One in four businesses generally fail before their second year, and half do not survive beyond the fifth year; a situation experienced by many youth-led agri-enterprises in Kenya. This is a concern in a country which has a very young population coupled with a high youth unemployment rate. Economically viable agribusinesses could help to address this challenge; thriving youth-led agribusinesses are vital for job creation, make agri-enterprises attractive to the youth and hence could contribute towards alleviating youth unemployment in Kenya.
Many youth agri-enterprises are confronted with a web of complex challenges that impede their growth, profitability and sustainability. Hence, revitalising and enhancing youth agri-enterprises to prosper requires a vigorous approach. For this purpose, the Vijabiz project employs a mix of workshops, peer learning and mentorship to help youth-led enterprises navigate the perils of establishing a start-up in order to thrive. This multi-pronged approach assists youth entrepreneurs to fast-track the adaptation of proven business practices, and innovate and grow their businesses in the cereals, dairy and fisheries value chains in Nakuru and Kilifi counties.
Vijabiz competitively selects mentors based on criteria pre-determined to ensure a best fit for youth enterprises. Ustadi Foundation, a Kenyan-based capacity development organisation, and CTA put out a tender and undertook due diligence to identify two winning firms. Africa Initiative for Rural Development and Planet Resource Africa at Egerton University were selected to offer entrepreneurship training in Kilifi and Nakuru, respectively. The mentorship process started in April 2019 and it is expected to run for 12 months.
Mentorship is a relationship in which an experienced or knowledgeable person guides a less experienced or knowledgeable one. The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but he or she must have relevant expertise. In order to enhance the work of the mentors to better serve the youth groups, Ustadi adapted tools from the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Start Your Business and the LEAP modules by the Dutch development organisation, SNV, for the mentors. Project staff gave the selected mentors an overview of the objectives of the project and the mentorship tools. The mentors then visited all 163 youth groups and conducted a baseline assessment for each. Based on these assessments, the mentors developed plans tailored to the needs of each group which are currently being implemented. Mentors will continue to visit the groups to guide them on various aspects of business development in their selected agri-value chains.
According to Eric Bosire, head of programs at Ustadi, the mentors will have one-on-one interactive sessions with the groups at least once a month. They will work with the groups to identify and come up with home-grown solutions. “We hope that the mentorship process, coupled with initial business development training, will equip young people with the knowledge and skills required to effectively run their agri-enterprises”, says Bosire.
While the mentorship program is still at the start-up phase, it is not without challenges. For instance, not all group members are available when the mentors visit. Sometimes members skip mentorship sessions and could better benefit from the coaching. “During one session, only part of the group members may attend and in the following session, those members who failed to attend the previous session now attends. This makes it difficult for groups to follow up on actions previously agreed upon at mentorship sessions”, says Bosire.
The vast area over which groups are spread in both counties is another challenge. As a result, it is hard to reach some groups, especially those in areas with poor roads that are impassable during the rainy season. The Vijabiz project is also grappling with the reality of group dynamics. Some of the groups are not as cohesive as expected. In such groups, mentors spend time that would have been spent on business coaching to help the groups deal with relationship issues.
However, the project recognises that there are bound to be differences over investment and operational decisions in business. Emotions and relationships in business ventures can determine its success or failure, hence group dynamics are monitored by the mentors.
The Vijabiz project hopes to evaluate effectiveness of the mentorship programme using the adapted ILO and SNV tools. This will include looking at the application of the various skills required for running a successful agribusiness for the particular value chains.
“At the end of the mentorship programme, we hope that the groups will be registered business entities, the incomes of the enterprises will have improved, they will have created more employment opportunities for youth, and their enterprises will have grown”, says Bosire.