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MAURICE BOLO: Youth need support to turn their ideas and inventions into viable businesses



The high youth population is a double-edged sword, presenting both a demographic dividend but also a ticking time bomb. Well supported, highly educated youth who are facilitated and nurtured can be the source of the elusive economic renewal through enhanced innovation and entrepreneurship.

However, a highly educated and idle youthful population is amenable to crime and political manipulation and could easily threaten the country’s peace and stability. It must be recognized that innate potential for innovation and entrepreneurship exists amongst the youth.

This creativity has been demonstrated through inventions in such areas as ICT, finance, energy and environment. However, the mere existence of this innate potential is not enough to spur the envisaged employment and wealth creation. It must not only be fully expressed but also nurtured to thrive.

This latent potential needs to be facilitated, mentored and promoted. It will take deliberate efforts to turn the potential to reality and create viable businesses that contribute to employment and wealth creation. A number of policy initiatives have been set up by the government in collaboration with other players in the national innovation system.

For instance, the Science, Technology and Innovation Act (2013) gave birth to the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (Nacosti) which has been mandated to ensure co-ordination and co-operation between the various agencies involved in science, technology and innovation; and to promote and encourage private sector involvement in scientific research, innovation and development.

The Act also provides for the creation of the National Research Fund (NRF) and allocation of two per cent of GDP to research and development as well as the creation of the Kenya Innovation Agency (KENIA), which is mandated with the role of scouting and promoting innovations in the country.

KENIA is also envisioned to establish offices in all the 47 counties and work closely with the county governments in selecting, scouting, promoting and supporting local innovations. In addition, the government has established the Uwezo Fund, through a Legal Notice No. 21 of the Public Finance Management Act, 2014. This flagship programme for Vision 2030 was aimed at enabling women, youth and persons with disability access finances to promote businesses and enterprises at the constituency level.

This fund acts as an avenue for catalysing innovation, creating employment, incubating enterprises and growing the economy among others, as it seeks to expand access to finances for the target groups.

Similarly, government established the Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) whose sole purpose was to reduce unemployment. The fund’s strategic focus is on enterprise development as a key strategy that will increase economic opportunities for, and participation by the youth in nation building.

Most of these demonstrate a renewed vigour towards harnessing the power of science, technology and innovation, and as a way of tapping the entrepreneurial potentials of grassroots innovations, especially those by the youth.

Despite these initiatives, unemployment keeps rising, especially among the youth. The potential of the youth has remained untapped, and in cases where they come up with innovations or entrepreneurial ideas, they face challenges in turning these into viable businesses.

This failure to transition to market can be attributed to lack of access to credit and financing for innovations. Lack of finances makes it difficult for them to fine-tune their products to produce sufficient quantities for the market.

Further, majority of the youth have no training and mentorship in innovation-enabling skills. While they have technical skills, the soft skills in financial management, design, branding and marketing are usually the ‘rate-limiting’ impediments. Lack of business mentorship and networks means that most young innovators are exposed to the cruel world of bad business decisions. It is important that financing initiatives have in-built training in soft skills and business coaching and mentorship by established role models is encouraged and supported.

Director, Scinnovent Centre

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