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Providing opportunities for young people in the slums of Kenya

Vocational training at the SOS youth facility in Nairobi
Vocational training at the SOS youth facility in Nairobi

Around 60% of Nairobi’s inhabitants live in slums and in some slum areas, half of young men and four-fifths of young women have no income-generating activities.

Generally, prospects for young people finding work are poor in Kenya and social experts worry the country could be creating a ‘lost generation’. The population of Kenya has grown rapidly over the past half century, from just over 6 million to 44 million today. And though fertility is declining – the average Kenyan woman now has fewer than 4 children – forecasts suggest Kenya’s population could climb to 160 million by the end of this century.

More than three-quarters of Kenyans are aged 34 or below, but many will struggle to find work. Youth unemployment estimates vary, but unemployment among those aged 15–34 is thought to be between 65–80%. Certainly, the upper estimate is applicable to some of Nairobi’s slum regions, where many youngsters are poorly-educated. There is a lack of secondary schools in the slums and vocational training opportunities are sparse. When young people do find work, it’s often cheap casual labour for the day or short-term engagements.

Bringing hope of employment

A national youth enterprise development fund has been set up in Kenya to boost the prospects of young people, but with unemployment running at such high levels, experts say much more needs to be done. Some local non-governmental organisations (NGO) believe that the key is to find more innovative solutions.

One such NGO is LivelyHoods, a social enterprise project which aims to create work for young people in urban slums. Speaking to the Guardian in a recent article, one of the co-founders explained that as well as the unemployed youngsters already living in Nairobi’s slums, “thousands of young people – and probably even more [are] flocking in from rural areas, looking for work”. The organisation says that unless the potential of these young people can be tapped, they will become a “wasted resource in Kenya”.

LivelyHoods hopes to avoid that by offering sales training to young people and giving them access to products which are of interest to slum dwellers. After each young person completes their training, they receive a 50 pounds credit limit for products which range from fuel-efficient cooking stoves and solar lamps, to reusable sanitary ware for women. Each young sales agent then earns up to 20% commission on the goods they sell. More importantly, they also learn how to market themselves and communicate with customers, skills which will be useful for a range of careers. The co-founder of LivelyHoods sums up the importance of this experience, by saying “Really, it’s training for the rest of their lives”.

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