Entrepreneurship in a time of COVID – Unlocking the business potential of youth entrepreneurs in Kenya

Youth unemployment is a major issue in Kenya, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 2020, almost one in five (18%) youth between 15 and 34 were not in employment, education or training (NEET) in Kenya, a 2.2% increase over the previous quarter (January to March 2020) and a significant increase of 6.4% compared with the same time in 2019. There are limited jobs for young people entering the workforce who face stiff competition from more experienced job seekers with stronger networks.

A key strategy for reducing youth unemployment is job creation through entrepreneurship; however, youth are often unable to access the skills, networks, and financing needed to launch and grow their businesses successfully. Young entrepreneurs also need support to pivot and adapt their business strategies in the wake of the changing business environment from COVID-19. This is where MEDA and its partner Ongoza come in.

Ongoza is a business accelerator based in Nairobi that offers practical real time business advice to young, ambitious Kenyan entrepreneurs. It also helps its clients build their networks by connecting them with markets and peer learning opportunities. Through the M-SAWA project, funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) with additional funding from the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), MEDA entered into a 2-year partnership with Ongoza to provide training and linkages to financing opportunities to 35 youth-led small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Kenya.

Ongoza youth clients include Muraguri Ngugi, CEO of Captain Hawk, a business that has been in operation since 2014 offering security services. He benefited from the training program and saw significant improvements in his company’s operations. “My business has now set-up structures and systems with trained personnel to handle human resources, accounting, and marketing. I am now able to track and analyze performance, gauge profitability, set realistic targets and develop appropriate strategies,” Muraguri said.

Prior to engagement with Ongoza through the M-SAWA project, SMEs reported experiencing internal bottlenecks in areas such as sales and marketing, human resources, financial planning, supply chain analysis, business development and digital integration. Deficiencies in these critical business areas made SMEs unattractive to potential investors and limited their growth.

With support from M-SAWA, entrepreneurs were invited to attend a combination of online and digital sessions, starting with group classes focused on business fundamentals. This was followed by a coaching program that tracked progress against individualized business goals focused on implementing key business growth strategies and improvements. Following the completion of this program, Ongoza also linked entrepreneurs to third-party financial providers to access much needed capital to help grow their businesses.

The graduating SMEs learnt how to set up better business structures and systems, develop financial management plans, and work with certified accountants to generate accurate financial statements. They also learned how to improve business branding, come up with competitive marketing plans, and carry out strategic business development.

“The training opened my eyes to the many facets of business including financial management, recruitment of skilled staff, documentation of standards and procedures. The trainers were very hands-on with us. The coaching process was even better as it sought to help us unpack the knowledge in our respective business contexts,” Anne Kagumu shared, the sole proprietor of Vista Recoveries Ltd, a debt collection agency.

Ian Mati, the CEO of Vintara collections – a bag designing enterprise that has been in operation from 2014, echoed Anne’s statement. “After the training I was fortunate to access two funds worth KES. 3.6 million ($31,676 USD) that helped the business to improve on product development and diversify my client base,” Ian reflected. He attributes this success to lessons drawn from the training on investment readiness.

SMEs in Kenya and across the globe have found themselves in uncharted territory due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many were forced to re-think their business strategies to ensure financial profitability in a post-COVID world. The Ongoza coaching program ensured that the SMEs had reliable mentors to guide and advise them during this challenging time.

“With the onset of COVID-19, we were forced to shut down our brick-and-mortar premises for some time and transition to an online business as we re-strategized. The knowledge acquired on product development, customer engagement and digital marketing came in very handy. The production of stylish masks ensured we stayed afloat,” Ian said.

Since partnering with MEDA, Ongoza has re-structured its training program to offer more customized business courses, including business academy, management consulting, marketing, and fundraising. It also shifted to an increasingly virtual model for training delivery in light of COVID-19, enabling them to increase their outreach while managing their own operating costs. Ongoza continues to offer online webinars and events with its partners to support young entrepreneurs in transitioning to a new work reality, including sessions focused on moving businesses online, effectively working from home, and managing strategic business changes.

With more funding, Ongoza hopes to continue providing business development services reaching a wider net of young SMEs to strengthen their capacities, spur their growth, and create job opportunities.

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  • Kelvin Mwangi

    Kelvin is a Project Management graduate with over seven years’ experience in the monitoring, evaluation, accountability &learning (MEAL) field having worked as a M&E Assistant for a Rockefeller Foundation-funded project in TechnoServe and as a Research Assistant at Ipsos Kenya Ltd. He has been with MEDA’s M-SAWA project for 2years as a Monitoring & Impact Measurement Specialist.

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