engage in entrepreneurship.
The New Idea
Over 20 years, Wamuyu has had a hand in creating a movement of young Kenyan entrepreneurs and is building on this success to support more young people in rural and urban Kenya to succeed in their entrepreneurial ventures. She founded Youth Banner to work with youth serving organizations all over Kenya in applying the success principles she has learnt over the years to better empower their target groups. Through partner organizations, Wamuyu is setting up Youth Enterprise Clubs at district level all over Kenya as a forum to facilitate peer learning and support among young and aspiring entrepreneurs. She is establishing a network of business mentors and setting up an information directory that will become a reference point for any young entrepreneur seeking guidance and or support to start or grow their business. Wamuyu is further expanding the scope of the Business Enterprise Clubs to address the unique challenges facing young and rural business women among other socioeconomic issues.
Wamuyu’s goal is to create a generation of enterprising young people, most of whom are women and the majority of whom are rural. Though many people have commented on the demographic transition occurring in Africa, few seem as optimistic and proactive as Wamuyu when thinking about how to transform countries where a majority of the citizens are young. In Kenya, for example, more that 70 percent of the population is under the age of 35 and yet there is no clear strategy on how this critical mass of young people can be leveraged to cause development. Where others are foreboding and pessimistic, Wamuyu is energized by the success she has had in sparking youth entrepreneurship and is taking steps through Youth Banner to establish a framework that others can tap into to emulate her success.
As her work continues to grow and spread across the country, Wamuyu is beginning to use this platform to raise health, gender, and other social issues. As such she is ensuring that the young people she is serving are empowered not only to be confident and independent business people but also socially responsible citizens.
Like many African countries, Kenya’s population is comprised mostly of young people below the age of 35. This group accounts for over 77 percent of Kenya’s population. Still among the world’s poorest countries, Kenya’s poverty level stands at over 50 percent with 80 percent of its population living in rural areas. Unemployment, a major perpetuator of this status quo, stands at over 40 percent on a national level with rural based youth accounting for 64 percent of this number. Amidst this grim picture, the situation of young women is even worse. Women account for over 60 percent of Kenya’s poor and over 70 percent of the unemployed youth. The unique situation of women is perpetuated by socio-cultural and religious beliefs that generally put women in a more disadvantaged position compared to their male counterparts. They have less opportunity and support to grow and succeed in a highly competitive and capitalist environment.
The above statistics beckon quick and focused action that puts young people and women at the center stage of development strategies. Subsequently, the Government of Kenya with other citizen organizations (COs) has made youth empowerment and enterprise development a core strategic area of focus. Investing over 5 billion Kenyan Shillings (US$59.5M) per year in youth enterprise initiatives through the government run Youth Enterprise Program, the Government of Kenya is doing a lot to spark off a wave of entrepreneurship within Kenya’s young demographic. In addition to the education curriculum, business startup grants and business planning competitions are among the interventions implemented to spur enterprise development among Kenya’s youth. But all these well intentioned efforts have not enabled the majority of youth businesses to succeed.
Part of Wamuyu’s assessment is that with the rise in the entrepreneurial activity comes the need for mentorship and business growth support which is currently grossly under-looked. This, in addition to high level of corruption and a lack of access to alternative startup capital options, has contributed to the high failure rate of entrepreneurial startups. Over 80 percent of all startups fail in the first year and over 80 percent of those that survive the first year fail in the second year. On top of that, anecdotal evidence suggests that the minority of these startups are launched by rural-based entrepreneurs, and far fewer by women. It is this critical insight that forms the basis of Wamuyu’s work. Having worked in the youth development sector for over 20 years, she sees that the next logical step is to build the infrastructure that will boost not only the launch of more youth enterprises, but also the growth and longevity of these important organizations and businesses.
The first phase of Wamuyu’s profession started almost 20 years ago with her involvement in the Kenya Girl Guides Association. Over the years, she rose to the top of this organization, eventually becoming its Chief Commissioner before she was elected into the World Board of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts Associations. This, among other occupations all concerned with youth empowerment, has given Wamuyu a unique and intimate understanding of the challenges facing youth today—particularly rural based young women. She sees the gaps in current interventions designed to help young people climb out of poverty, and knows that merely waving the banner of entrepreneurship at young people is not enough to get them to jump into the deep end; rather, what will make them succeed is the presence of an appropriate support structure. It is this insight that paves the way for the second phase of Wamuyu’s work.
Wamuyu begins by consolidating the experience and successes she has had working with young people, to create a template that can be applied by other youth serving organizations. Cognizant of the many government and civil society-led programs targeting youth all around Kenya, Youth Banner’s mandate is to facilitate knowledge sharing among these organizations and programs. By working with this wide network of organizations and programs, Youth Banner is better leveraged and positioned to serve the millions of young people they represent in a sustainable and systematic way.
Having access to young people all over the country, Wamuyu’s next challenge is to establish a system that complements the work of her partners by delivering the resources and support young people in business need to grow and succeed. To do this, she works closely with her partners to establish Youth Enterprise Clubs that serve their respective constituencies. The Youth Enterprise Clubs are youth-led spaces that facilitate peer learning and support between young and aspiring entrepreneurs. Successful young entrepreneurs have the opportunity to inspire their peers though a platform that enables them to learn from and inspire each other. The clubs are also an avenue for Wamuyu to provide mentorship support to budding young entrepreneurs through an extensive network of successful and seasoned business people. In so doing, Wamuyu has created the first and only recognized and accessible network of business mentors in Kenya. The scope of the clubs stretches further to facilitate discussions about socio-cultural issues including HIV/AIDS, gender equality, and global warming, among others to foster social responsibility among the youth.
With a keen concern for women who form the majority of the poor as well as the unemployed youth in Kenya’s urban and rural settlements, Wamuyu has designed a separate but complementary program, Amka Tujiinue (meaning “Stand up and let’s lift ourselves” in Swahili) to empower rural young women in entrepreneurship. The program combines business and financial education with creation of access to markets and credit. Amka Tujiinue is a hands-on project with lessons and insights that feed directly into Youth Banner to benefit other youth-serving organizations that pay special attention to the empowerment of young women.
Wamuyu grew up in rural central Kenya in a middle-class family that was able to give her a good education and fairly comfortable upbringing. While at home, she spent time working on her family’s farm. At school, she was active in the Girl Guides Association, a group she continued to participate in throughout her education.
Wamuyu got married early, just before she entered university. The responsibility of starting a family did not detract her from her commitment to pursue and complete her education. After graduation, Wamuyu was employed as a lecturer at the Kenya Polytechnic, a job she held for five years. As a lecturer, she continued to serve as a volunteer with the Kenya Girl Guides Association as a mentor to the young girls. To supplement her income as a lecturer, she started a bridal gown business in her house. Soon, the business grew and demanded her full attention which forced her to leave her job as a lecturer. Five years later, Wamuyu needed a change from the thriving bridal gown business. She closed the shop and enrolled in an MBA course, after which she worked for several years at the helm of organizations focused on youth enterprise development, including the Kenya Youth Business Trust, Technoserve, and Allavida. In 2007, while at Technoserve, Wamuyu led the largest business plan competition in Kenya’s history in partnership with the Ministry of Youth and launched 100 youth led enterprises. At Allavida she raised US$1M to support a youth development program before stepping down to found Youth Banner.