Using the co-operative model to address youth unemployment

By Joseph Kamiri

Kenya has undergone various changes since independence among them a growing population estimated at more than 45 million citizens today from a population of about eight million in the early 1960s.
Based on the latest UN estimates, the country’s youth population is made up of around 10 million people, which is more than 20 per cent of all Kenyans. Kenya is therefore currently experiencing a ‘youth bulge’ as described by the world body in their 2015 report. This youthful population is not unique in the African continent, home to 226 million youth aged between 15 to 24 years.
As the National and County governments focus on the development agenda, one of the biggest headaches that they are dealing with is productively engaging young people.
At a time when young people are widely affected by unemployment and the lack of decent work, co-operatives can create work opportunities and better working conditions. They can help young people find jobs and work experience, as well as offer opportunities for professional and vocational training.
Young people need to be interested in creating cooperatives as great vehicles to build sustainable enterprises. This can be achieved when cooperative institutions share with them successful examples and practical information on how to establish them.
As a start, the existing micro and small enterprises, irrespective of their economic sectors, should be organized into co-operatives. Today, most people still imagine that cooperatives are only relevant to farmers yet the scope for operating as a cooperative spans across several sectors of the economy.
Usually, potential co-operators are unaware of the option to form a co-operative, or of the services and benefits that this form of organization can offer them. Therefore, any promotion of the cooperative concept needs to convey the benefits not only to the converted (existing members), but also to the general public. In other words, a positive image of cooperatives needs to be created and disseminated.
Forming and developing these cooperatives will engineer some of the biggest benefits that many of these businesses will be unable to achieve on their own. For instance, scale. It is critical that the mindset of these individuals is changed so that they begin to see the bigger picture of being able to achieve scale in terms of supply of goods and even delivering services. In addition, as a co-operative, they can also negotiate better prices for the inputs they use.
This is a sure way to grow their respective businesses and therefore create opportunities for training and employment for the rest of the community members.
Kenya’s 47 counties need to embrace and promote the co-operatives concept in view of building successful enterprises. Co-operative entrepreneurship has shown one very concrete way for young people to find a job with a higher level of stability and resilience than the average, and, at the same time, break the obstacles which young people face in taking a more active and autonomous place in society, and make them take ownership and feel more responsible for their own initiatives.
Each of them can subsequently transition from small to large-scale enterprises impacting the societal group and the country at large. This evolution is something that we need to see replicated across the country.
Together and individually, employers’ organizations, workers organizations’, representative bodies and governments, as well as co-operative organizations are in a prime position to widen the use of the cooperative model in all sectors, across both the formal and informal economy. For this growing segment, our efforts in pushing the cooperatives agenda to build sustainable enterprises will not only open doors to various possibilities but also create a hope and a future for our young people today and in years to come.
I believe that with persistent joint efforts, we will finally be able to alleviate the challenge of youth unemployment.

The writer is the CIC Insurance Group General Manager, Marketing and Distribution

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