Social enterprise and youth innovation in Kenya: VSO and Social Starters

‘Innovation’, ‘Social enterprise’, ‘youth-led development’. These are all buzzwords right now in development circles, but the revolution is real and as I type this post, it is kicking off in Kenya.

I was thrilled to be accepted as a volunteer on the International Citizen Service Entrepreneur (ICSE) programme with VSO Jitolee, the delivery partner of the global VSO organisation that has been operating in Kenya for over 50 years.

ICSE is a national, UK government funded programme that pairs willing volunteers aged 18-25 with similar aged volunteers and social entrepreneurs in host countries. Through assisting with functions such as marketing, social media and sales, the ICSE programme aims to foster the development of social enterprises in developing or emerging markets.

ICSE Pic 2

My placement company was Develatech, a company that manufactures inexpensive, fuel efficient, cooking stoves (Jiko’s) that produce less smoke, require less fuel, and cook food faster. The result is a product that is financially accessible and beneficial to all segments of Kenyan society.

ICSE was a fantastic experience, seeing the operations and experiences of a social enterprise from an up-front perspective – whilst working with friendly, dedicated young volunteers from both the UK and Kenya. We were able to contribute to boosting the profile of Develatech through sales demonstrations, social media and through organising a crowdfunding campaign to boost production and hire more employees, which raised €15,000.

One key experience for me was seeing the sheer amount of entrepreneurial spirit among Kenyans, especially the youth. Almost every young Kenyan I spoke to either had a business or was determined to setup a business. I also learnt that setting up a business was a relatively simple affair in Kenya. I think the combination of these industrious attitudes and the ease of setting up a business bodes well for the country and can contribute to reducing youth unemployment, which is a critical issue in Kenya.

Develatech is just one small drop in an ocean of innovation; there are numerous social enterprises in Kenya, such as Mineral and Allied which provides cost effective and environmentally sustainable farming solutions.

ICSE Pic 3

_SocialStarters is another organisation passionate about social entrepreneurship. Combining extensive experience in areas such as volunteer management and digital media, they are currently preparing to launch their Immersion Programme in Kenya through partnership with VSO Jitolee, following a successful pilot in November last year.

The Immersion Programme launches in March of this year.  The aim is simple: match driven, passionate volunteers from the UK with ICSE participants in Kenya who have had 3 months experience working in business placements and now want to setup their own social impact businesses. It will be an intensive course working with the VSO volunteers every step of the way, from brainstorming ideas to launching the business, to supporting its growth.

It is a great opportunity to develop and hone business skills, build networks, and crucially, contribute to a good cause, which boosts employment and reduces poverty.  The Programme, with its extensive training and hands-on approach, is also highly beneficial to anyone looking to setup their own social enterprise when they return home.

Written by Arjune Keshwala.

To find out more about our 6 week programme in Kenya, we’re currently recruiting for 10 Trainee Social Enterprise Consultants to #JoinUs to work with Arjune’s ICSE Kenyan volunteer counterparts, and we are interviewing throughout January and February. You can apply by sending us your CV with a cover note, or via Escape the City.

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