Tech Training Tackles Youth Unemployment in Kenya’s Largest Urban Slum — Five Personal Stories from Kibera

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WFP’s EMPACT training programme is the express route for young people to have access to the digital economy and better livelihoods

By Gulia Rakhimova

Taking its name from the Nubian word for “jungle” or “forest”, Kibera is a low-income township in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, and the largest informal urban settlement in Africa. Despite growing public efforts to modernize Kibera, poverty and job scarcity remain critical issues for more than one million residents of the township.

The EMPACT project of the World Food Programme (WFP) Innovation Accelerator is the biggest source of hope for many young people like Ian, Innocent, Linet, Kevin, and Lilian; all of whom train in digital skills at the Kibera Community Library (KNLS Kibera). The trainees reveal how their new-found skills helped them find the inroads to the future of work, and lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

WFP’s EMPACT programme provides digital skills through a tailored, focused vocational training programme, and partners with leading tech firms like Fiverr and Pluralsight, to connect trainees with online work opportunities. Photo: Kevin Ogesi

Ian Kimaru, 27

I am finally able to buy enough food and rent a house of my own

Before EMPACT, I couldn’t afford even basic living such as food and housing. I stayed at my friend’s place, barely making ends to meet. EMPACT digital training was life-changing. In just three months, I got familiar with new IT tools and learned coding and web development through a tailored course on Pluralsight learning platform. These new skills opened up massive opportunities for me in the global digital job market as I could do freelance IT jobs on the internet. I am finally able to buy enough food and rent a house of my own. Ultimately, I secured temporary IT jobs in two small organizations and co-founded a tech startup KaziWazi job-matching platform. In Swahili, “kazi wazi” means “open jobs”. As the name suggests, the platform aims to create an open job marketplace to connect youth to employment opportunities; it was recently featured in the third-largest newspaper in Kenya. Through this platform, I put the skills gained through EMPACT to best use by helping my peers from Kibera find their place in the world of work.

Building on knowledge acquired through EMPACT digital skills training, Ian Kimaru co-founded an online job matching platform for young people in Kenya. Photo: Kevin Ogesi

Linet Ngina Mutua, 25

The training allowed me to discover my true potential and believe in a bright future

I found out about EMPACT through the KNLS Kibera Library; the primary resource and education centre for Kibera’s youth. For many of us, EMPACT is more than a digital skills programme — it’s been a transformational experience in the first place. The training allowed me to discover my true potential and believe in a bright future. Today, I can code in Python and write for the web. With these new skills, I moved from poverty to self-sufficiency by earning money online as a freelancer. I am excited about the prospects the digital economy offers to young people of Kibera, and I am now optimistic about eliminating the poverty in our community for good.

From left to right: Lilian Simiyu, Linet Ngina Mutua, Kevin Ogesi and Innocent Wanyama are studying together in KNLS Library in Kibera. Photo: Kevin Ogesi

Kevin Ogesi, 20

I used to rely on word of mouth when looking for a job, which was more time-consuming than useful

Before EMPACT, I wasn’t quite interested in online platforms as they seemed to be intangible and far from daily realities of Kibera. I used to rely on word of mouth when looking for a job, which was more time-consuming than useful. EMPACT has completely changed my perspective on the world of work. I came to realize that digital platforms offer enormous possibilities for young people. On Pluralsight, I learned everything, from navigating the web to creating online content, to basic coding. On Fiverr, I make bids to get freelance jobs and earn income. Finally, I’m self-sufficient and have a clear vision of what the future could be like.

Innocent Wanyama, 35

I was an IT support specialist struggling to get a job

I am currently studying cloud technology and other in-demand Google developer skills. But EMPACT is not only about IT training — the programme also equipped me with essential soft skills. Before EMPACT, I was an IT support specialist struggling to get a job; I tried to apply for freelance jobs on Fiverr but never succeeded. EMPACT soft-skills and life-skills classes made me realize that communication and personal branding are equally important. Crucially, I learned how to write a compelling resume, interview with potential employers, and create successful gigs on freelance job platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. Now I know how to market and sell my IT services in the online job market. But learning is a lifelong journey, and I would like to become better at what I do. I believe my perseverance and determination will help me find a path to a meaningful career.

Innocent Wanyama is currently studying cloud technology and other in-demand Google developer skills through EMPACT. Photo: Kevin Ogesi

Lilian Simiyu, 24

We work as a team and support each other, and I believe we can bring a positive change to our community

I used to be anxious and felt lost after my graduation from the United States International University-Africa. Joining EMPACT in January 2020 was a turning point in my life. Not only have I become tech-savvy and found well-paying freelance jobs, but I also made like-minded friends. I hope EMPACT will continue training more young people as it also helps us build our professional network and stay away from informal jobs. We work as a team and support each other, and I believe we can bring a positive change to our community.

About EMPACT

EMPACT trainees, implementing partners and our colleagues in WFP country offices are making this ambitious project a reality. We hope that in 2021 EMPACT will expand to more countries and scale-up its operations in the current ones, creating new opportunities for youth as COVID-19 continues pushing more people into poverty and starvation.

— Elisa Molena, Project Manager of EMPACT

As the world is undergoing a massive shift towards remote working in times of COVID-19, EMPACT levels the playing field for marginalized youth in the labour market. Since its launch in Kibera in January 2020, the programme has connected 60 participants to online freelance opportunities, helping them earn income to buy food and support their families. The programme will scale further in Kenya in its second phase in 2021; and continue its operations in Iraq and Lebanon as well as in Turkey, where a new campus launched in Istanbul in October 2020. Globally, through EMPACT, more than 6,700 displaced youth and young people from low-income households gained access to online work opportunities and built viable livelihoods.

Thanks to our donors, the Governments of Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands and USAID for their generous support to the work of the WFP Innovation Accelerator.

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The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

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