The Voice of the young
Many of us have been 25 once. Many of us hustled and scrounged to get by at that age. Some of us, had an entrepreneural spirit that we persistently fueled until life said to us, succumb and we got back into the mainstream. A few of us stuck out the tough times when entrepreneurship could be confused for hustling and today, we have some reasonable level of success.
Every day in Nairobi there are young people who wake up in the morning and get into the city to try and push their businesses forward. They are web designers who work out of cyber cafes, they are printing brokers who get your work printed for a small margin, the run their own little hosting services online, they are into network marketing and they sell cloths, shoes and other merchendise door to door in the offices. They are the young people from whom we rent DVDs from the comfort of our offices and who run our errands.
Many of them have projects that they are convinced have legs and that with a bit of support, the businesses would flourish. Most of them go to the bank, where they are turned away for varied reasons. Most do not have the networks necessary to get them into contact with the investment and technical support necessary to make their businesses work. The so-called venture capital firms take too much off the top and even before that are too choosy to simply take good ideas.
Someone said that the cultural stand in Kenya is basically against young people and they are getting frustrated. Today, a young Kenyan lady, Lilian Okado, (pictured left) gives us a glimpse into what goes on in the lives and minds of these young people who abound in the city, armed only with potential and great ideas.
Hard work pays – or does it?
What a day! I have just arrived home from an evening out on the town and I am exhausted. I finally managed to escape the multitude of alluring voices urging me to stay on through the night. Oblivious to them, the ravages of my day had taken its toll on my mind and body. I no longer cared to mime and sway to foreign tunes; all I needed was some sleep.
Snuggling in between the sheets fighting to get some warmth, their harsh coolness evident, I knew it would be a while before I finally drifted down dreamy lane. I could hear the rain lashing at my window pane pounding harder and harder, as if trying to remind me I still had a story to write.
When I was younger I always heard my neighbor’s dad talk about money and wondered what all the fuss was about. “Didn’t it come from my mother’s handbag? Or didn’t it appear under your pillow when your tooth came off?” Well as I lay on my bed reminiscing, this naivety was thrown out of the window when I thought of how I too, had embarked on a journey that morning in search of it in the city of
As the young blood we tend to be misunderstood a lot by our elders in society. We too appreciate that money does not come from the house we call “the bank”. It comes from the fat cats who own the fat accounts in those fat financial institutions without which the fat would be non-existent. For that reason, as we too attempt to emulate the deep pocketed in society, we find ourselves at the brink of insanity and despondency all because the fat bank manager refuses to listen to my skinny budget proposal to seek funding for my miniscule project – which by the way – I believe will turn me into a billionaire. How else does he expect me to dodge the quandary of poverty that exists amongst the youth in
Nairobi if he can’t even endorse my ‘fantastic’ business ideas?
As I walked out of the banking hall angry at the negativity surrounding me I bumped into a group of 5 other young bloods seemingly also very disgruntled by the said man who calls himself ‘Mr. Relationship Manager’. How could he call himself that when he had no idea what it meant to embrace innovative and diverse relationships? A young classy looking lady in the group began to pour out her frustrations to me.
At 27, Jill had never been employed and did not believe in the creature. She had been through all kinds of small businesses and money making schemes and even after their impending collapse she still kept going amidst unconstructive feedback from her family advising her from their “old school” of thought, to apply her skills to some ‘professional’ job. Her male counterparts had been through the same pessimism, starting all kinds of small failed projects; import-export trading in timber, mining of gemstone in Tanzania, catering ventures, selling cheap cologne and samosas on the streets, you name it; just to earn some bread.
Now after 6 months of constructive brainstorming, strategic planning and fool proof structuring of their business plan, some stranger totally ignorant of their potential and blinded by their age and demeanor had just rejected their 5th well put together business proposal.
At that point, I realized the problem was not with the youth in Nairobi and their languor or delinquent demeanor as perceived by society. The problem was with the general mindsets, of those in positions to offer lasting solutions to unemployment problems amongst the youth.
John a young experienced caterer and wedding planner said, “We have good ideas but we lack a bank that is willing to support young people.” Peter a former timber exporter added that even with good ideas, one cannot go very far without good capital call facilities. If those with the brilliant ideas cannot be linked to those with the capital base and see those ideas through, how far will development go in this country?
Furthermore, oftentimes all one needs is start up capital of Kshs 100,000 (US$ 1200) but one can’t get it because they have no securities to put against it.Truth is, the youth may lack experience in business and at times are not exposed to the right information. We have often heard some communications guru pointing out that there is a lot of money to be made on the internet. However, the internet being a door to a lot more than information; without guidance one may find themselves glued to chat rooms, porn sites, scam sites or general addictive surfing with no direction as opposed to looking for genuine trading ideas. Indeed information is power but being exposed to the right information is the true power.
Moreover, for the average Kenyan youth sending a simple email is still an overwhelming and daunting task. We need to be more exposed to the right information where we can learn general life and business skills. An example is if there were more training workshops aimed at educating the youth on how to set up small businesses or how to approach local investors for capital raising and well structured financing.
Perhaps too we could try and emulate our friends from the oriental part of the world, who have venture capitalists or angel investors looking to pump their resources into undertakings that support their youth. No wonder we hear China boasting to have several youth who have hit the millionaire mark.
In Kenya, InvesteQ Capital is one such micro-finance company I know of that assists young people get trade financing at affordable costs and appears to be one solution as opposed to banks. But more needs to be done.
The resounding gong of the hall clock by the staircase pulls me out of my reverie; it’s way past my bedtime and I still have a story to write. With only a few hours left to shut out the world that seems to hate young ideas I think of tomorrow. Maybe I’ll go pay the ‘personal banking’ manager a visit; perhaps this time he will lend an ear and his demands of me will be less personal.