In January 2015 when Emmanuel Yongo Akida joined Kwale County Government as a Trade Officer, tourism, the mainstay economic activity of his community had suffered a serious setback. The previous year, in June 2014, a major attack by an armed militant group at Mpeketoni village, in neighboring Lamu County had claimed the lives of close to 50 people. Kwale county, one of the six coastal counties were equally affected. According to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Kenya’s revenue from tourism dropped by 3% in 2015 largely due to insecurity, leaving many families without a source of livelihood.
Kenya embraced the devolved system of government in 2013 and sub-national levels of governance, called county governments were established. Through its first County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP, 2013-2017), Kwale County committed to work with stakeholders to create job opportunities for the youth, especially through entrepreneurship and as one of the options to combat radicalization.
As a result, Kwale County partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to establish a Biashara (Kiswahili equivalent for “Business”) Centre in Mvindeni. Biashara Centres offered a business development support to youths in the area through training, mentorship and facilitating networking among budding entrepreneurs. With the ICT infrastructure provided by UNDP, these centres also enabled youth to build IT skills and access online opportunities as well as other useful information for their entrepreneurship journeys.
Locals were employed to run the centres and ensure that they developed business models that will make the Biasharas sustainable and that small and medium enterprises incubated grew into mature businesses.
"The memorandum of understanding we signed with UNDP was to last three years and in that time we had to come up with a plan to make the centre sustainable. We incorporated the centre needs in to our departmental budget and embarked on a serious mission to create public awareness. Lucky for us, we got the support of the County Governor," Emmanuel, a Trade Officer employed to run the Mvindeni Biashara centre, recalled.
In three years, Emmanuel and his colleagues had facilitated training and advisory support for over 1500 small business owners, among them, 45 fishing and women groups that were trained in Business Plan development. The county government, buoyed by the success of the Mvindeni Biashara centre, went ahead to establish two additional centres in Matuga and Kinango. The County government went on to establish a fund to support young entrepreneurs which has since disbursed Kes.98 million ($950,000) to 1,298 beneficiaries over the last 4 years.
Counties that have partnered with UNDP in promoting entrepreneurship and supporting small businesses owned by women, youths and people living with disabilities include; Kwale county, alongside Taita Taveta, Turkana and Marsabit.
Marsabit County, is predominantly pastoralist – with distances of over 200km to the nearest urban centres, youths have been missing out on numerous online opportunities mainly to due to inadequate IT infrastructure. Employed by the county government in 2014 as an ICT officer, Stephen Besele’s role was to support the county public service board manage its IT infrastructure, maintain applications and develop innovations, before he was transferred to only Business Centre in the county and facilitate skills training programmes in ICT.
“There was a lot of demand for ICT training and hunger to access online opportunities among the youth in the county. The livelihood of my community is pastoralism and many young people do not have IT skills.” Besele noted.
Within the first six months, Besele and his colleagues conducted computer application trainings to 73 youth and partnered with other organisations in the county to conduct business training.
"There is need to reach youth in far flung locations within this county. I dream of a day when it will be possible to have outreach services for ICT training using mobile trucks fitted with digital equipment. There are development organisations supporting the livestock sector in our county, and I think ICT presents a lot of potential to innovate and create jobs for young people," Besele observed.
Besele is an open-source ambassador and thinks that the Biashara Centres provide a unique pathway to transfer the benefits of digital economy to grassroot communities. At the moment, UNDP is working with the four county governments to build more vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems and create opportunities for SMEs across different commodity value chains.