The numbers are staggering. According to a World Bank report, about 40 percent of Kenya’s 25.5 million working age citizens are unemployed and 80 percent of them are below 35.
The country, which holds the distinction of being East Africa’s biggest economy, also boasts the largest number of unemployed youth in the region, with Kenya’s rate of unemployment three times greater than neighboring Tanzania and Uganda. The report, which was released in March, notes that nearly one in every five Kenyan aged 18-35 is without work, compared to one in twenty in neighboring countries.
Numbers aside, the unemployment problem in Kenya is ripe with opportunities for tangible solutions. Government and private sector programs have been established to spur the creation of new jobs for the more than 800,000 young people who enter the labour market each year.
But such initiatives are not nearly enough. For many college graduates, the job hunt is more akin to a cruel process of elimination where employers are hunting potential hires for jobs that don’t even exist.
The process is often marred by nepotism, corruption and an overwhelming sense that their four years in higher education are about as worthless as the pieces of paper their degrees are printed on.
26-year-old graphic designer Peter Ngatia described the challenges he faced trying to gain employment following school.
“After graduation, it was hectic trying to find work in Kenya’s job market,” he noted. “It’s not easy to find work because employers post that they need people with 3 years of experience for entry level work,” he explained.
So what are young Kenyans to do in an environment that continues to devalue their ability, while all but ignoring their talent and experience?
For many, turning to crime and other unethical ways of earning money is not a choice, rather it becomes the only option for survival. Saddled with debt and idle time, many are forced into underemployment, working jobs they’re too qualified for and earning money that is way below their paygrade.
For FiveSok founder and CEO Emmanuel Soroba, this is the Kenya he returned to after spending years abroad working in the hospitality sector.
After stints in Switzerland and the USA, Soroba found himself in the land of startups and innovation, surrounded by entrepreneurs who were obsessed with creating work, rather than finding it.
While in Silicon Valley, Soroba found himself living with a roommate who paid his bills by freelancing on Fiverr.com, the world’s leading online marketplace for digital services.
“In order to pay his portion of the rent, he only needed a laptop, an internet connection and skills in graphic design,” Soroba explained. A lightbulb went off in his head.
“Fiverr’s ability to empower people to be their own bosses was a concept that I felt could be adapted for the Kenyan market,” he said.
Armed with inspiration and a modest amount of savings, Soroba founded the Kenya-focused digital marketplace FiveSok, hoping to capture the attention and imagination of the youth who were struggling to secure traditional employment in a country where non-traditional means of payment was born.
With a mobile penetration rate of over 90 percent in Kenya, FiveSok is in prime position to bridge the unemployment gap by harnessing the incredible reach of digital platforms in the country.
FiveSok’s business model is twofold: it takes a 15 percent commission on each job successfully completed, and it sells advertising space on its website.
Soroba has also made it a point to ensure that security is a major priority for the fledgling start-up.
“Nowadays, it seems so easy for frauds and conmen to establish themselves through online marketplaces that open up in Kenya.”
FiveSok essentially brings together individuals buying and selling services, and to help us get the upper hand over the frauds, any payment made through our platform does not go directly to whoever is selling the service; FiveSok safely holds the payment in escrow until the job is actually delivered, before then releasing it to the seller,” he explained.
“We always urge all our users to pay for the service only through FiveSok because they have a guarantee that the job will be done, exactly as they want it,” he emphasised.
Since its launch in June, FiveSok’s popularity has skyrocketed thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign in addition to online advertising on Google and Facebook.
So far, the marketing efforts seem to be paying off. The site, www.fivesok.co.ke, has received hundreds of thousands of visitors in the past two months, resulting in more than 2,000 people signing up and more than 600 services, ranging from guitar lessons to graph and logo designs, being offered on the platform.
“Our goal for the next year is not just to get people selling their services, but to show Kenyans that FiveSok is the safest and most convenient place to find an expert for almost anything that you need done,” Soroba said.
Those who’ve used the service have nothing but glowing words for the platform, often lamenting on why FiveSok wasn’t in the market sooner. “The platform is awesome and it’s easy to get clients,” Ngatia explained.
He revealed that he’s already sold 3 logos for Sh1000 each, before adding that he’s referred more than a dozen of his friends to what he calls the “perfect online hustle”.
For buyers hoping to find quality work on the site, FiveSok has also proved to be a winner.
23-year-old Valerie Mwangi says she heard about the platform from a radio advert and decided to try it out in order to find a graphic designer to create a logo and business cards for her flower delivery start up, CasaFlora.
“I was very satisfied with the finished product,” she explained. “It wasn’t the first time I had looked for someone to do my logo. I’d looked for someone to do it for 2 or 3 weeks prior and it only took a few days on FiveSok,” she added.
For Mwangi, the biggest benefit for buyers is economic, as FiveSok provides services for between Sh500-Sh5000.
“I think it’s a great platform to get your work out there as a seller,” she said. “I like the fact that there was a personal touch with my order and I’ll definitely use the platform again if I need something done,” she added.
For FiveSok, the greatest challenge moving forward will be educating Kenyan’s, especially the youth, on an entrepreneurship culture that merges the digital explosion taking place across Africa with the unemployment epidemic that continues to paralyze economies across the continent.
FiveSok’s inspiration Fiverr has done pretty well for itself on a global scale, having raised more than $170 million in total funding and earning revenues of $35 million a year, but the company has yet to penetrate the African market.
Starting in Kenya, FiveSok plans to do just that, with the overarching mission of alleviating youth unemployment being the main focus.
“FiveSok aims to give the youth a platform to showcase the skills and talents, and make some earn some money by selling them as services on the platform,” Soroba stated.
“Our goal for the next 5 years is to have at least 100,000 youth selling their services on FiveSok. Nobody deserves to live a diminished quality of life simply because jobs are hard to come by,” he said.