By Joshua Oigara
Creating an environment that will see the empowerment of women and youth in Kenya and across East Africa, is essential to move our economy from an agricultural to a service economy, playing a critical role in eradicating poverty.
It is no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the growth rate of our economy, as it has done across the world. The Micro, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (MSMEs) have however been the most resilient through the healthcare crisis.
Two years into the effects of the pandemic, we have learned how to navigate the challenges, and we are slowly re-establishing our business and operating environment, to build an eco-system that can stand the test of time, no matter the challenges thrown at it.
We are just over eight years to go until 2030, when it is expected that the World will have achieved the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, that was adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. SDG number 10 is specific on Reduced Inequalities and countries across East Africa have made significant progress on this.
The phrase empowerment of women and youth enterprises is not foreign to many. In spite of its popularity, there is a huge gap that is still felt and needs to be addressed across the East Africa Community if we hope to achieve our ambitions.
The World Bank reckons that Sub-Saharan Africa today faces an unprecedented opportunity – half of the population is under 25 years of age.
However, the youth account for 60% of all unemployed people in Africa, and young women consistently face the greatest employment challenges. in Sub-Saharan Africa the youth labour force participation rate among women is 52.1%, compared to 56.6% of their male peers, however, numbers vary significantly by country.
In our young population, our youth are our greatest asset. If and when given a chance, they have the capacity to create a world where challenges such as gender bias, unemployment, and lack of supply of some services and products can be attained.
The onus is on us; corporates, the government, and the individuals who have the capacity, to create a world that will see youth venture into businesses that will empower their fellow youth – as they tend to collaborate with peers – and women, they do not have traditional biases that might be present among the older generation.
A primary way to do this is to close the financial gap that currently exists. This process has begun with the invention of mobile money services, which helps bank the unbanked. The next priority is to create solutions for youth and women, to access financial services that can give them adequate access to credit facilities of significant amounts to help them set up their business and run operations with peace of mind.
An interesting study by SME Finance Forum explains that women are underrepresented in the global economy, particularly in the SME space. SMEs account for half of global GDP and two-thirds of jobs worldwide, yet just 23% are women-owned and represent a disproportionate amount of the SME finance gap amounting to nearly $1.5 trillion.
Developing policies that support this category of people is also important for their empowerment. Favourable policies will play a critical role to motivate them to establish businesses as it demonstrates support from the government and regulatory authorities. These policies also ease the ways of doing business, encouraging more youth and women to venture into entrepreneurship.
In line with this, outside the much-needed academic training, access to counsel from business experts in different industries plays a huge role in mentoring women and youth to follow suit. There is a lot of influence that women and youth face, brought about by technology and information access. Access to the right type of influence has to be a deliberate effort.
There is a challenge of oversupply that business owners face. In a region that grows potatoes, for example, all households will plant the same potatoes for family consumption and sell the surplus in the village market; if not sold, the rest goes to waste, yet there are many other markets that would benefit from the said potatoes.
Creating market linkages – both local and international – will go a long way in empowering our SMEs, as their product will match the demand that exists. Leveraging on co-operatives and partnering with export organizations can ensure that this is achieved.
Developing an environment that supports youth and women entrepreneurship will see us achieve our vision 2030 goals. Putting deliberate effort within our capacity, such as campaigns to mark the International Women’s Day (celebrated on March 8, annually) which aims at fighting gender bias, or even participating in internal forums to exchange ideas, goes a long way in catalysing SME development for women and youth enterprises.
We believe that reducing the number of people living in poverty cannot be achieved without addressing the existing inequalities. KCB Group aims to reduce inequalities internally and externally by implementing programmes that promote equality.
Today, we celebrate the strides we have made as KCB Group towards the attainment of SDG 10 by reducing inequalities internally and externally through programmes that promote equality. We are committed to reaching and maintaining gender parity in our staff composition and achieving equal gender representation in senior management and Boards.
Globally, it is an opportunity for all to reimagine a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination and where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can and should collectively #BreakTheBias.
The author is the KCB Group Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director.