Young adults huddle around laptops scattered about the room at a hotel near Nairobi. Seeing this brings to mind the words “energy” and “focus”. They hardly notice a contingent of USAID visitors looking over their shoulders. They near the end of a busy day of preparing “trial balances” and they’re taking the work seriously, as they should. As leaders in a movement in Kenya called “Yes, Youth Can”, they are legally responsible for the accounts of their Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies(SACCOs). Today they practice balancing budgets for these small credit unions they have created to help their members start small businesses.
Seventy-seven percent of employed youth in Kenya work in the informal sector, which means they are not in salaried positions. They may be selling flowers or furniture by the side of the road or, like these young people, they may be using $20-$60 dollar Coca Cola grants to start a Coke kiosk or a fishing business. If they are saving money in their accounts, they may borrow from the SACCO.
Some of these young adults have completed high school. Others have attended college, but there are few jobs for young adults, so they are taking matters into their own hands with the help of USAID and its implementing partners. Susan Mugabe is one of them. She has two children. She is very proud that she employs six people at her hair salon. Her parents helped her with a loan.
After their presentations some of the youth stay to talk about the effect they think they will have on their country. They say what they are doing is “an opportunity for youth to get a chance at saving money and getting a loan so they can start a business.” They want to take advantage of the opportunity to make Kenya a more productive country. They are also proud that recent elections were peaceful and many credit their organization for using the peacebuilding skills they’re learning to help make this happen.
Over 1 million youth in Kenya belong to Yes, Youth Can, which was started with the help of USAID. Kenyan youth made it clear that they wanted control over their own programs. They elect representatives to local bunges (parliaments) and representatives are elected from the local groups to regional and national councils.
On the other side of the country, in Kisumu, a young woman named Katherine gives an impassioned speech at a meeting of her local bunge. “It’s not that hard to save 20 shillings a day!” she says to her audience. “I want to help you utilize what you have to create what you don’t have. Think big, start small, start now!”
Duncan, the president of the group, explains how one SACCO started a motorbike taxi business. At first they got a loan from the SACCO to buy four motorbikes, now they have eighteen. Their spouses are involved in the business as well. They now have two accounts, one for development and the other for welfare, so if one of them gets hurt, they can help pay the medical bills. Next they want to offer small loans to first-time home-buyers.
As young leaders take the microphone, others sit at tables cutting recycled tin to make earrings and small boxes, which they sell at their gift shop, which also sells furniture and handmade greeting cards. They are taking action to help improve their lives and create a more prosperous country for more youth.