Consider this paradox. Every year one million young people join the job market in Kenya, yet Kenya has the largest number of jobless youth in East Africa.
As the government puts in place measures for addressing the issue of high youth unemployment and poverty, the private sector needs to join forces to sustainably grow its business and markets. Businesses and the societies that they operate in are symbiotic and it is now an established maxim that business cannot succeed in societies that fail.
Tackling poverty is the main mission of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda signed last year by 193 global leaders. The agenda obliges nations to tackle the causes of poverty by meeting the people’s health, education and social needs, to reduce inequality and exclusion and at the same time avoid wrecking the ecosystems on which life depends.
The target population for the SDGs – includes those who live below the poverty line and who make up nearly half of the population. Innovative organisations, whether in the public or private sector, have for a while now woken up to the reality that this population is critical to their future growth and sustainability.
The SDGs dovetail well with the pursuit of innovation which is at the heart of business sustainability. Innovation will drive sustainable impact because it aims to create value and expand opportunity for people to live better lives. It enables business to remain at the cutting edge of market competition and in turn generate tax revenues that governments can use to improve public services.
That pursuit for universal prosperity will have to be driven by a major paradigm shift, where the divide between government and profit-driven enterprises are purposefully bridged. Collaboration between business and public sector offers enormous promise when their respective talent, drive, expertise and resources are harnessed through a win-win partnership.
According to a study by PWC in 2015 – Make it Your Business, Engaging with the SDGs – 92pc of businesses are aware of the SDGs, 72pc are planning to take action, 29pc are setting goals aligned with them, and 13pc of businesses have identified the tools that they need.
It is encouraging that companies like leading Kenyan telecommunications company Safaricom are among the 13pc in Kenya, leading the way in identifying the tools required and implementing strategies for change that align their business strategy to the SDGs through shared value creation.
Safaricom’s True Value assessment shows that the company sustained over 182,000 direct and indirect jobs during the year and, if the wider effects on the economy are included, this number increases to over 845,000 jobs.
What if we have five companies as purpose-driven and successful as Safaricom in Kenya?
The impact would be enormous. Such businesses would create jobs, boost tax revenues, and provide products and services which all help improving standards of living for the poor. By increasing incomes and by improving quality, affordability, convenience, and choice in the marketplace, they would enhance access to healthcare, nutrition, connectivity, energy, water and sanitation and financial security.
Investing in the achievement of the SDGs supports pillars of business success, including the existence of rules-based markets, transparent financial systems, and non-corrupt and well-governed institutions and inclusive economic growth to reduce the critical wealth disparity in the country.
In Kenya, nowhere do these disparities stand out more than in the number of unemployed youth. It is now widely acknowledged that this pool of youth represent a unique potential for a demographic dividend.
“This dividend will be a reality if public and private partnerships help youth break out of a cycle of inter-generational poverty through entrepreneurship opportunities in such high-value sectors as agribusiness,” says Ambassador Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Foreign Minister.
The majority of unemployed youth are after all, in rural areas, and the focus should be on adding value to agricultural products, encouraging local-manufacturing, providing necessary infrastructure to stem urban migration and empowering women and youth to run small businesses.
Strengthening the education system to better deliver skills and competencies wanted by employers is another area to look at. Models such as the ones from Kuhustle or Andela are interesting to examine in our collective quest to quickly help wider scaleup and replication to more industries and sectors.
The youth in remote and poor underserved areas also represent incredibly important and rapidly growing potential markets as well as backward and forward supply chains through small business entrepreneurship if purchasing power and demand growth occurs with inclusive economic stimulation.
Properly empowered and prepared with skills to enter the job market, this population represents potential employees but also customers for businesses. This ultimately translates to reduction in household poverty levels.
President Uhuru Kenyatta remarked that, “While the private sector can and should contribute significantly to attaining the SDGs, governments will play an important role because they can address market failures”. As evidence, the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) framework established by the President has enabled thousands of youth to graduate into entrepreneurs.
The United Nations and the Government of Kenya also stand ready to catalyse multi-stakeholder ecosystems in support of this agenda. We have a window of opportunity to engage these stakeholders to support local planning and technical SDG processes, especially through the SDG Philanthropy Platform established in the office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya, the Social Investment Focused Agenda (SIFA) within the Deputy President’s office as well as Global Compact Kenya based at Kenya Association of Manufacturers.
Everyone has a role in the delivery of the SDGs and partnering with responsible, innovative businesses in that process raises our chances of becoming the first generation to end poverty. Here lies the opportunity for all of us to join hands on collective impact on our society and our planet to ensure that we “leave no one behind”.
(Ambassador Ken Osinde is Chief of Staff, Office of the Deputy President of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya)