Foundation seeks to turn students into entrepreneurs

With the unemployment rate in Kenya standing at 39.1 percent, the future of the thousands of youth graduating from universities is uncertain.

Oddly, in the meantime, small medium enterprises that make up most of the informal sector continue to flounder with most going out of business within two years of operation.

This has been attributed to strained uptake of vocational training whose graduates are the backbone of industries due to their specialised training.

To help more youth achieve this vocational training, a foundation christened The Wadhwani foundation has stepped in to equip students, not only in vocational training institutes, but also university students with technical skills the job market demands.

It was founded in 2000 by Silicon Valley based entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dr Romesh Wadhwani with the mission of accelerating economic development in emerging economies through large scale job creation.

The motive of the foundation was to change the mindset of young people from being job seekers to job creators.

The foundation has so far partnered with ten technical institutes on skills development and ten universities on entrepreneurship. They include Thika Technical Institute, Meru Technical Institute, Strathmore University, Catholic University of Eastern Africa and United States International University and the Rift Valley Training Institute.

Students who are interested in entrepreneurship go through online training alongside their course of study and get access to a pool of resources that includes content, mentors and investors.

The foundation’s Executive Vice President for East Africa, Varsy Wanjau, explains that the foundation has invested millions of dollars in the programme and are happy to create a change in the education sector.

“We use three steps in teaching the students: Platform, know how and pathodology, that make it easy for the students to learn and understand what they are learning. Our approach with students is very practical because the students get to practice with ventures before they graduate. They essentially know how to move from idea generation to prototype or how to transform thesis into an actual product. Our goal is to globally have more than one million students accessing the platform,” says Mr Varsy.

Even though they have made a lot of progress since the launch of the foundation, there have been challenges in every step they have taken.

“The biggest challenge we face is how long it takes to execute products when working with the government. There seems to be no urgency when you talk about campus students and graduating. We also have trouble working with some technical institutes especially the ones in the villages where there is not Internet connection and in some places lack electricity. It makes it difficult for the students to access our e-learning platforms.”

Mr Varsy says the foundation’s focus is to work with the vocational institutes and technical institutes to bridge the gap of soft skills using a Global Skills Network.

“Without soft skills, students are not able to use their hard skills, the technical skills. Our motive has always been to train teachers on how to teach soft skills and doing mocks to help perfect these skills. We have been able to reach 6,000 students through our foundation. The learning programmer is a facilitator led e-learning platform because students need to see them and we also use videos for guidance,” he explains.

During his visit to Kenya in March, the President and CEO of the Wadhwani Foundation Ajay Kela said they are seeking to educate and inspire three to five per cent of the best and brightest students as identified by colleges to become entrepreneurs who will start their own companies and create jobs.

He said the foundation based in East Africa is planning to expand its investment in 100 top cities within the 20 countries they operate in in the next five to ten years.