Many youth groups are formed, not because of a shared vision, mission or passion among the members, but rather, because of convenience.
When it comes to the economic empowerment of young people in Kenya, there is no shortage of ideas or available funding opportunities. The Kenyan Government has set up several funding programmes most notably, The Youth Enterprise Development Fund and Uwezo Fund. These programmes aim to encourage and grow innovation, entrepreneurship and economic independence among young people in Kenya. Similarly, financial institutions such as The World Bank, local banks, microfinance providers as well as NGO's such The United Nations Development Program have come up with innovative services and products geared towards helping young people become economically empowered.
Typically, the financiers require that these projects and new businesses be carried out by groups, rather than individuals. The rationale behind this is that groups can pool resources together in terms of expertise, knowledge and labour, all of which facilitate the running of the business processes.
With all the financial support given to youths, there has been a substantive growth in the number of projects being undertaken by the young people in Kenya. New youth-led businesses have sprung up all over the country, which in principle, is commendable. The reality on the ground, however, is that most of these projects and businesses have failed to become sustainable and tend to collapse within the first two years. The question is, why are we as young people failing more than succeeding when it comes to running businesses that have been funded by external entities?
From my interactions with my peers who have run some of these projects as well as seasoned professionals, I have narrowed the answers down to these ten reasons:
1. Poor group formation
Many youth groups are formed, not because of a shared vision or mission among the members, but rather, because of convenience. One or two young people heard of an opportunity, got a few random friends together and formed a group. Some of the members may have been childhood friends or college mates, many cannot hold each other accountable and thus, the group is doomed from the start. The founder is given the significant responsibility of leading the group, even if they are not up to the task. Poor management ensues. Although this is not the case to all groups, with a few formed with objectivity and soberness of vision, more often than not, groups are formed for convenience.
2. Lack of ownership of project ideas by other members
One of the key drivers to successful and sustained projects is ownership of an idea. There are groups where, because the idea came from a friend and other group members didn't want to "offend" this friend, they accepted ideas and merely waited for instructions from the top without fully believing in it. This lack of ownership of the project makes youths lack the motivation to do the necessary work that will lead to the desired results.
3. Lack of commitment
Are most youths committed to their projects? The answer is no. Some groups take part in projects, not because they are passionate about them, but because that was the sector that was being financed by a donor, financial institution or the government. Members may end up abandoning the project as soon as they run into challenges, get bored, or financial support comes to an end and something 'better' comes along.
4. Poor record-keeping and wastage
What is the total amount invested in this project? How much has been repaid by this project? How much profit have you made from this project? Is the project doing well financially? Most groups will not have substantive answers to these questions. They will tell you how the projects are 'giving them something', but when you evaluate the cost versus the benefits of the projects, you'll be surprised. Poor records not only lead to mismanagement of the finances, but it also results in failure to track the progress of the projects.
5. Supremacy battles
As the groups start making progress, each of the youths would want to be at the top. The founder of the group will always want to remain at the top while the other proactive members also feel that this position should be given to them. They would wish to represent the group in meetings with the financiers and be in total control. Some members end up feeling that they are being used by others and this leads to the rise of wrangles within the group. Because of poorly laid down structures and because of poor group dynamics, the group members will fight amongst themselves leading to the disintegration of the group and, ultimately, the failure of the projects.
7. Urge to get rich quick
Most of the youths who are my friends and colleagues whom I have interacted with want to grow rich, instantly. Some have come to the point of embracing the end rather than the process. Rather than wait and grow patiently, they want to find and follow the easiest path to riches. Building a viable project or business takes time but the youths are not willing to put in that time. They want something that will give them finances quickly and without much struggle. This makes it hard for them to concentrate on what they have begun, and thus most projects began by the youths will not celebrate their second birthday if they don't find instant wealth.
8. Poor project appraisal
What is the cost and benefit of this project? Is it profitable? What is the impact of this project? What are the financial projections? What are the expected risks? If you find answers to these questions from project teams in youth groups then you'll be working with one of the few serious groups. Most groups do not appraise their projects before undertaking them. When frustrations arise, they abandon them in search of new ones.
9. Dependence on continuous support
As I established earlier, many youth projects are initiated because of the availability of donations or financial assistance from the Government or other financial institutions. The youths depend entirely on the finances coming in and in most cases, will not think of how they will sustain the project without the financial assistance. Sometimes, the income from the projects is mismanaged and misdirected as the youths know that more is coming from the financiers of the projects. And when the financing period ceases then that usually signals the end of the projects.
10. Lack of focus and search for greener pastures
Distractions or lack of focus is a major disease eating away at the youth. Most of them lack the patience and persistence to stay at one point longer than is required. They will want to try every new idea that comes up if it looks lucrative or is being done by others elsewhere. The distractions and lack of focus make the youths to try to seek for greener pastures and in the process, projects and businesses that would otherwise have flourished given the right focus and attention, end up failing.
These may not be all the challenges that lead to the failure of youth projects, and not all youth projects face these challenges. But if we include capacity building such as proper formation and management of groups, book-keeping, project management skills, communication skills as well as reporting skills then we will have more sustainable projects and economic empowerment of the youth can become a reality.