Young Kenyan entrepreneurs gain skills to transform their communities

Providing training and funding for young entrepreneurs

Rose Foley
Calvince Onyango Otieno
18 August 2021

In Migori in South-West Kenya, near the border with Tanzania, Calvince Otieno is preparing a delivery. Behind the counter in his small shop, he stretches to a high shelf: one of several lined with blue low-cost SATO toilet pans. These are self-sealing toilet pans that keep flies away, reducing the risk of waterborne disease. He fills a cardboard box, ready to be taken by motorbike to his customer. In this county, 70 per cent of young people are unemployed – up from 60 percent before COVID-19. Yet at just 27-years-old, Calvince has a successful business.

Calvince is one of 400 young people across Kitui, Migori and Siaya counties who have received business training as part of a new UNICEF partnership. This aims to strengthen sanitation markets and improve access to services, while also tackling youth unemployment. It helps young people start their own small-scale sanitation and hygiene business, in order to create local supply and demand for improved sanitation products – ultimately to protect children from diseases like cholera.

“The moment sanitation marketing was introduced into our community, I just picked it up from there,” 27-year-old Calvince says. “By the time the community members started responding positively, I saw it as a very good opportunity for me.” 

Young entrepreneurs improving sanitation in Migori County

Encouraging innovation

Across Kenya, 85 per cent of unemployed people are younger than 35. Around half of 14 to 17-year-olds in the country do not finish secondary school, while less than 8 per cent progress to university. The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges: with restrictions on movement and a wider economic downturn limiting employment and educational opportunities.

UNICEF has been working with partners nationwide to come up with innovative ways to address youth unemployment, while also addressing critical issues such as rural sanitation and COVID-19. “To prevent COVID-19 transmission, hand-washing is really critical,” says Hodaka Kosugi, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Officer, UNICEF Kenya. “So, with this project we are promoting the installation of hand washing facilities at the household level.”

“Prior to the pandemic, most young people in Migori worked in hotels or had businesses dealing in second-hand clothing,” Hodaka continues. “However, with the decline in tourism and a ban on imports of second-hand clothes, work opportunities are now particularly precarious. This programme allows young people to start out as entrepreneurs, while boosting sanitation and hygiene in their communities.”

Thanks to funding from the Government of Japan, UNICEF partnered with Japanese company LIXIL, which produces the SATO toilets, and FINISH INK – an organisation that works to scale access to safe sanitation through public-private partnerships in Kenya. Hundreds of young people have now been trained on how to build a business and market products, as well as on installing and maintaining toilets and other sanitation and hygiene items.

“When I was not trained, I would just do business. I would sell the products and consume the money without tracking the outflow and inflow of the cash,” explains Calvince. “So, for me, the training has impacted me a lot. Without it, my business would have closed down, maybe a long time ago.”

Green Project Initiative members
The Green Project Initiative from Mathare

Generation Unlimited

Through Generation Unlimited (GenU), UNICEF is supporting a multi-sector partnership which aims to see more than 30 million young Kenyans in education, training or employment by 2030. As part of promoting young people’s creativity, GenU runs an annual competitive Youth Challenge targeting youth groups with scalable innovative ideas that can meaningfully contribute to enhancing education and training; employment or entrepreneurship; or solutions that would promote equity, and increase the knowledge and skills of young people.

In Kenya, the Green Project Initiative progressed to the global level of the GenU youth challenge. It was set up by a trio of young people from Mathare, an informal urban settlement in Nairobi. Here, Calvin Shikuku, Nancy Wanja and Edwin Odhiambo, all in their early twenties, point out piles of rubbish coating the shores of the river and trailing through the paths between crammed makeshift homes.

They formed the Green Project to collect this kind of household waste and produce organic briquettes for fuel and kindling’s to start a fire. These low-cost fuel sources are now used to cook meals in individual homes and schools: helping clean up the community, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and tackle youth employment. Young people earn extra income by helping with the project: sorting waste from households, schools and community clean-ups.

“Our motivation as a team has been the challenges we have seen in the community. We were concerned with the rise of unemployment, which has led to a rise in crime, especially within informal settlements,” says Calvin and Edwin. “We are looking at cleaner and better communities, that are championed by youth-led initiatives.”

UNICEF working together with UNDP and GenU Kenya supported the #GenUYouthChallenge boot camps to help young people access mentorship and create solutions to issues affecting the youth.

Youth Agency Marketplace

Another GenU initiative targeting young people is the Youth Agency Marketplace (YOMA), supported by UNICEF, the Dutch Government and Botnar Foundation. This is an online hub that helps young people boost their employability. The project recognises that young people in Kenya often struggle with the transition from learning to work, due to a mismatch of skills and limited work experience, leading to high youth unemployment.

Using YOMA, young people can develop their skills and CV by completing personalised training courses, taking part in challenges and community activities to address key issues such as COVID-19, and connecting with potential employers and their peers. YOMA brings together young people, UNICEF, the Kenyan Government, NGOs, corporations, education providers, social impact investors and other partners.

“Through YOMA, young people in Kenya are gaining valuable skills and experience that will help them succeed in the increasingly competitive job market,” says UNICEF Kenya Innovation Manager Charles Otine. “Through taking part in community activities, they gain points that allow them to unlock premium training courses. In the next phase, they will also be able to convert these credits into airtime, internet bundles and physical goods.”

Calvince delivers Sato toilets
Calvince delivers Sato toilets to Margaret Angogo, 59, at her home in Migori.

Lasting change

Back in Migori, Calvince has just arrived at the home of his latest customer. He picks up his tools and heads to her drop latrine, where he hammers a plastic toilet pan into the ground. The toilet is immediately transformed from an open pit from which flies can easily circulate and cause illness, into a covered, hygienic area with no flies or smell.

“I am happy with my SATO toilet,” says Margret Angogo, a small-scale farmer. “I saw it at my neighbour’s house and wished I had my own. When I learned more and then bought one, I found that it helps to keep the environment clean.”

Soon, Calvince is preparing to return to his shop to prepare the next delivery. He is grateful not only for the chance to build up his own business, but also for the social change it is provoking.  “The sanitation status of this community has really improved,” he says with a smile. “And, for me as a professional, I feel like I have done great work.”

By Rose Foley