Wow! Big things are happening in Kenya, and I’m not talking about the recent presidential election. Yes, the world has breathed a collective sigh of relief that a highly contested election did not lead to a repeat of the violence that seized the country in 2007. But based upon my own – admittedly unscientific – survey of Kenyans, few seem to think that the election’s outcome (or that any political outcome) will have a significant impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. Most people in Kenya, regardless of class, are worried about the basics: family, education, jobs. And few see the future of employment in Kenya as having much to do with the government.
So where do the hopes of this fast advancing nation lie? In entrepreneurship and self-employment. You hear it from taxi drivers, professors, aid workers, and shopkeepers. And if the dozens of young entrepreneurs I met last month at a SEMBAA networking event are any indication, Kenya’s future is very bright. Two days after a 30-hour trip and just beginning to adjust to the ten hours in time difference, I wondered if I’d survive the evening. But as the room began to fill up with 150 young professionals (we’d expected a turnout of around 30), I found myself completely energized by the enthusiasm in the room. One young woman was building a greenhouse business; another a fashion import house; one young man was producing and selling honey; yet another had launched a magazine. Our students were building businesses in everything from Gum Arabic, to tourism, to camel meat production.
One by one they came, waiting patiently to tell their story, eyes agleam and jaws set firmly to the task. Maybe it was the jetlag, but I was honestly overwhelmed with the energy and confidence of these entrepreneurs. Few were pursuing their venture as an academic exercise or hobby. Almost all had saved their own money to bootstrap their ventures and most already had their first customers. In their brief conversations with me, most sought nothing more than a bit of advice and/or validation. A few wondered whether I could connect them to a CSU research lab, faculty member, or GSSE student – connections that I’ve been delighted to make.
Over the coming years, as we continue to grow the partnership between CSU and USIU – educating entrepreneurs and incubating new ventures – it’s going to be a joy to collaborate with these hard-working, creative young people and watch them change the world, or at least their corner of it. Stay tuned to this blog to learn more about them and their ventures.