Written by: Mark Matabi, Co-operatives Specialist / Country Lead, EMIRGE Kenya
Youth unemployment stands at 13% globally. Kenya’s youth unemployment is at 40%. Globally, the country is eleventh according to the recent CIA World Factbook, International Labour Organization and UN World Youth reports. These reports further indicate that there are disturbingly high numbers of employed youth who are still living in extreme or moderate poverty despite having a job.
In the recent 2017 Global Youth Survey by Citi Foundation, 70% of the youth are extremely optimistic about their future despite uncertainty and change across the globe. In developing nations including Kenya, this cannot be far from the truth with 79% of the youth being optimistic. An overarching question is how do we capitalize on this optimism and best prepare young people to take advantage of future opportunities that will lead them towards economic success?
The Government has endeavored to develop policies and initiatives for youth development. However, things seem not to add up. There are notable failures in and unsustainability of the related Government development funds and employment programs such as Youth Enterprise and Uwezo Funds and National Youth Service. Many individual youth enterprises die at conception. This shifts the youth’s perceived optimism to economic frustration. The result is ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes and engagements. Gambling is becoming such an engagement among the youth.
The gambling craze as reported by various media outlets including BBC, is spreading like bushfire among the young people in Kenya. In 2017/2018 budget, the Government announced 50% tax on gambling firms. But this may remain an elusive effort in addressing the youth unemployment and economic frustration. Essentially, this is another exposé of the government’s inability to enforce policies that can address youth unemployment. The promotion of workers and service co-operatives in Kenya, should be the deliberate and immediate next frontier initiative for youth development.
We have dared before, we need to dare once more as a country! We need a radical paradigm shift. We dared to promote and develop agricultural and marketing, savings and credit, and housing co-operatives. Let us dare to invest in the new generation co-operatives to address youth unemployment and economic frustration.
In Kenya, the co-operatives are lifting the lives of many especially farmers and employees, contributed highly to the country’s gross domestic product, and put the country on global map of co-operative movement. Co-operatives are intrinsically inclined to prioritize and emphasize job security, dividend‐sharing, membership development and community support through communal facilities and the provision of reliable and affordable products and services. However, the co-operatives in Kenya seem not to be effectively harnessed as a vehicle that empower young people to promote social integration and cohesion in a way that may address joblessness.
We need workers and service oriented co-operatives, which have a more comparative job creation advantage over other types of enterprises, for the youth populace in this country. These type of co-operatives will instill a working spirit among the youth while generating economies of scale and scope through horizontal and vertical integration, establishing links between the informal and formal sectors. Why? It is doubtless that most of young people are in the informal economy as freelancing marketers, masons, beauticians, mechanics, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, house helps, cat-pushers, boda-bodas and gardeners.
The youth workers and service co-operatives, will offer young workers the opportunity to be incorporated intensively and extensively into the formal sector. Doing so will enable them to gain the security of decent employment and social safety networks. Moreover, as co-operative workers and service providers in the formal market, they gain access to formal social security, banking and insurance that will not only protect, but will also enhance their livelihoods. There should be a concerted efforts for such co-operatives to be initiated from schools, colleges and universities.
Brand Ambassadors Youth Co-operative is such a workers’ and service co-operative society operating in Nairobi City County. With offices along Mfangano Street in Nairobi’s CBD, the co-operative is composed of young men and women, in and out of college. The co-operative offers branding and marketing services to corporate organizations. This attracted the support of a development organization – Global Communities - under USAID funded program "Enabling Market Integration through Rural Group Empowerment". The organization has been able to build its members and leaders’ capacity. The individual members who used to be lone freelancing marketers are offering marketing services jointly. Here the members are assured of a consistency of jobs and salaries, and even short term financing. All they need now is to secure corporate opportunities.
The workers and service co-operates are able to directly transition young people to the world of business, where their employment worries will be a thing of the past. Moreover, the grounding of these co-operatives from schools, colleges and universities will offer resources, trainings, and opportunities for leadership and managerial roles that prepare them when they graduate. The young members originating from schools will experience early nurturing in a sense of ownership and belonging while instilling the values of hard-work, teamwork and comradeship.
Alternatively, the existing co-operatives should within their operations directly create workers and service wings to attract young people. For instance, housing co-operatives may create the construction service wing, with young people with artisan and technical skills as members. Seeking to recruit, train and supervise young members will be a means to rejuvenate the co-operative movement for future generations. Its role in youth employment will be inevitable.
As we celebrated this year’s international day of co-operatives, on 1st July, 2017 with the theme of Inclusivity - ‘Co-operatives ensure no one is left behind’; let the youth not be left behind. Workers and service co-operatives will include the Kenyan youth in the co-operative movement.
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